JACKIE LYDEN, host: Songwriter Tom T. Hall earned the nickname The Storyteller for his mature, literary approach to country songwriting in the 1960s and '70s. When children figured into his songs, they were usually part of adult situations, like the girl who learns about small-town hypocrisy in "Harper Valley PTA."
But one summer in 1974, Hall found himself writing songs for children. The album that resulted, "Songs of Fox Hollow," became a cult classic. Now, that record has been remade for a new generation by a group of appreciative Nashville musicians. Craig Havighurst of member station WPLN has the story.
CRAIG HAVIGHURST: Just over some hills from one of the Nashville area's biggest malls and highway interchanges, Tom T. Hall's estate, Fox Hollow, feels like 100 years ago and 1,000 miles away. Surrounded by acres of forest and two ponds, the stately home is guarded by pet peacocks.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEACOCKS)
HAVIGHURST: Hall and his wife, Dixie, bought the house and land in 1969, when he was at the height of his hit-making career. Since then, it's been a sanctuary in every sense of the word.
TOM T. HALL: When we came on the place we made a promise to never shoot a gun on the property. And now, when the hunting season comes, all the huntable things move into Fox Hollow and gather up around, pretty much around the house. We wake up some mornings, and there are 15 or 20, you know, wild turkeys in the yard.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)
HAVIGHURST: Nearly 40 years ago, Hall explored the property with two young nephews who had come to stay for a summer.
HALL: So we spent three months walking around Fox Hollow, and they were discovering things that I hadn't spent much time on, or maybe wasn't paying attention to. One day, we saw a little snake go wiggling off through the water - a little garden snake of some kind. We named him Sneaky Snake and made up a story about him hugging and kissing and drinking root beer.
HAVIGHURST: After the kids went to bed, Hall set the story to music
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SNEAKY SNAKES")
HALL: (Singing) Boys and girls take warning, if you go near the lake, keep your eyes wide open, and look for sneaky snake. Now maybe you won't see him, maybe you won't hear, but he will sneak up behind you, and drink all your root beer.
HAVIGHURST: After a few weeks he had a full album's worth of similar songs. His record company was taken aback when Hall told them that his latest work was a bunch of kids' songs, but he was allowed to record and release them.
The new song-for-song remake of that album is called "I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow." The story of the surreptitious serpent is song by Buddy Miller.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SNEAKY SNAKES")
BUDDY MILLER: (Singing) I don't like old Sneaky Snake; he laughs too much you see. When he goes wigglin' through the grass, it tickles his underneath.
HAVIGHURST: In all, there are more than a dozen leading artists from Nashville's independent music scene, including singer-songwriters Jim Lauderdale, Elizabeth Cook and Bobby Bare. They were brought together by Peter Cooper, a music reporter for The Tennessean newspaper, a touring songwriter himself and a superfan of Tom T. Hall.
PETER COOPER: This album has been a part of my life since it came out.
HAVIGHURST: When he was four years old...
COOPER: I was playing "Sneaky Snake." in a band in college. It's not an album that adulthood necessitates giving up because the songs are layered, and these songs were gosh, "I Love" and "I Care" were adult hits.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CARE")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) When you tell a big lie and your parents are mean. When being grownup is a faraway dream. When you're fillin' your teeth and cuttin' your hair, I want you to know I care. I care. I do. There's no one like you....
HAVIGHURST: In fact, both songs reached number one on country radio, and even "Sneaky Snake" made the charts and became a popular CB radio handle, a fact that astonishes Cooper's co-producer, Eric Brace.
ERIC BRACE: These days, it would be hard to imagine a long-haul trucker singing along to Barney the dinosaur or a Hannah Montana song. But in 1974, when Tom T. put out "Songs of Fox Hollow," subtitled "Songs for Children of All Ages," that's what happened. It had those two number one country hits, and I just love imagining the truck driver tearing down the highway going, (singing) I love little baby ducks.
HAVIGHURST: But no trucker would do for the new album's title track. Cooper and Brace have recruited Austin songwriter Patty Griffin.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE")
PATTY GRIFFIN: (Singing) I love little baby ducks, old pick-up trucks, slow-moving trains and rain. I love little country streams, sleep without dreams, Sunday school in may and hay.
HAVIGHURST: The album's producers also recorded interviews with musicians during the sessions, including Griffin.
GRIFFIN: It's so tender and amazing, open and very vulnerable. Tom T. is a songwriting master and he got a lot of that stuff right on target with me, you know, the little fuzzy pups and...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GRIFFIN: ...the coffee one, especially.
(Singing) I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, old TV shows and snow. And I love you too.
HAVIGHURST: The sessions took place over several days at Fox Hollow, where Hall and his wife Dixie keep a studio. As for the songs themselves, they came into being in the first place because The Storyteller wanted to try a fresh point of view.
HALL: It was something I wanted to say that I'd never had an excuse to say before. You know, I think most entertainers are childlike anyway.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS)
HALL: I think entertaining is just childlike thing, you know, it's a frivolity. When I started following these kids around and I saw the world the way they see I saw - I'm thinking and I'm being selfish about this - I didn't write this album for my nephews, and not for kids in general. I just wrote it for myself, you know. The child in me, you might say, you know, that's not too poetic.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HAVIGHURST: Too much poetry from Tom T. Hall? That's as far-fetched as a root-beer-drinking snake. For NPR News, I'm Craig Havighurst in Nashville.
LYDEN: And you can hear songs from the remade "Songs of Fox Hollow" at nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jackie Lyden.
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