When I was a teenager, my wonderful brother-in-law, Jimmy Wilson, introduced me to a remarkable artist named Tom T. Hall. Jimmy loved all sorts of country music from Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson. But one Sunday he told me about a new artist that he'd recently learned about named Tom T. Hall. Jimmy was excited about a new song of his called "Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine."
As we listened to several Tom T. Hall tapes, I concluded that there was something truly special about him. He was not only a good singer, he was a wonderful songwriter. Some of his songs were funny, like "Harper Valley PTA." Some pulled on your heart strings, like "I Love." And some were absolute poetry, like "Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine."
Years later, when I was writing Death in Panama, I was struggling with a chapter in which the main character, Robert E. Clark, goes fishing with his boss. The two men start talking about women and waxing nostalgic about their mothers and how women today don't measure up. A line from "Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine" came to me. An old man is talking to a young man about life and at one point tells him: "You know women think about theyselves when men folk ain't around."
The line was perfect for what I wanted to convey in the chapter, but I knew that quoting the lyrics of a song is tricky because they are protected by copyright law. So, I took a chance and wrote Mr. Hall a letter requesting permission to quote his song. A couple of weeks later I received a letter back from him not only giving me permission to quote his famous song, but also noting that, like me, he had served in the Army. I was very pleased and wrote him a note thanking him.
When I finally completed Death in Panama four years later, I decided to mail Mr. Hall a copy of the book. Again, a couple of weeks later I received a gracious letter from him, thanking me for the book and commenting on some things in the chapter. I was overwhelmed that a big star like Tom T. Hall not only allowed me to quote one of his most famous songs, but was so gracious about the whole thing.
In a time when virulent, hateful speech spews from the television almost daily, it is comforting to know that there are still generous gentlemen in the world--even big shots like Tom T. Hall.
Thanks again, Mr. Hall.
Tom T. Hall