Country Singer Tom T. Hall, Writer Of 'Harper Valley PTA,' Dies At 85

Entertainment

NPR 21 August, 2021 - 04:18pm 21 views

Which country music legend died today?

Tom T. Hall, the country music legend, has died. He was 85. The "I Love" singer died at his Franklin, Tennessee, home on Friday, his son Dean Hall confirmed the news on social media. "With great sadness, my father, Tom T. Hall, died this morning at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. Entertainment TonightTom T. Hall, Country Music Legend, Dead at 85

Mr. Hall, who wrote hits like “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” helped to imbue country lyrics with newfound depth and insight in the 1960s and ’70s.

Tom T. Hall, a country singer and songwriter known for wry, socially conscious hit songs like “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” died on Friday at his home in Franklin, Tenn. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by a director at the Williamson Memorial Funeral Home in Franklin.

Known to his fans and fellow musicians as “the Storyteller,” Mr. Hall was among a small circle of Nashville songwriters, including Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller and others, who imbued country lyrics with newfound depth and insight in the 1960s and ’70s. As his nickname suggests, he was a skilled narrator, although he told his stories less through the unfurling of linear plots than through the presentation of one-sided conversations or interior monologues that invited listeners into the lives of his often conflicted protagonists.

“Homecoming,” his 1969 Top 10 country hit, portrays a singer who has been away from home so long — and is so wrapped up in his own celebrity — that he hardly knows his own people anymore.

“I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there with you all when Mama passed away/I was on the road and when they came and told me it was just too late,” Mr. Hall sings in an unadorned baritone, assuming the role of the young entertainer during an overdue visit to his widowed father. Permitting his listeners to hear only the son’s portion of the dialogue, Mr. Hall refrains from passing judgment on the man, only to have him betray his self-absorption with one halfhearted apology after another.

“I didn’t make judgments,” Mr. Hall once said in an interview. “I let the listener make judgments. When I got to the end of the story, if it had a moral, I let the listener find it.”

“Harper Valley P.T.A.,” which reached No. 1 in 1968 on both the country and the pop singles charts for the singer Jeannie C. Riley, was part allegory and part small-town morality play. Written amid mounting tensions over civil rights, women’s liberation and the war in Vietnam, the song pits an indomitable young widow against the two-faced authorities at her daughter’s school, unmasking petty hypocrisy and prejudice while at the same time giving voice to the nation’s larger social unrest. (The song gained sufficient traction within the pop mainstream to inspire a movie and a TV series of the same name.)

Several of Mr. Hall’s other compositions also became major hits for his fellow artists, including “(Margie’s at) The Lincoln Park Inn,” a Top 10 country single for Bobby Bare in 1969, and “Hello Vietnam,” a No. 1 country hit for Johnnie Wright in 1965. “Hello Vietnam,” which featured backing vocals from Mr. Wright’s wife, Kitty Wells, was later used as the opening theme for the movie “Full Metal Jacket.”

As a performer, Mr. Hall placed 21 singles in the country Top 10, most of them on Mercury Records. The most successful were “I Love,” “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” and “A Week in a Country Jail.” Each spent two weeks at No. 1 on the country chart; the sentimental “I Love,” Mr. Hall’s only crossover hit as a recording artist, also reached the pop Top 20 in 1973.

Backed by lean, uncluttered arrangements typically played by first-call Nashville session musicians, Mr. Hall’s songs were both straightforward and closely observed, forcing listeners to look at the world, and their preconceived notions about it, in a new light. Concerned with everyday lives and struggles, Mr. Hall’s concise, understated tales had the impact of well-wrought short stories. (He also wrote two volumes of short fiction and two novels.)

Thomas Hall — he added the middle initial T to his name when he embarked on his career as a performer — was born on May 25, 1936, near Olive Hill, Ky. His father, Virgil, worked in a brick manufacturing plant and was also a preacher. His mother, Della, died when he was an adolescent. When he was 15, Mr. Hall dropped out of school to work in a garment factory to help support the family after his father was injured in a hunting accident.

One of eight children, he began playing guitar and writing songs and poetry as a young boy. Floyd Carter, a local musician and raconteur, was an early influence, as well as the man Mr. Hall later memorialized in song as the colorful Clayton Delaney.

Mr. Hall formed the Kentucky Travelers, a bluegrass band that played at local gatherings and on the radio, while doing factory work as a teenager. He joined the Army in 1957; while stationed in Germany, he performed humorous material on the Armed Forces Radio Network, before returning to the United States three years later and enrolling in Roanoke College in Virginia to study literature on the G.I. Bill.

He moved to Nashville in 1964 and signed a recording contract with Mercury shortly after the Cajun singer Jimmy C. Newman had a Top 10 country hit with his song “D.J. for a Day.”

In Mr. Hall’s career as a recording artist, which spanned more than two decades, he placed a total of 54 singles on the country charts. He also released more than three dozen albums, including two bluegrass projects: “The Magnificent Music Machine,” a 1976 collaboration with Bill Monroe, and “The Storyteller and the Banjoman” (1982), with Earl Scruggs.

Mr. Hall joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1971 and won a Grammy Award for best album notes for the 1972 compilation “Tom T. Hall’s Greatest Hits.” He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. In the early 1980s, he hosted the syndicated television series “Pop! Goes the Country.”

His songs continued to be recorded by mainstream country artists well into the 1990s, most notably “Little Bitty,” which reached the top of the country chart for Alan Jackson in 1996.

Information on survivors was not immediately available. Mr. Hall’s wife of 46 years, Iris Lawrence Hall, known to most as Miss Dixie, died in 2015. The couple did not have children of their own, but Fox Hollow, their 67-acre farm and recording studio south of Nashville, was a haven for aspiring young singers and songwriters.

Bluegrass was the couple’s passion during their final years together; for their many contributions to the idiom, including the numerous songs they wrote in that style, they were honored with a Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2004.

“He didn’t like taking 35 dogs to a show, and he wouldn’t play golf with me because I was good,” Ms. Hall, a dog lover and animal rights activist, told The New York Times in 2008, explaining why the couple spent much of their retirement writing songs. “But songwriting was something we could do together.”

Read full article at NPR

Tom T. Hall, country singer and 'Harper Valley P.T.A.' composer, dead at 85

Fox News 21 August, 2021 - 08:10pm

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Tom T. Hall, the singer-songwriter who composed "Harper Valley P.T.A." and sang about life’s simple joys as country music’s consummate blue collar bard, has died. He was 85.

His son, Dean Hall, confirmed the musician's death on Friday at his home in Franklin, Tennessee

Known as "The Storyteller" for his unadorned yet incisive lyrics, Hall composed hundreds of songs.

Along with such contemporaries as Kris Kristofferson, John Hartford and Mickey Newbury, Hall helped usher in a literary era of country music in the early ’70s, with songs that were political, like "Watergate Blues" and "The Monkey That Became President," deeply personal like "The Year Clayton Delaney Died," and philosophical like "(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine."

"In all my writing, I’ve never made judgments," he said in 1986. "I think that’s my secret. I’m a witness. I just watch everything and don’t decide if it’s good or bad."

Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell performed Hall's song "Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill A Chicken)" when Hall was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.

"The simplest words that told the most complicated stories. Felt like Tom T. just caught the songs as they floated by, but I know he carved them out of rock," Isbell tweeted on Friday.

Hall, the fourth son of an ordained minister, was born near Olive Hill, Kentucky, in a log cabin built by his grandfather. He started playing guitar at age 4 and wrote his first song by the time he was 9.

Hall began playing in a bluegrass band, but when that didn’t work out he started working as a disc jockey in Morehead, Kentucky. He joined the U.S. Army in 1957 for four years including an assignment in Germany. He turned to writing when he got back stateside and was discovered by Nashville publisher Jimmy Key.

Hall settled in Nashville in 1964 and first established himself as a songwriter making $50 a week. He wrote songs for Jimmy C. Newman, Dave Dudley and Johnny Wright, but he had so many songs that he began recording them himself. The middle initial "T" was added when he got his recording contract to make the name catchier.

His breakthrough was writing "Harper Valley P.T.A.," a 1968 international hit about small-town hypocrisy recorded by Jeannie C. Riley. The song about a mother telling a group of busybodies to mind their own business was witty and feisty and became a No. 1 country and pop hit. It sold millions of copies and Riley won a Grammy for best female country vocal performance and an award for single of the year from the Country Music Association. The story was so popular it even spawned a movie of the same name and a television series.

"Suddenly, it was the talk of the country," Hall told The Associated Press in 1986. "It became a catch phrase. You’d flip the radio dial and hear it four or five times in 10 minutes. It was the most awesome time of my life; I caused all this stir."

His own career took off after that song and he had a string of hits with "Ballad of Forty Dollars" (which also was recorded by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings); his first career No. 1 hit "A Week in a Country Jail," and "Homecoming," in the late 1960s.

Throughout the ’70s, Hall became one of Nashville’s biggest singer-songwriters, with multiple hit songs including, "I Love," "Country Is," "I Care," "I Like Beer," and "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and The Poet.)" He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978.

"Tom T. Hall’s masterworks vary in plot, tone and tempo, but they are bound by his ceaseless and unyielding empathy for the triumphs and losses of others," said Kyle Young, CEO, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in a statement. "He wrote without judgment or anger, offering a rhyming journalism of the heart that sets his compositions apart from any other writer.

He also penned songs for children on his records "Songs of Fox Hollow (for Children of All Ages)" in 1974 and "Country Songs for Kids," in 1988. He also became an author, writing a book about songwriting, "The Songwriter’s Handbook," and an autobiography, "The Storyteller’s Nashville," as well as fiction novels.

He was host of the syndicated TV show "Pop Goes the Country" from 1980 to 1983 and even dabbled in politics. Hall was close to former President Jimmy Carter and Carter’s brother, Billy, when Carter was in the White House. Tennessee Democrats urged Hall to run for governor in 1982, but he declined.

For his 1985 album "Songs in a Seashell," he spent six months walking up and down Southern beaches to get inspiration for the summer mood of the LP.

He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and in 2012, he was honored as the BMI Icon of the year, with artists such as the Avett Brothers, bluegrass stars Daily & Vincent, Toby Keith and Justin Townes Earle paying tribute to the songwriting legend.

"I think a song is just a song," Hall said at the ceremony in 2012. "They can do it with all kinds of different bands. It’s just a lyric and a melody. I was talking to Kris Kristofferson one time. They asked him what was country, and he said, ‘If it sounds country, it’s country.’ So that’s my philosophy."

He married English-born songwriter Dixie Deen in 1968, and the two would go on to write hundreds of bluegrass songs after Hall retired from performing in the 1990s, including "All That’s Left" which Miranda Lambert covered on her 2014 album, "Platinum." Dixie Hall died in 2015.

In 2015, music legend Bob Dylan singled out Hall for some harsh criticism in a rambling speech at a MusiCares event. He called Hall’s song, "I Love," "a little overcooked," and said that the arrival of Kristofferson in Nashville "blew ol’ Tom T. Hall’s world apart."

The criticism apparently confused Hall, as he considered Kristofferson a friend and a peer, and when asked about Dylan’s comments in a 2016 article for "American Songwriter" magazine, he responded, "What the hell was all that about?"

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Country Music Hall of Fame artist Tom T. Hall dies at age 85

CNN 21 August, 2021 - 08:10pm

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2021 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. Quotes displayed in real-time or delayed by at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Factset. Powered and implemented by FactSet Digital Solutions. Legal Statement. Mutual Fund and ETF data provided by Refinitiv Lipper.

Fox News Flash top entertainment and celebrity headlines are here. Check out what's clicking today in entertainment.

Tom T. Hall, the singer-songwriter who composed "Harper Valley P.T.A." and sang about life’s simple joys as country music’s consummate blue collar bard, has died. He was 85.

His son, Dean Hall, confirmed the musician's death on Friday at his home in Franklin, Tennessee

Known as "The Storyteller" for his unadorned yet incisive lyrics, Hall composed hundreds of songs.

Along with such contemporaries as Kris Kristofferson, John Hartford and Mickey Newbury, Hall helped usher in a literary era of country music in the early ’70s, with songs that were political, like "Watergate Blues" and "The Monkey That Became President," deeply personal like "The Year Clayton Delaney Died," and philosophical like "(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine."

"In all my writing, I’ve never made judgments," he said in 1986. "I think that’s my secret. I’m a witness. I just watch everything and don’t decide if it’s good or bad."

Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell performed Hall's song "Mama Bake A Pie (Daddy Kill A Chicken)" when Hall was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.

"The simplest words that told the most complicated stories. Felt like Tom T. just caught the songs as they floated by, but I know he carved them out of rock," Isbell tweeted on Friday.

Hall, the fourth son of an ordained minister, was born near Olive Hill, Kentucky, in a log cabin built by his grandfather. He started playing guitar at age 4 and wrote his first song by the time he was 9.

Hall began playing in a bluegrass band, but when that didn’t work out he started working as a disc jockey in Morehead, Kentucky. He joined the U.S. Army in 1957 for four years including an assignment in Germany. He turned to writing when he got back stateside and was discovered by Nashville publisher Jimmy Key.

Hall settled in Nashville in 1964 and first established himself as a songwriter making $50 a week. He wrote songs for Jimmy C. Newman, Dave Dudley and Johnny Wright, but he had so many songs that he began recording them himself. The middle initial "T" was added when he got his recording contract to make the name catchier.

His breakthrough was writing "Harper Valley P.T.A.," a 1968 international hit about small-town hypocrisy recorded by Jeannie C. Riley. The song about a mother telling a group of busybodies to mind their own business was witty and feisty and became a No. 1 country and pop hit. It sold millions of copies and Riley won a Grammy for best female country vocal performance and an award for single of the year from the Country Music Association. The story was so popular it even spawned a movie of the same name and a television series.

"Suddenly, it was the talk of the country," Hall told The Associated Press in 1986. "It became a catch phrase. You’d flip the radio dial and hear it four or five times in 10 minutes. It was the most awesome time of my life; I caused all this stir."

His own career took off after that song and he had a string of hits with "Ballad of Forty Dollars" (which also was recorded by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings); his first career No. 1 hit "A Week in a Country Jail," and "Homecoming," in the late 1960s.

Throughout the ’70s, Hall became one of Nashville’s biggest singer-songwriters, with multiple hit songs including, "I Love," "Country Is," "I Care," "I Like Beer," and "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and The Poet.)" He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978.

"Tom T. Hall’s masterworks vary in plot, tone and tempo, but they are bound by his ceaseless and unyielding empathy for the triumphs and losses of others," said Kyle Young, CEO, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in a statement. "He wrote without judgment or anger, offering a rhyming journalism of the heart that sets his compositions apart from any other writer.

He also penned songs for children on his records "Songs of Fox Hollow (for Children of All Ages)" in 1974 and "Country Songs for Kids," in 1988. He also became an author, writing a book about songwriting, "The Songwriter’s Handbook," and an autobiography, "The Storyteller’s Nashville," as well as fiction novels.

He was host of the syndicated TV show "Pop Goes the Country" from 1980 to 1983 and even dabbled in politics. Hall was close to former President Jimmy Carter and Carter’s brother, Billy, when Carter was in the White House. Tennessee Democrats urged Hall to run for governor in 1982, but he declined.

For his 1985 album "Songs in a Seashell," he spent six months walking up and down Southern beaches to get inspiration for the summer mood of the LP.

He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and in 2012, he was honored as the BMI Icon of the year, with artists such as the Avett Brothers, bluegrass stars Daily & Vincent, Toby Keith and Justin Townes Earle paying tribute to the songwriting legend.

"I think a song is just a song," Hall said at the ceremony in 2012. "They can do it with all kinds of different bands. It’s just a lyric and a melody. I was talking to Kris Kristofferson one time. They asked him what was country, and he said, ‘If it sounds country, it’s country.’ So that’s my philosophy."

He married English-born songwriter Dixie Deen in 1968, and the two would go on to write hundreds of bluegrass songs after Hall retired from performing in the 1990s, including "All That’s Left" which Miranda Lambert covered on her 2014 album, "Platinum." Dixie Hall died in 2015.

In 2015, music legend Bob Dylan singled out Hall for some harsh criticism in a rambling speech at a MusiCares event. He called Hall’s song, "I Love," "a little overcooked," and said that the arrival of Kristofferson in Nashville "blew ol’ Tom T. Hall’s world apart."

The criticism apparently confused Hall, as he considered Kristofferson a friend and a peer, and when asked about Dylan’s comments in a 2016 article for "American Songwriter" magazine, he responded, "What the hell was all that about?"

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2021 FOX News Network, LLC. All rights reserved. Quotes displayed in real-time or delayed by at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Factset. Powered and implemented by FactSet Digital Solutions. Legal Statement. Mutual Fund and ETF data provided by Refinitiv Lipper.

Country singer Tom T. Hall dies; wrote 'Harper Valley PTA'

KETK NBC 21 August, 2021 - 08:10pm

By Gabriella Ferlita For Mailonline

She's due to star in the upcoming movie Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings - the first Marvel film to feature an Asian superhero as the lead character.

And Awkwafina, 33, has said she is 'so proud' to be a part of a movie that is making a difference to audience members from her community as she covers Cosmopolitan's September issue.

Speaking to Cosmopolitan about her new role as Katy in the new Marvel standalone, she said: 'These movies make me so proud, just as a watcher, because they contribute to visibility, which I do think has real-life effects.'

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings: Awkwafina, 33, has said she is 'so proud' to be a part of a movie that is making a difference to audience members from her community

'When the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community is seen as not ancillary characters, it's almost like, then people will know that we're here, you know?' 

Awkwafina, or Nora Lum as she was born, is excited to be in an action-packed film after featuring in the 2018 rom-com Crazy Rich Asians and 2019's drama The Farewell.

'Dangling off of things and flying, falling backward…it's really different from, say, an indie rom-com. It's really cool. It's so weird to switch from ''friend mode.''

'It's really cool': Awkwafina, or Nora Lum as she was born, is excited to be in an action-packed film after featuring in the 2018 rom-com Crazy Rich Asians and 2019's drama The Farewell

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings features an almost entirely Asian cast - a feat that would have been welcome when she was 'growing up'. 

'When I was growing up, I knew how I was socioeconomically classified. I knew that my grandma was a working-class immigrant and my dad was a single dad. I knew that I would have to get through in my own way.'

The star added: 'That taught me a lot of lessons, like you really have to humble yourself, doing waitress jobs and applying to really hip stores and not getting the job and feeling like, What is even out there? You have to really hit a kind of rock bottom to really want it, to fight for it.'

However, the film is not out of the woods yet. Marvel has come under fire for attempting to use Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings to 'fix' its 'Asian problem'. 

The Guardian wrote: 'And now Marvel has 'fixed' its 'Asian problem' by announcing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' after a series of 'problematic' casting choices in their previous movies. 

'Keen to avoid a backlash when depicting the traditionally stereotyped Mandarin supervillain in Iron Man 3, the studio cleverly cast part-south Asian actor Ben Kingsley as a drunken English luvvie, Trevor Slattery, who was only ever playing the role of Tony Stark's evil nemesis. The only problem was that this was another role not going to an actor of east Asian extraction.' 

Under fire: Marvel has come under fire for attempting to use Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings to 'fix' its 'Asian problem'. Pictured: Simu Liu as Shang-Chi on set

Ben Child added: 'Iron Fist fell into the problematic 'white saviour' trap by casting Finn Jones as kung-fu-kicking New York rich kid Danny Rand, a stereotypical white guy who beats the Asian martial arts experts at their own game.'

Out soon: The September issue of Cosmopolitan is on sale from August 24

The cast also includes Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan plus returning Marvel Cinematic Universe characters Wong (Benedict Wong) and Abomination (Tim Roth).

Abomination was first featured in the second Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, 2008's The Incredible Hulk.

Wong was first featured in 2016's Doctor Strange, before returning in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War and 2019's Avengers: Endgame.

Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) directs from a script he co-wrote with Dave Callaham (The Expendables) and Andrew Lanham (Just Mercy).

Disney also announced in May that their movies such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the upcoming Free Guy will have a 45-day theatrical window before arriving on the Disney Plus streaming service.

The September issue of Cosmopolitan is on sale from August 24.  

Theatrical window: Disney also announced in May that their movies such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the upcoming Free Guy will have a 45-day theatrical window

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Remembering Tom T. Hall - His Best Songs + His Greatest hits

Taste of Country 21 August, 2021 - 08:10pm

The stars and creators of the FX comedy take us behind the scenes of the smartest silly show on television

Guillén, Novak, Demetriou, Berry, and Proksch, the vamps of 'What We Do in the Shadows.'

On a dark Toronto night in the middle of a bleak pandemic winter, the cast and crew of What We Do in the Shadows are cracking themselves up with poop jokes. In the scene being filmed, the four lead vampires of the FX mockumentary series — bickering lovers Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), ancient warrior Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and superhumanly boring “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) — are debating what to do with Nandor’s human familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who recently outed himself as a vampire hunter. Guillermo is being kept in a cage in the basement of the group’s Staten Island home, and Colin Robinson has been obsessively studying the contents of Guillermo’s toilet bucket.

The actors traditionally stick to the script for the first few takes before they’re unleashed to improvise — a power even more potent than their vampire alter egos’ gifts of flight or hypnosis. On the spot, Novak has Nandor tell Colin Robinson, “You’ve been sliding to his BMs,” and any pretense of staying in character is gone. As his colleagues try to control their breathing, Novak realizes he got the phrasing wrong: “It should be ‘sliding into his BMs,’ ” he acknowledges, to even more laughter. After a few minutes, everyone remains composed enough to film several takes with the new joke.

Viewers of Shadows’ Season Three premiere (September 2nd) won’t hear the “sliding into his BMs” punchline. The vampires’ difficulty grasping the modern world is a core part of the series’ humor, and the producers ultimately decided Nandor wouldn’t get social media well enough to make that joke. This would be the best gag in a given episode of tons of contemporary sitcoms, but it’s not quite good enough to make the Shadows cut.

“This is something that often happens with us,” says Shadows writer-producer Stefani Robinson. “That’s the biggest bummer. We do a lot of laughing, and we end up having to pick one or two to keep.”

Kristen Schaal shares a laugh with Novak and Guillén on set.

It’s the kind of high-class problem that comes from making the funniest show on television. Based on the 2014 film of the same name — written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and centered on vampires sharing a house in the Wellington suburbs of the creators’ native New Zealand — the TV version of Shadows transposes the action (or lack of it) to the U.S. with a fresh cast. Following its March 2019 debut, the first two seasons received critical acclaim and fan adoration for a supply of jokes as inexhaustible as its vampires’ appetites for blood.

And what makes viewers howl is often only a fraction of what could. Guillén and Novak bust up while recalling an unbroken, largely improvised 22-minute take from the first season where the five characters keep missing each other as they move from room to room through the house; maybe eight seconds made it to air. Shadows showrunner Paul Simms suggests that when he and editor-director Yana Gorskaya first start looking at raw footage, “There are so many good options, we could release a second version of each episode that has the exact same story and entirely different dialogue.”

The version we get is more than enough, thankfully. In an era when too many TV comedies are just half-hour dramas with occasional jokes, Shadows is an unparalleled laugh-making machine. Every kind of humor is fair game, from the slapstick of Laszlo repeatedly injuring himself while wearing a cursed witch’s hat to the relationship antics of Nandor and Guillermo. It is a dumb show about dumb monsters, made by some of today’s smartest comedy minds.

“It immediately became one of my all-time favorite comedies I’ve ever seen on television,” says the show’s most prominent celebrity fan, Mark Hamill, who memorably guest-starred in Season Two. “Taking the mythology of vampires and burrowing down into the mundane qualities of their lives? I’m a longtime horror fan, and I just can’t praise it enough.”

Clement and Waititi, friends and frequent collaborators, originated the idea in a stage show years before the movie came into being. They played bickering vamps, with Waititi as an undead comedian whose entire act was about being a vampire and Clement a heckler who’d been following him from gig to gig for 300 years. “Then we wanted to make a film,” says Clement. “Taika wanted to make a mockumentary, and I wanted to do something about vampires, and we just put it together.”

As they were working on the movie, “a lot of people in the crew said, ‘This feels like a sitcom,’ ” Clement says, “so the idea was already there. And we had joked that it could be like Real Housewives. We could have different cities with different roommates.” (Eventually, they wound up doing exactly that, in the States with Shadows, and back home with Wellington Paranormal, an X-Files satire featuring a pair of cops from the movie.)

The film featured three male vampire roommates, while their familiar, Jackie, hung around on the periphery of the story. In expanding the idea into a series, Clement, who largely developed the TV incarnation while Waititi has focused on movies, tweaked the formula. He added a female vamp in Nadja, making sure she would be just as inane as the guys, plus Colin Robinson, who gains strength through the power of tedious office chitchat and internet trolling. Clement also realized in revisiting the film that Jackie “had the most at stake.” With the character of Guillermo, he decided to delve deeper into how a familiar would feel about his or her master.

Clement wrote the pompous, sexually adventurous Laszlo with Berry’s voice in his head, having long been an admirer of the English comic actor (Toast of London, The IT Crowd). The other characters really came into focus after casting. Guillermo was originally written to be an old man still holding out hope that Nandor will one day make him an immortal vampire. When the far-younger Guillén nailed his audition, the familiar became a millennial whose optimism hadn’t yet been drummed out of him. Novak, meanwhile, viewed Nandor as a blend of Clement and Waititi’s characters from the film (“He’s a warrior, like Jemaine, but he’s also a pedantic, neurotic head of the house, like Taika”), and had to figure out a comic dialect — “a slight Eastern European flat-pancake voice” that contrasts amusingly with words like “pillaging” and “killing” — as a way into the role.

Both Demetriou and her character, Nadja, have Greek ancestry, which the writers began leaning into in a way that made Clement — whose own wife (actor-playwright Miranda Manasiadis) is also of Greek descent — belatedly realize he had created a show “about being married to a Greek woman for a long time.” But Berry argues the fictional relationship is a healthy one, calling it “one of the only sort of positive things going on in the house. They are there because they want to be with each other. And they’re still as sexually active as they were on that first night.”

Those two may not be the show’s only case of true romance. Initially, Guillén struggled with the idea of Guillermo just being Nandor’s slave, but he found an emotional center to the character that made sense to him. “What I brought to that relationship is the love that he has for Nandor, and the love they have for each other,” he explains. “What kind of love is that? Is it sadomasochist, a passionate obsession, or a borderline lover-father figure? It’s all these elements, where it’s, ‘What is going on with them?’ But I like that we’re on a tightrope about it.” (Novak, for his part, says he pulls from dysfunctional relationships from his own past to inform scenes with Guillén.)

The actors don’t just take their characters’ connections seriously, but the entire ludicrous world of Shadows, an attitude crucial to making the show as riotous as it is. “I have never been interested in comedy from people that are aware that they’re being funny,” says Berry. “It’s got to look as if you don’t think what you’re doing is ridiculous in any way at all.” Proksch, who compares the show to high-concept Sixties sitcoms like The Munsters or The Addams Family, agrees: “Otherwise, it’ll just come off as a wink and a nudge, and that is never funny. It’s always embarrassing to watch that type of comedy.”

The actors find ways to goof around on set when they can — Demetriou laments that when she and Berry film talking-head interview segments in character, he often starts off by snapping, “That’s what she said!” just to make her break character — but even the improv on set is serious business. “It’s not your typical ‘yes, and’ type of comedy,” explains Proksch. “We’re actually acting in character and listening as those characters would.” Nonetheless, the ad-libbing provides all involved with so much joy that it can be hard to stop coming up with new jokes. “It’s like playing hot potato with these actors,” says Guillén, “and no one ever drops the potato.”

There is genuine danger from too much improvising or flubbing of takes, especially on a show that films at night in the dead of Toronto winter: “When you’re outside and Mark [Proksch] is in a grave and it’s minus-15, you’ve got to get through it, or someone might die,” says Demetriou, exaggerating only slightly. “This show is life-or-death in many ways.” Mostly, though, the fear is simply having too much of a good thing. FX gives its producers leeway on running time, but Simms — whose résumé includes The Larry Sanders Show, NewsRadio, and Atlanta — says he tends to get antsy around minute 23 of most sitcom episodes, and would rather leave the audience wanting more. “It is hard,” he says, “because there’s so much funny stuff. There’s just no way to fit it all in without making each episode 55 minutes long.”

Jokes that don’t advance the story, or that defy our understanding of these characters, are often the first to go. A Season Two subplot where Laszlo and Nadja perform songs at a bar originally featured a long sequence where they invited Colin Robinson onstage with them — “It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen, watching Mark Proksch move his body [to music],” Demetriou says, cackling — but Simms cut it because it conflicted with earlier scenes that had Colin rooting for his housemates to flop in front of an audience.

A lot of decisions on what jokes to keep come down to a hard-to-quantify sixth sense the creative team has developed over the years. As Stefani Robinson explains, “It’s dirty but it’s not too dirty. There’s poop jokes, but we don’t want to see the poop. There’s puns, but not too many puns. Cultural references, but not too many. It’s this weird balance we’ve had to strike.”

The biggest question, particularly for a show whose characters are as stupid as they are powerful, is figuring out when things have gotten too stupid even for Shadows. And that line seems to be shifting all the time. During Season Two, Clement pitched the idea of Laszlo fleeing town to avoid an old foe. Robinson fleshed it out to write the show’s comic high point to date: “On the Run,” where Laszlo finds himself tending bar in a small town in Pennsylvania, with only a pair of dungarees, a toothpick, and the name Jackie Daytona as his disguise. Hamill played Laszlo’s nemesis Jim the Vampire, who is completely fooled by the costume, only recognizing Laszlo when he takes the toothpick out of his mouth.

“When I read it,” Clement admits of the toothpick scene, “I said, ‘We haven’t gone this dumb before.’ ” But it played spectacularly well, as did all of the episode’s jokes about “Jackie” inspiring the local girls’ volleyball team to newfound success (all involved insist that Laszlo did not use his powers to aid them in their pursuit of a championship) and playing Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” on the bar jukebox. Another show might have consigned Jackie to a third-string subplot; Shadows made him the centerpiece of a whole episode.

Simms compares Jackie Daytona’s genesis to his days writing with Clement and Bret McKenzie on the HBO musical-comedy Flight of the Conchords. “Those episodes often started out from the songs they had,” he says, “which is a completely backwards way of working: ‘How do we build an episode where this song makes sense here?’ That’s how it’ll be with Jemaine: ‘I thought of a really funny scene, and that’s how you get there.’ It violates everything I would tell anyone about how to structure a story. But on a show this silly, we find a way to make it work.”

The cast and crew were largely awestruck by the presence of Luke Skywalker himself. Novak was so nervous to talk to Hamill that he sent Guillén over in his stead, only to feel jealous when the two quickly hit it off without him. But it turned out that Hamill was just as giddy to meet everyone on Team Shadows. He’d become a huge fan of the whole franchise after his kids first showed him the movie, and encouraged his Twitter followers to watch Season One because every new show he likes gets canceled quickly, and he wanted Shadows to avoid the same fate. (Hamill needn’t have worried: While the show started out as a solid ratings performer for FX, its overall viewership actually jumped 100 percent in its second year, which basically doesn’t happen anymore. Season Four goes into production this fall.)

“Out of all the people I’ve met, even at Comic-Con, none of them was as excited about the show as Mark Hamill,” says Clement. “One time, I was at Skywalker Ranch, and they have a lightsaber there. And I was so excited to see this lightsaber. Our costume designer, Amanda Neale, gave Mark the ring I wore in the film, and he was as excited to have that as I was about the lightsaber, which blew me away.”

For Hamill, the hardest part was not laughing constantly while surrounded by his comic heroes. “Matt Berry ad-libs like crazy,” he says. “You have to stay in character, because my character doesn’t think he’s funny, but Mark Hamill thinks he’s hilarious.”

Season Two debuted in the early days of the pandemic, which only made the show’s brand of unapologetic goofiness even more appealing. As the cast and crew reassembled in Toronto at the start of this year to film new episodes under strict Covid protocols (this story was reported entirely via Zoom and phone), the most important thing on everyone’s mind, Demetriou says, was, “How can we make this scene the funniest it can be, how stupid can we take this? That’s a rare thing at the moment. Because everything’s quite serious in the world.”

Season Three deals with the fallout from the vampires discovering Guillermo’s secret and the power vacuum he created by killing so many elite vampires, plus Colin Robinson exploring his own cloudy origins. What it will not deal with is the pandemic, which is far too weighty a subject for this show. But Shadows’ premise turns out to be oddly perfect for a world emerging from quarantine. “It’s always about creating situations where they have to go out into a world they’re not familiar with,” says Simms. “They haven’t had to interact with it, and they just sat around doing nothing.” For as much havoc as Laszlo and friends wreak upon the neighborhood around them, he and his housemates are almost performing a public service, both for the people who watch their misadventures and the people who make them.

“I hear this all the time from friends who watch the show, especially when Season Two came out during the pandemic,” says Robinson. “It ended up being a light for some people. It was a way to detach from more difficult things that were happening in the world and watch something that felt like it was purely silly and comedic and comforting in a very specific way.”

Not bad for a project that began with Taika Waititi in a theater telling corny vampire jokes like, “I just flew in from Transylvania — boy, are my arms tired!” What We Do in the Shadows has gotten (slightly) more sophisticated since then, but the end goal is the same: Make the audience laugh till it hurts, then, like Guillermo, beg for more pain.

In This Article: FX, Jemaine Clement, What We Do in the Shadows

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Appreciation: From wry and worldly to warm and welcoming, Tom T. Hall was a songwriter's songwriter

Los Angeles Times 21 August, 2021 - 06:51pm

Longtime friend and peer Bobby Bare once said “Tom T. would have made a great writer for movies, because he knows how to put words in people’s mouths that you believe.” After learning that Hall had died on Friday at his home in Franklin, Tenn. at age 85, alt-country artist Jason Isbell wrote on Twitter, “The simplest words that told the most complicated stories. Felt like Tom T. just caught the songs as they floated by, but I know he carved them out of rock.”

Indeed, Hall was compared as often to famed short story writers as he was to his fellow tunesmiths: Rock critic Robert Christgau called him “a cross between Chekhov and O. Henry.” Despite “The Storyteller” moniker, however, Hall didn’t write conventional story songs with clear narratives. Instead, he sketched out scenarios and recounted interior monologues, creating a vivid sense of time and place through his finely rendered details.

Fittingly, Hall’s work reflects his era, when old-fashioned country values collided with the turbulent modern world of the 1960s and ‘70s. Hall wasn’t part of the counterculture, but his perspective was wry and worldly, bearing weathered wisdom rivaled only by fellow singer-songwriting giants Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard. Where the Bakersfield, Calif.-based Haggard stood outside of Nashville, Hall was part of the Music City, working with Nashville’s elite session musicians on his own records and building his reputation by writing tunes for other artists.

Hall did mine his personal life for inspiration. “Ballad of Forty Dollars,” which gave him his first Country Top Ten hit in 1968, came from his short time as a gravedigger. The narrator stands apart from the group watching the funeral proceed, admiring a shiny limousine and the widow (“That sure is a pretty dress / You know some women do look good in black”), coming to the conclusion, “I hope he rests in peace, the trouble is the fellow owes me forty bucks.”

Hall had a knack for delivering unexpected punches, as he did on “Homecoming,” the tale of a country singer visiting his widowed father after being “gone so many years, I didn’t realize you had a phone.” Hall paints a full portrait of a selfish singer through his series of excuses and equivocations; he’s hung by his own words.

“Homecoming” is as cold and flinty a character study as anything by Randy Newman, yet it’s a bit of an outlier in Hall’s discography. “A Week in a Country Jail,” the song that gave him his first No. 1 single in 1969, is a better touchstone, pushing his sense of humor to the forefront, relying on his offhand, casual delivery and set to a rolling rhythm vaguely reminiscent of bluegrass. It’s a warm, welcoming sound that Hall would develop over the course of the 1970s, gradually softening his music so much he wound up with a pop crossover hit with 1973’s singsong “I Love.”

Some musicians immediately picked up on this genre-bending. Country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons covered Hall’s “I Can’t Dance” on his 1974 album “Grievous Angel,” while “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” a Hall song Bobby Bare had a hit with in 1970, became a standard covered by Lee Hazlewood, Rosanne Cash, Buddy Miller, Solomon Burke and the Avett Brothers over the years.

Hall’s music endured even though he essentially retired after 1985’s “Song in a Seashell.” A decade later, he had a brief revival, releasing two albums — “Songs From Sopchoppy” in 1996, “Home Grown” in 1997 — on Mercury Records. Alan Jackson recorded Hall’s “Little Bitty” from “Songs from Sopchoppy,” giving him his last number one hit as a songwriter in 1996. The Tom T. renaissance continued when Hall was the subject of a 1998 tribute album, “Real,” that featured artists from Johnny Cash to Iris Dement to Whiskeytown.

Hall was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019. Upon his induction to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Hall reflected, “I was listening to the radio one day, and somebody said, ‘That sounds like a Tom T. Hall song,’ I said, ‘I must be doing something a little different than everybody else because now there’s such a thing as a Tom T. Hall song, and I’m going to buy into that.’”

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R.I.P. Tom T. Hall, country music's legendary "Storyteller"

Yahoo Lifestyle 21 August, 2021 - 11:31am

Hall was born in Kentucky in 1936 and played in bands as a young man, going on to write songs about being in the military during his time in Army and then working as a disc jokey after leaving the service. In 1964, country singer Jimmy C. Newman recorded “DJ For A Day,” a song written by Hall, and he got a job churning out country songs for Newman’s publishing company. He could reportedly pen dozens in a week, making him an in-demand and prolific songwriter over night, with some of his songs being recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, Waylon Jennings, and Loretta Lynn.

In 1968, Jeannie C. Riley recorded Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” a big hit that earned him a Grammy nomination, and the steadily increasing awareness and appreciation for his storytelling capabilities—including his penchant for thoughtful or humorous observations and his strong narratives—got him enough cachet to venture out into a singing career. From the ‘60s to the ‘80s, he recorded songs like “A Week In A Country Jail,” “I Like Beer,” and “Faster Horses (The Cowboy And The Poet).” His biggest hit was 1974's “I Love,” which crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100. By the ‘90s, Hall had retired from writing and performing, though he remained a revered figure in the country music scene.

His wife, fellow songwriter Dixie Hall, died in 2015. Hall is survived by his son, Dean Hall.

The singer, songwriter, and First Wives Club actor has blessed us with her music for over two decades. Here she breaks down the stories behind five of her most impactful songs.

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