Dean Kay's Remarks At Hal Blair's Induction into
the Nashville Songwriters Foundation's
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
November 2, 2003Hal's wife, Joanie, asked me to accept this honor on Hal's behalf. I'm honored to do so. Hal and I were great friends and songwriting partners...
In fact, my wife, Michelle, who lived two houses down from Hal, and I met at one of Hal's legendary steak barbecues. She never forgave him. He was the best man at our wedding.
It took Hal a few wives to get it right... but with his wife Joanie he finally did.. She would have loved to have been here this evening, but wasn't able to make the trip from her home in Biggs, CA.
Joanie says that Hal would have gotten a big kick out of this evening. She also told me to tell you that his music, fishing and Joanie were the loves of his life... in that order, but I'll guarantee you she placed herself at the wrong end of that list.
As Robert Orman mentioned, Hal arrived in Los Angeles in the 40's and got himself involved in the world of "B" Westerns...
His closest musical associate at the time was western star Eddie Dean
Hal and Eddie wrote songs for several of Eddie's films
Hal referred to those years as his "rocks and rills" years.
Hal also use to play the "villain" in Eddie's live stage appearances ... his primary job was to get "beaten up." On occasion, Eddie got a little over rambunctious and forgot to pull the punches.
Perhaps the most historically significant song Hal ever wrote was a song he wrote in 1948 with Eddie Dean and Eddie's wife Dearest: "One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)."
Thanks in part to being banned by the Catholic Church, Jimmy Wakely's record shot to the top of the charts followed closely by Eddie's version which reached #11.
Hal, Eddie and Dearest (a stanch Catholic who was embarrassed to even speak the title when it popped into her head) had created the "Cheatin' Song" and changed country music forever.
"Slippin' Around" - generally touted as the first cheatin' song - was Wakely's 1949 follow up to "One Has My Name."
In addition to writing the first ‘cheatin' song,'" Hal co-wrote one of the last - if not the last - smash "Western" songs ... "Ringo" - in the tradition of "Cool Water," "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," Back in the Saddle Again," and "El Paso."
In 1956 Hal got a call from a friend at RCA Record's pressing plant in L. A. to let him know that a song he had written was on a single by "...some new guy named Alvin Persly." Not thinking too much of this seemingly underwhelming bit of information, Hal asked his friend to send him a copy. When the record arrived he noted that his friend had been wrong about the artist's name and that the other side of the record was a thing called, "Heartbreak Hotel".
He popped the record onto his turntable to take a listen, and, quite frankly, didn't get what this Elvis Presley guy was all about. 'Kind of a weird style' he thought.
Well, it didn't take long for Hal, and the rest of the world to figure out what Elvis was all about as "Heartbreak Hotel" came slamming out of every radio and jukebox across the land, skyrocketed to number one - where is stayed for 8 weeks - and lit the fuse that launched the Topelo Tornado to legendary status. Hal's song, "I Was The One" was on the B-side of the record made it's way to the number 19 slot under it's own steam
In the late 50's Hal teamed up with his most noteworthy collaborator, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, Don Robertson.
Even though Elvis went on to record 13 Hal Blair songs in all, 12 of them in collaboration with Robertson - most of Hal's smash hits were by other artists... and most of them were written with Don.
Hal and I met in 1965 - just after "Ringo" and just before my song, "That's Life," became a hit in 1966. Hal's association with Don had ended, he was looking for a picker and a grinner and I was looking for a lyricist...
Unfortunately, unless you were Buck or Merle, the west coast country music scene - which had grown out of the western movies - Autry, Rogers, Tex Williams, Johnny Bond, Tex Ritter and all - was pretty much over.
Our rounds with our new country songs were limited to our great friend Scott Turner, Ken Nelson, Cliffie Stone, Charley Adams and our buddy George Richie... and while we got our share of records by artists like Slim Whitman, LeRoy VanDyke, Bonnie Guitar and Johnny Carver and an occasional Mills Bros or Paris Sisters record - nothing really exploded.
While our friendship never ended, our writing partnership did when I gave up songwriting to take a position at Welk Music...
Hal continued to write, taking on various studio assignments, then, after marrying Joanie, decided to move to Biggs, CA where the fishin' was easy.
Hal's Official Hall Of Fame Portrait
Throughout the last several years of his life, Hal enjoyed spending time with Joanie, cashing his royalty checks, writing lyrics and hand crafting custom, precision fly casting fishing rods which he sold for premium prices under the trade name Blair House.
Anyone lucky enough to own one of Hal's fly rods owns a unique, one of a kind, treasure, built by a unique, one of a kind, treasure.
The rest of us get to spend the rest of our lives enjoying his incredible lyrics