It’s a true srory about a young man he knew as a young boy, who was a touring musician but got sick and died very young, just 19 or 20 years old.
Young Tom idolized this guy, and when he later became a songwriter, it took him 2 years to make himself sit down and pay tribute in the best way he knew.
He tells the story towards the end of this interview.
More parts of this interview at the WSM YouTube page.
Another good interview at CMT.com with the backstory behind several of his famous story songs.