Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Missing & Mysterious Tom T Hall

Happy New Year!!!

There are some Opry members such as Jimmy Dickens, Jeannie Seely, Mike Snider, Jimmy C Newman and a few others who are at the Opry almost every weekend. There are those such as Barbara Mandrell, Ricky Van Shelton and Jeanne Pruett who are retired and no longer perform at the Opry. And then there is Opry member Tom T Hall who hasn't performed at the Opry in years. In fact, according to my records, he has not been at the Opry since at least the mid-90s. Yet, unlike Holly Dunn, who moved away from Nashville and lost her Opry membership, Tom T continues as an Opry member. It is not as if he is not doing anything. Tom T continues to make records (and some good ones I might add), he continues to write songs, he has written books and he continues to perform live, including performing on the Music City Roots program that is on WSM radio. Yet, for reasons that has never been explained, Tom T refuses to do the Opry.

It wasn't always that way. Tom T is listed as first joining the Opry on January 1, 1971, which has him celebrating 41 years as an Opry member today. Yet, his first appearance on the Opry as a member was actually Saturday January 9, 1971. He stayed at the Opry for a couple of years and then he left. He came back to the Opry in March 1980, yet during that month, he did not perform at the Opry at all. But during the 1980s after he returned, Tom T did the Opry quite often. After making just 5 appearances in 1980 and 1981, he was up to 15 in 1984 and 1985, and then he appeared 31 times in 1986 and 28 in 1987, before dropping to 17 in 1988, back up to 25 in 1989, 18 in 1990, 12 in 1991 and finally 11 in 1992. After that, he has become a missing person at the Opry.

I really don't understand what happened. He was popular at the Opry and I think the music he plays and even records today, would be a perfect fit at the show. And with him making no appearances for at least the last 15 years, I have to ask, why is he still an Opry member? That I do not understand.

Looking more indepth at Tom T's history at the Opry, he made his first guest appearance in 1969. He had impressed Bud Wendell, who was the Opry manager at the time. Here is how Tom T remembered it. "I think it was Ernest Tubb who went to Bud Wendell and said, 'You know, there's a young guy out there singing odd kinda songs. He's really good. His name is Tom T Hall and you oughta get him as a guest on the Opry.' So, the first night on the Opry, Roy Acuff introduced me as 'Tom P. Hay'! I guess he was thinking of George D. But I didn't mind. I went out, took a bow, and sang 'A Week in a County Jail.' I was amazed at the informality of it all. Wendell called me back to his office and said, 'We'll Tom, do you want to be a member of the Opry?' And I said, Yes, sir. That would be a great honor. And he said, 'Well, you'll have some insurance in case you get killed out there on the road, you know.' I never really understood what I had to do to collect."

As I mentioned, he was an Opry member only for a couple of years. In fact, he quit the Opry when it moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the new Opry House in 1974. The papers in Nashville printed a page one story saying that Tom T quit the Opry because Opry management had denied him permission to use his own band, which included horns. As Tom T explained, "It's true that when the Opry left the old Ryman I didn't go with it. But I'm a romantic, you know. I didn't care about the new Opry House at first-it just didn't seem right with me. Just out of a romantic notion. So the newspapers called my agent, Bob Neal, to find out what it was all about. They got Sonny Neal, Bob's son, on the phone. And he says, 'Well, I'll tell you, by God, they won't let Tom use his horns on the Opry.' That got me in all kinds of trouble. There was a lot of press about it. Of course, I didn't have a damned orchestra. I had a hillbilly band, like everybody else. But I made a record, 'The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,' with a trumpet on it; I used a Jimmie Rodgers arrangement on that song. So, Sonny took my 'cause' in hand."

And, Tom T did come back to the Opry a few years later. Again, from Tom T. "But I finally got back on the Opry a few years later-I think it was 1980-the same way I got there in the beginning. I was at the Opry House doing something else; doing my TV show. And I met Ernest Tubb in the parking lot and he said, 'You get back on the Opry. You belong over there.' And I said, 'Yes, sir.' You know, what could you say to Ernest Tubb? I went back on the Opry again."

As mentioned above, Tom T Hall's first night appearing on the Opry as a member was on Saturday January 9, 1971. He appeared in the 7:30 Standard Candy segment hosted by Roy Acuff and the 10:30 Trailblazer segment hosted by Lester Flatt. Here is the running order for those 2 segments.

7:30: Standard Candy
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Jean Shepard: Another Lonely Night
Charlie Walker: Don't Squeeze My Sharman
Roy Acuff: Pins & Needles
Jean Shepard: Second Fiddle
Charlie Walker: Waiting For A Train
Roy Acuff: I Saw the Light

10:30: Trailblazer
Lester Flatt (host): I've Been Walking
Grandpa Jones: I'm Sorry I Caused You To Cry
Willis Brothers: I Still Do
Charlie Walker: Pick Me Up On Your Way Down
Uncle Josh: Just Joshin'

There you go. Congratulations to Tom T Hall for 41 years as on Opry member. It would just mean more if he was actually a part of the Opry.


  1. Byron, an excellent piece. And I agree: if Tom T. doesn't want to do the Opry but isn't retired, he shouldn't be a member.

  2. Fred here:

    I can only think somebody or something made Ol' T mad years ago and we have a Yogi Berra-Yankee Stadium kind of situation. Certainly he does what he wants these days, and there would be plenty of time for the Opry, if he were so inclined.

    It's too bad for the show, because Tom T. surely is one of the all-time greats, writer of some of country's very best songs, and the Opry could sorely use him.

  3. The 'Opry needs Tom T. Apparently, and sadly, Tom T. doesn't need the 'Opry.

  4. Wasn't Don Williams also an Opry member at one time? I do not see him on the current list of members.

    Also, why was Lonzo Sullivan removed as a Opry member after he retired and Jeanne Pruett, Barbara Mandrell, Ricky Van Shelton were not? My goodness Mr. Sullivan's longevity at the Opry ran for nearly 40 years.

  5. Sorry, that should be Oscar Sullivan, not Lonzo.

  6. David, Don Williams was indeed a member, but only for a couple of years. Oscar announced he was retiring, and remember that was 1985--a different management with different rules, and he said it was time. Of course, shortly thereafter, he went back to work now and then, but he has since sold the "Lonzo and Oscar" name to younger performers.

  7. Of interest is that I just found out that Oscar Sullivan's wife, Geneva, passed away on December 29.

    Mike, thanks for answering the Don Williams question. He, along with B.J. Thomas, from the same era, were both Opry members for a very short amount of time. Since Don left as a member, I really don't remember him coming back to perform on the Opry, while I know that B.J. has made several appearances. I think in the case of both of them, belonging to the Opry just wasn't what they thought it would be.

    One last note on Lonzo & Oscar. I just looked it up and if I have my dates right, their last Opry appearances were on Friday and Saturday October 18 and 19, 1985.

    (byron-who still can't comment on his own blog!!)

  8. It is not right that Barbara Mandrell, Jeanne Pruett and Ricky Van Shelton are still members of the Opry. If they are retired, then they are retired -- period. How is it that Holly Dunn was removed as a member upon her retirement from the music business, but the Mandrell, Pruett, and Van Shelton were not. You can say it was because Dunn moved to Arizona or NM (wherever she is) but doesn't Ricky Van Shelton live in Virginia? I don't get it. As for Tom T. Hall, I recall seeing him in an interview where he was asked if he ever visits or performs on the Opry or hears anything from the Opry members. He said, rather sarcastically, "I get a Christmas card from them." Yep, I bet somebody made him mad.

  9. It's nobobody's business why Tom T. avoids the Opry and I won't be the one to say so. But i read this blog full of "I don't understand..." and thought I'd post this much:

    Bottom line is that Nashville has proven the business is hardly ever about 'The Song' anymore...and Tom T. has always been all about The Song.

    Ya know, it's not hard to fall out of love with the music machine in Nashville these days...Opry or no Opry.

  10. Ed Thomas of Plant City, Florida was the first trumpet player Tom hired. So when they played the Friday night opry Ed Payed the trumpet on the show. After the show they told Tom Horns were not allowed on the Opry.On Saqturday evening Ed did not paly his trumpet. Ed told me T was Pi--- about it