The real person behind the fictitious Clayton Delaney was a childhood hero of Hall of Famer Tom T. Hall's. Most people assume that Clayton Delaney must have been an old man, but he was actually just a teenager when he died of a lung disease.
Tom T. was about eight when he knew Clayton, the first professional singer and guitarist Tom T. had ever known. He was fascinated by Clayton, who performed around town, and Tom T. studied his actions, the way he played his guitar and sang.
One of the biggest lessons he learned from Clayton, something that actually bothered Tom T. at the time, was Clayton's preference for singing in his natural voice instead of mimicking the artists whose songs he was covering. After Clayton died, he decided from that moment on he'd only sing in his natural voice.
When Tom T. first arrived in Nashville and was writing songs, he thought back to the people who most influenced him growing up, and he remembered Clayton. "I wrote the song as a tribute to him," Tom T. said. "But that wasn't his real name. I haven't ever told people his real name because he had a lot of relatives. Oh, but I'd sit around and watch him pick, and he was a real pro."
"The Year that Clayton Delaney Died" became Tom T. Hall's second No. 1 country hit on September 18, 1971.
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