Tom T. Hall approached songwriting like a hitchhiker in no particular hurry to catch a ride. "I'd go out by the highway and watch the truckers and I'd just go in that direction," the Kentucky native said. "I'd end up in all of these small hangouts with big parking lots. Roadside cafes, beer joints, diners, truck stops, pool halls. I'd listen. I'd talk. Then I'd go back to the hotel and sit down with my guitar."
His vagabond observations and plucky, rural sense of humor gave Hall the voice to write country hits such as "Harper Valley P.T.A.," "The Pool Shark" and "A Week in a Country Jail." It also led to "L.A. Blues," a skeptical snapshot of the city from his 1971 album "In Search of a Song."
I got off the airplane 'long about 7:30 in L.A.
What a drag to realize that
everything's so different
and so the same
All my California friends are
searchin' for their minds
And it's been right there in their heads all the time
L.A. blues, L.A. blues
You want me to be like you, well,
there ain't no way
"I had been in the Army, and when I got out I went to Nashville, in 1964. Then in the late 1960s I got to L.A. but I was still wearing my Army-issue britches -- they were good khakis, you know -- and I still had my Army haircut to match them. Well, believe me, in L.A. back then that made me the weird one."
Politically, Hall felt comfortable (the 71-year-old Hall now describes himself as "sort of an old hippie"), but the swirl of the scene left him smirking. "I met that nice Linda Ronstadt and I felt bad," Hall said. "She could sure sing, but the poor girl couldn't afford shoes."
After a few hits, Hall hit the TV circuit. "I went on Merv Griffin's show, and Dinah Shore's show. I got what you call national exposure." In "L.A. Blues," he takes a few twangy potshots but he waves goodbye at the end with a half-smile: "Some day California I'll come roarin' back to you / If you don't fall in the ocean before I do."
The California adventure cost him though: When Hall tramped back to the heartland, he found he couldn't sneak into roadhouses anymore. "People would say, 'Hey, you're that guy that I saw on TV!' L.A. blew that whole thing."
Geoff BoucherCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times