real: the tom t. hall project.
released october 20, 1998
by sire records.
I Hope It Rains On My Funeral(t. hall)
Ryan Adams guitar, vocals
Caitlin Cary violin, vocals
Skillet Gilmore drums
Phil Wandscher guitar
The tribute record as a form is inherently flawed, a losing proposition, largely because it's so rare to happen upon an artist truly deserving of the form. Popular music has produced no shortage of brilliant songwriters, and there are many with exceptional bodies of work. But what of artists who have already recorded the definitive versions of their own songs? Is it a fitting "tribute" to have other artists try their hand at them? Not necessarily, and usually not. The tribute boom of the last decade has caused music fans to view tributes with more than a little skepticism. Since we ourselves are not fans of tributes in general, making this record evolved into a mission to prove that "tribute records don't have to suck." Needless to say, of course, everything is predicated on the artist. But we knew that it all comes down to the song, and if there ever was an artist all about The Song, it's Tom T. Hall.
But precious few people understand this about Tom, and as a result he's paradoxically an international superstar who's largely an unknown. Tom T. Hall has millions of fans worldwide, most of whom know him for just a few of the things he's done in his 62 years. He is known for singing "I Love" and "Sneaky Snake" and "I Like Beer". For his stint as spokesman for Chevy Trucks and U.S. Steel and Tyson Chicken. For his appearances on Hee-Haw and Pop Goes The Country and just about every variety show there was in the 1970s. But even in Nashville, where he's known best of all, it's still rare to find someone who understands the essence of Tom T. Hall.
He came to Nashville in 1964 with $46 and a guitar and spent the next several years writing songs at a desk from 9 to 5. His "Harper Valley P.T.A." was the #1 song of 1968, but Tom just kept on writing. He wrote so many songs for other people that he couldn't get enough of them cut, and this led to his recording them himself. His debut LP, Ballad Of Forty Dollars And His Other Great Songs, appeared late in 1968 and was quickly followed by Homecoming, I Witness Life and 100 Children. Tom wrote about what he knew--his experiences growing up in a small Kentucky town, his experiences in the Army--but he soon found he was running out of experiences. At this critical juncture he chose a logical course of action; he simply did some more experiencing. He began to take day trips to small Southern towns, intending, in his words, to "meet some folks and write some songs". And that he did; he met real people and told their real stories, chronicled most notably in his fifth LP, 1971's In Search Of A Song. He wrote in this manner until his increasing fame made it impossible. He found he needed anonymity for real interchanges, that people weren't real when talking to a big star.
True to his being, however, Tom T. Hall was still about The Song, and he continued to write as his career progressed. To date he has written nearly one thousand songs. Robert Christgau once wrote that Tom "makes his stories seem easy, like he jots them down on coffee break, and nobody in music can touch him--damn few in fiction, either." We feel the same way. Seventeen of Tom's songs are contained on this volume, but by and large their original versions have been significantly reinterpreted. Which we feel is in keeping with the art of songwriting. At least--especially--how Tom practices it. There's a parallel in the visual arts. Tom's songs are intricately detailed pen-and-ink renderings, and the artists herein make them their own with their individual palettes of vividly expressive oil paints.
For all his successes, Tom T. Hall never achieved the mainstream recognition that did many of his contemporaries. When the big names of country music are invoked, Tom T. Hall's name is rarely mentioned. The Tom T. Hall Project would like to see Tom be recognized as the exceptional artist he is. The artists represented herein feel he's one of the greats, and with their bold reinterpretations of his songs they pay homage to the Storyteller. We exult in the opportunity to turn on a brand new audience onto Tom T. Hall, and we hope you enjoy this record, named REAL after Tom's work. Real.
-- Justin Bass & Mark Linn July, 1998