Country music legend Tom T. Hall, one of the genre’s top stars during the 1970s, died on Friday. He was 85. Hall died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, his son, Dean Hall, told The Tennessean. Hall was known for his distinct songwriting skills, mixing lighthearted humor with depth in classic songs like “I Like Beer,” “That’s How I Got to Memphis” and “Harper Valley PTA.” He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Hall, who would be nicknamed “The Storyteller,” was born on May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, Kentucky. Following a stint in the Army, he studied at Roanoke College and worked as a radio DJ and announcer through the early 1960s. After Jimmy C. Newman recorded his song “DJ For a Day,” Hall moved to Nashville in 1964. In 1968, Jeannie C. Riley recorded “Harper Valley PTA,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over 6 million copies. “Harper Valley PTA” earned Hall Grammy nominations for Best Country Song and Song of the Year, while Riley won Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.
In 1969, Hall began recording himself, and earned eight No. 1 singles on the Hot Country Songs chart, beginning with “A Week in a Country Jail.” His other big hits included “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” “(Old Dogs, Children And) Watermelon Wine,” “I Love,” “Country Is,” “I Care,” “I Like Beer,” and “Faster Horses (The Cowboy and the Poet).” He continued recording until 1986 when he released the hits “Love Letters in the Sand” and “Down at the Mall.”
Although Hall did not release “That’s How I Got to Memphis” as a single, it has since become a standard, with dozens of covers recorded. Bobby Bare had a big hit with the song in 1970, then Deryl Dodd recorded a hit version in 1996. Hall also took on political subjects, recording “The Monkey That Became President” in 1972 and “Watergate Blues” in 1973.
Hall won a Grammy for Best Album Notes for his Greatest Hits album in 1972. “(Od Dogs, Children And) Watermelon Wine” earned nominations for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male and Best Country Song in 1973. Hall joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1971. In 2019, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also joined the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2018. Hall’s wife, bluegrass songwriter Dixie Hall, died in January 2015 at 80.
“Few could tell a story like Tom T. Hall,” Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, said in a statement to Variety. “As a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist, he was one of those triple threat artists who continued to make an impact on the next generation. I’ll always remember growing up listening to Tom T.’s music with my father, who was a huge bluegrass and country fan.”