THE BLOG
08/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rep. John Hall--Former Rock Star--Records 'Hit' for Vets in Congress

John Hall, the former songwriter/singer/guitarist for hitmaking ("Still the One," "Dance With Me") group Orleans, has recorded his first "hit" as a freshman Democrat in Congress -- and it's on his pet issue of help for American veterans.

Hall's legislation to upgrade the V.A.'s disability rating process was unanimously passed by the House this past Wednesday. Hall, now 60, is chairman of the veterans' affairs subcommittee on disability assistance.

Let me interrupt here to say that I sometimes like to say that I had something to do with helping to get Hall into office -- with a big assist from Huff Post.

It all started in the summer of 2006. I noticed, before virtually anyone else outside his New York district, that Hall was running for Congress just upstate from where I live. I knew he had been politically active for years in the Woodstock/Saugerties area on environmental and education issues so it was not exactly a shock -- at least to me. But he was given almost no chance of winning, going up against a longtime and well-funded GOP incumbent Sue Kelly. He wasn't even favored in the Democratic primary at that point.

But I had a deeper connection to Hall. Back in the 1970s, I was senior editor of the legendary Crawdaddy magazine and Hall, with his then-wife Johanna, wrote a few articles for us, including a cover story on Stevie Wonder. I met him and his wife many times then and once or twice later when he went on to help run the famous antinuclear concert/foundation MUSE in the late-1970s.

So, I wrote a column about all this for my current magazine, Editor & Publisher. As far as I could tell, no one else was paying any attention to this. I also posted it on our site.

Then Huff Post picked it up, and posted the link under a fondly embarrassing old Orleans album cover where the entire band stood bare-chested. The link, then picked up elsewhere, drew massive traffic and finally got Hall national attention.

Hall won his primary. I wrote another piece on that, which also drew wide attention -- and perhaps most importantly, some eyeballs from Democratic/liberal activists who started putting him at least on their "longshot but possible" candidates to watch.

And, in the immediate wake of this, Hall was suddenly invited on The Colbert Report. I can't prove that my E&P/Huff Post-linked pieces inspired this -- no one else was writing anything on the national level -- but I have always thought this was true. He gained in the polls, Rolling Stone did a piece on him, and was now backed by some liberal funding groups. Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne and other old friends played funders for him.

Well, the rest is history. Hall received one of the most treasured "Colbert bumps" ever, and won a big victory in November. Soon he appeared on the show again to sing harmony with Stephen. And now he is an incumbent himself, with the GOP in his district in tatters -- and with an important vets bill to his credit. Still the one and he's "still havin' fun."

"I'm thrilled," Hall told Stars & Stripes this week, referring to his bill, The Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act (HR 5892). "I've co-sponsored and worked on many other bills, but this is the first one I shepherded through committee and worked on for a year. It's my first major piece of legislation so, to have it pass with all green up on the board, was really exciting....There are some very good things for veterans here, especially for severely injured veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq," Hall said.
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Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.