The Story Behind Tom T. Hall ”The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”

For a while he went back home to Morehead, Kentucky to his old disc jockey job, then attended college working toward a degree in journalism. Still dabbling in music, Tom sent a few of his compositions to Nashville. That was the beginning of a career that would culminate with his name enshrined in the Country Music Hall Of Fame.

Hall’s songs were becoming noticed, and he obtained a songwriting contract with a Nashville publisher. He seemed on his way to becoming the writer of major country music hits. Then reality set in. The songs which Hall wrote were much different from those the established writers were turning out at the time. Like Roger Miller, Tom’s stuff was considered too off-the-wall for the big artists. A few of his tunes did find homes, such as “D.J. For A Day,” a Top Ten hit for Jimmy Newman in 1964, and “Hello Vietnam,” by Johnny Wright, which spent three weeks at #1 in 1965. However, most of Hall’s material was rejected.

Soon after his arrival in Nashville, Tom had become friends with a session player by the name of Jerry Kennedy. When Kennedy was appointed A & R director for Mercury Records, Jerry approached Tom with an opportunity to sign with the label as a performer. That way, Tom wouldn’t have to shop his songs around to the artists, he could just record them himself. A pretty good plan, except for one thing: Tom didn’t particularly want to be a recording artist. By and large, he considered himself a songwriter and nothing more. That was what he really wanted to do. Touring and working the road just didn’t appeal very much to “The Storyteller.”

Tom did sign though, and started having minor hits right off the bat in 1967, starting with “I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew” (#30). The following year he reached the Top Ten for the first time with “Ballad Of Forty Dollars” and by ’70 he topped the chart for the first time with “A Week In A Country Jail.” A couple of years earlier, in 1968, an unknown Nashville secretary named Jeannie C. Riley had showcased Hall’s songwriting skills in a big way. Recording an ode about a P.T.A. meeting Tom had once attended, Riley came out of nowhere and suddenly took both the country and pop charts by storm with the breakout hit of the year “Harper Valley P.T.A.” which instantly reached #1 on both charts, and generated more airplay and more money that all of Hall’s other songs combined. By 1971, still riding the wake created by “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” Tom pulled out another memory from his past. It was the story of a man whom he had known as a boy.

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