Car Singing and Tom T. Hall: My Dad’s Legacy

My husband and I both have a similar memory, riding in the car during our childhood listening to our father’s mixed tape for the hundredth time.  We can both name more than a handful of the songs on the tapes so we both must have listened to the tapes a lot. Obviously,  we do not have the same father but this detail of our childhoods is the same.  His father’s mixed tape skewed more toward 80’s pop and includes artists like The Bangles, Belinda Carlisle, Cyndi Lauper, and Howard Jones.  My father’s most memorable tape skewed country western.

One detail I remember is that my mom actually mixed this most memorable tape.  It was actually a two cassette set made in preparation for the long car ride portion of camping trip we took in our pop-up camper. Last night, for fun, I tried to think of as many of the songs as I could remember and this is what I came up with:

  1. Willie Nelson- Wind Beneath My Wings
  2. Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town- Kenny Rogers
  3. Coward of the County- Kenny Rogers
  4. The Gambler- Kenny Rogers
  5. Mama’s Don’t Let Your Baby’s Grow Up to Be Cowboys- Waylon Jennings/ Willie Nelson
  6. Neil Diamond- Forever in Blue Jeans
  7. Holy Holly- Neil Diamond
  8. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald-Gordon Lightfoot
  9. Paradise Knife and Gun Club-Roy Clark
  10. Mr. Bojangles- I don’t know who covered the version on the tape
  11.  Please Come to Boston- I do not know who covered the version on the tape
  12. City of New Orleans- Willie Nelson
  13. You Were Always on My Mind- Willie Nelson
  14. American Made- Oakridge Boys
  15. Drift Away- Dobie Gray
  16. Roll on Eighteen Wheeler- Alabama

My mom made this mixed tape using the records from the attic, although maybe when this tape was made the records had not yet been moved to the attic.  If I could put a time frame on when I remember listening to this tape I would say it was between the years of 1989-1991.

When I think about this mixed tape, I think about driving around in our long cream-colored Oldsmobile station wagon. I usually sat next to my sister Annie in the wayback, the third row, the row that faced backwards. My older sister Jenny and younger sister Elizabeth usually sat in the middle row.  My parents sat up front. My sister Olivia was years from being born.  The seats were leather-like and it was our first car that had air conditioning.  It is always summer when I think about this mix.

christmas 2002
Here are my Dad, Mom and sisters from Christmas 2002. I am not pictured. Our youngest sister Olivia is pictured but was not around for the car tape days, though I am sure has some musical memories of her own.

I still know many of the words to many of the songs on the tape.  Singing the words to the songs as we listened was not a formal activity, but spontaneously did it from time to time. We used to sing along with The Gambler and The City of New Orleans. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was always a favorite.

My dad has always been one for singing songs.  When we were young he would sing us silly songs he learned in Boy Scouts like “hands on my hip, vas ist das here” and “Sippen Cider Through a Straw.  He also had songs that became staples of car rides.  For some reason, Rocky Top was one he frequently had us sing. Even though we sang the song often, I had never heard a recording of Rocky Top in my youth and I think our version started to morph from the popularized version.  This became clear to me when in 5th grade band. I was very excited to play Rocky Top when the sheet music was handed out, but I was surprised when the arrangement my band played sounded nothing like the Rocky Top I knew and loved.cas

My dad loves to sing the songs of Tom T. Hall even now.  I know he had a cassette tape or 8-track tape of Tom T. Hall when I was little, but I remember him singing the songs more than I remember listening to a recording of the songs.  We loved to have him sing Sneaky Snake, a song about a snake who you have to watch carefully so he doesn’t drink your root beer.  I liked the stories in Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs and Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine.  My dad liked to sing us The Little Lady Preacher because we were little ladies.  I clearly remember him singing us I Love, I Care, and That Song is a Driving Me Crazy.  In fact, when I looked at a list of Tom T. Hall songs  to write this post I realized that I knew the words to many of his songs.  Ravishing Ruby and I Like Beer are some of my other favorites .  I loved the stories in all of his songs and I always tried to image the characters in the songs when my dad would sing them to us.  While reading Tom T. Hall’s Wikipedia page to prepare with this post I learned that Tom T. Hall was nicknamed”The Storyteller” for the stories he tells in his songs.

Something of note is that while we did a lot of car singing growing up, none of us are music sensations.  However, we have all dabbled in music in one way or another.  My sister Olivia had parts in all of her school musicals from 7th-12th grade and she sang in showchoir and chorus.  Elizabeth sang in high school chorus too.  Jenny and I played instruments in marching and concert band all four years of high school and Annie and Elizabeth played in the elementary band.

I think all that car singing had another legacy too.  Songs are not only music but also words and stories.  Most of us sister dabble in writing in some way or another.  Listening to all those country songs sparked our imaginations and we are all readers.

At some point my childhood I realized that my friends did not know Tom T. Hall or the same country-western songs we listened to in the car.  My same age neighbor G knew the words to Michael Jackson songs. My other neighbor A liked Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  I did not really talk to any of my friends about our car singing or sitting on the couch singing.  Tom T. Hall became something that I did not share with friends. As a teen I did not listen to country music and thought it was hoaky. I only returned to it as an adult when I got sick of listening to the dead zone that was pop music and rock of the early 2000’s.  In my young adulthood, the subject of Tom T. Hall came up when I was talking to a friend who was slightly older than me at a party.  He also knew the songs of Tom T. Hall from a cross country road trip he took with a friend.  We had a grand old time singing the songs out loud.  He knew some songs I did not know and I probably knew some he did not know too but we had a grand old time singing the songs in his living room.  It was the first time I realized that other people might know Tom T. Hall music too.  We had a shared musical experience.

My dad and mom gave our family a shared musical experience by playing music for us and supporting us in our musical endeavors.

This idea of shared musical experience is something I want to pass down to my family.  Music Together.  During our weekly class we play instruments, dance, and sing.  Among the class materials we received when we signed up are a CD with all of the songs we sing in class and song book with notes in case we want to play the music.  Patrick loves music together and his teacher Amity.  He also gestures for us to play the CD at the end of almost every meal.  Sometimes we move and sing the sings while we are sitting around the table but sometimes we clean him off and dance to the music in the dining room.  He really loves to stomp and dance.  He claps his hands and puts his hands on his head.  Perhaps when he is older we won’t enjoy music together quite in this way, but I hope we continue to enjoy music together.





  1. Cute post! My dad always played music after dinner’- 60s and 70s hits. He always told me what the lyrics meant, the story behind the music.


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