When I was a young boy, growing into a teenager and then young adult, my late brother, Kenny, used to let me listen to his album collection. Later, when he went off to start his own life, he gave me that collection. They were the 33-1/3 RPM record albums. They were also called the LP or Long Playing albums. Among those vinyl albums were what are classics today. All of them were storytelling songs. Ballads, legends, love songs and a lot of truck-driving songs and songs about traveling. There was every trucker driver song and singing storyteller of the day. Too, among the high stack of classics were such greats of the times as the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Peter Paul and Mary, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and many, many others.
Story telling music was a central part of my entertainment as well as aspiration. They stimulated my desires to be a writer, a storyteller and they inspired me to become a humanitarian.
We were poor. When I was 16 I started working at a a retail store. I purchased an 8-track player for a car I didn’t yet have and collected 8-track tapes. I had a large, growing collection to go along with my brother’s LP collection.
My late dad hooked up the 8-track player he setup for me in the backroom. Using alligator clamps he wired the player to a 12-volt car battery for juice. I learned to improvise early. Daddy was a master improviser. He didn’t live long enough to see me graduate at the age of 17. That’s always been a hollow spot in my heart. There was nothing I wanted more.
A lot of those songs were about people down on their luck. Traveling songs made up a lot of them. Love songs told about broken hearts. It was all part of the process that shaped my lifelong desire to be a storyteller, a writer. Too, it gave me the aspiration to be a humanitarian.
All of the songs in those days were written by great song writers of the time. They were sung by singing storytellers. One of the best among them was one of the newer guys that came along, Tom T. Hall. Like Bobby Bare and others, many of his songs were about traveling and people down on their luck. They told stories about people in great destitution. That was more than 50 years ago, about when a politician named Lyndon B. Johnson introduced into Congress what was called the Johnson Amendment. It was the beginning of the IRS 501(c)(3) and the War on Poverty. 50 years later, there are over one-million nonprofits and just as much destitution as there was in those days.
Tom T. Hall wrote and sang the song that stood out in that pile of albums and 8 track tapes with a voice all of its own. It was probably my favorite song, then, and now. He was a master at telling his stories so that you wouldn’t soon forget them. They called Tom T. Hall the Storyteller.