Tom T Hall was one of the last of the great icons of real country music in America and the world. There can never again be anyone remotely like the man from Olive Hill, Kentucky.
I heard of his passing on 20 August with a real sense of lonesomeness, like what you feel when you hear of the death of a true friend.
I grew up listening to Tom T Hall albums and memorised many of his great songs like I learned poems in school. By an amazing coincidence I had been listening to Tom T’s great song, Second Handed Flowers, less than half an hour before I heard the news of his passing in Franklin, Tennessee.
In May 2020, with time on my hands during lockdown, I decided I would write a letter to Tom T expressing my gratitude and that of countless thousands of country music devotees to him for his incredible contribution to the world of country music over the decades.
It was the first time ever I had written such a letter to an American country legend. Three weeks later, I received a short personal letter from Tom T which I will now treasure in such a special way.
Former American president, Jimmy Carter from Georgia, described Tom T as: “The Poet Laureate of country music.” No one could dispute that statement. His lyrics were amazing and he was the supreme storyteller.
In 2019, he was inducted into the American Songwriters (all genres) Hall of Fame in New York. He regarded the honour as one of the great accolades in his long and distinguished life.
Here in Ireland, his songs were recorded by Big Tom, Ray Lynam, Philomena Begley, Gene Stuart, Tommy Drennan, Mick Flavin, TR Dallas and a host of others.
So many wonderful lines from his songs come to mind:
I’m the guy who didn’t marry pretty Pamela Brown.
RSVP is not for me and black tie’s not my style – The Old Side of Town
I guess if I’d admit it Clayton taught me how to drink booze, I can see him half-stoned a pickin’ out the Lovesick Blues – The Year Clayton Delaney Died
The days and years we had between us were down to just two coffee cups – I Took A Memory To Lunch
For more than 30 years I have been playing the songs of Tom T Hall on my radio shows on such a regular basis.
Tom T was so proud of his home state of Kentucky whose population has 12% Irish roots, mainly from the Ulster region. In October 2018, I was on a coach from Nashville to Louisville with the Phil Mack tour group of country music devotees and I got the driver to play a Tom T Hall CD as we crossed the state line from Tennessee into Kentucky. The song was Somewhere in Kentucky Tonight as a tribute to Tom T who penned the number. Memories of his show in The Beaten Path, Claremorris, and also seeing him in Castleblayney and Carrickmacross came flooding back.
I stepped outside in the quiet of a Mayo night to let it all sink in after hearing the sad news and gazed southwest to where Kentucky and Tennessee lies across the broad Atlantic.
A full moon lay behind the drifting clouds and I thought of the great lines from another legend, Hank Williams: The moon just went behind the clouds to hide its face and cry.
We will always remember and cherish the wonderful songs of Tom T Hall from Kentucky and the immense joy he brought to our world. We’ll never see his likes again.
Down the Stradbally way in the good farmlands of Laois, 15-year-old Ross Molloy is making quite a name for himself in the Irish country music field.
The fifth-year Portlaoise College student has just recorded his third single in the space of 12 months and he will release Blue Kilkenny Eyes in the coming weeks. It is the follow-up to An Old Man’s Wish (also known as The Church in Clonaslee) which went to No I in Tony Kehoe’s Top 10 popularity charts on South East Radio in Wexford.
It was composed many years ago by the late Teresa O’Donnell from Suncroft, Co Kildare, who also penned the lyrics for Ireland’s first Eurovision song, Walking The Streets in the Rain, which was sung by Butch Moore.
“I took a liking to Irish country music when I was around seven. My uncle Paddy Fennell from Timahoe played the keyboard with a local band called The Ranchers. They brought out a CD and I played it over and over.
“I heard Dave Lalor from Tullamore singing A Kingdom I Call Home. The song connected with me when I heard it and it was my first single. It was the one that got my name out there,” says Ross.
The teenager is quick to acknowledge the support and advice of his neighbour, Har Ramsbottom, who fronted his own country bands back in the 1970s and 80s.
“They all know Har in these parts. He knows the scene and has been very helpful to me with good advice.”
Durning lockdown, Ross led the way in his local community by starting to stream funerals and weddings as well as church ceremonies from Stradbally via YouTube and Facebook. It was a service that was much appreciated by the communities around the region. He has also been closely associated with Studio 15, a radio show which operates a few nights a week on Facebook along with a few other presenters.
“I love radio and singing and those are my two passions. Apart from singing at the Friday night sessions in Dick Dunne’s pub in Stradbally, I have not had a chance to do guest spots on big concerts shows because of the lockdown. I have some invitations on standby when things begin to return to normal,” says Ross.