Music and politics: The threads that bind John Hall’s life



There have been two threads running through John Hall’s life.

There has been music. This thread propelled him to the record charts with his bands Orleans (“Dance With Me,” “Still the One”) and the John Hall Band (“Crazy”), and as a solo artist (“Power”) as well as provided opportunities to write for or produce artists such as Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal.

There also has been politics. This thread to guided Hall to a life as a vocal environmental activist, an elected official serving his home communities in upstate New York, and eventually, as an elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Now a former congressman, Hall continues to make music. And he comes to Connecticut on Jan. 20 to perform solo—just him and his guitar.

Asked to talk about his journey through politics and music in a phone interview, Hall immediately began to speak about his political path. He explained how he was raised up in a strict Catholic family (his brother became an ordained priest). Although he no longer practices Catholicism, Hall said the faith did teach him the importance of standing by your principles, the importance of taking care of other people, and the importance of taking care of the earth.

Hall also explained he is a product of his generation, the Baby Boomers. He said they watched a world where several wars were initiated under false pretenses and political power was used in negative ways.

Music, Hall explained, gave him an outlet to express his concerns about the environment and social justice.

All artists take their own lens—be it a crayon or a Fender Stratocaster, and try to create something beautiful, infectious, and inspiring, said Hall.  And, he said, “It’s natural for an artist to portray the world of them.”

“If something strikes them,” said Hall, it enters the artist’s consciousness and comes out in the art.

Although Hall had a social conscience and was politically aware, he explained his entrance into the world of elected local politics only ramped up when issues began to become more personal.

Hall said he learned a nuclear power plant was going to be built near his own home in upstate New York along the Hudson River. He went to a public hearing about the project, but he didn’t like the official line by the “men in suits” he heard. In response to the plant, he organized a series of concerts to fight the effort. He also helped organize rallies and petition drives.

The project eventually was scuttled when a nuclear power plant partial meltdown occurred in Pennsylvania, explained Hall. The plant that was damaged was similar to the one planned in New York and people became more skittish about having it in their backyard, said Hall.

That victory whetted Hall’s appetite for more political activism.

Later, Hall said, he fought a solid waste dump and incinerator. He fought for the enforcement of zoning regulations when a neighbor started crushing junk vehicles on his property. And he fought for additional funding for his daughter’s school district.

His success blocking the incinerator plant resulted in Hall being asked to run for a seat in the county legislature. His battle for the education budget found him running for his school board and getting elected.

Hall stepped away from politics for awhile when he had to move following a divorce. He relocated to Nashville to be with his new wife. Eventually, they moved back to the Hudson Valley, but across the river where Hall used to live.

In his new home, the musician began to ask around about the U.S. representative serving his district, Susan Kelly. He didn’t like what he heard and looked to toss his support to the Democrats seeking to unseat her. He met with the Democrats—to see if he could help with their fundraising. But Hall said, after meeting with the candidates, he felt he had a better chance of beating Kelly. He had the name recognition as a musician and he had the political experience.

After stepping into the campaign fray, and engaging the other Democrats in more than a dozen debates, Hall won the Democratic primary. And that November, with the fundraising help of musician friends such as Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, Crosby and Nash, Jon Pousette, and others, he edged out the Republican to take a seat in congress.

In 2011, however, Hall was ousted from Congress, targeted by Super PACS, who demonized the Affordable Care Act and Hall’s support of the law.

In retrospect, Hall said the loss of his seat was a blessing. After he left office, his brother died. Hall also discovered he had prostate cancer. He also had an aneurysm in his heart that needed repair.

“There are reasons why things happen,” Hall said, “It’s not for me to understand why.”

Music, though, was always there for Hall. Even as a U.S. representative, he said he would keep his guitar in his office to keep himself sane.

And music is the center of his life again, which is why he is on tour and coming to the Parrott Delaney Tavern this weekend.

The show will be an evening with just Hall and his guitar (both acoustic and electric).

Hall said fans can expect to hear some songs from his various musical incarnations, some songs from the artists he has worked with through the years, and some new tunes as well.

The set list will be fluid, said Hall. He said he likes to gauge the audience to figure out what they want to hear. They though can expect to hear the hits.

Accompanying the songs, Hall also will share stories with the audience about what they are about to hear. “All the songs have a least one story,” he said.

“It’s been really fun doing a bunch of these shows,” said Hall.

John Hall will be at the Parrott Delaney Tavern, 37 Greenwoods Rd., New Hartford on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 8 p.m.

For more about his life in music and politics, Hall has a biography, “Still The One:  A Rock’n’Roll Journey To Congress And Back”

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Singer and former congressman John Hall performs Saturday in New Hartford.

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