Hal Ketchum had quite the country music career in the 1990’s. Signed with Curb Records, he released ten albums, including his debut Past The Point of Rescue, and went on to sell a total of five million records, chart 15 Top 10 hits, and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1994. But four years later, a diagnosis of acute transverse myelitis (a very similar ailment to multiple sclerosis) sidelined the singer and songwriter, causing him to lose use of the entire left side of his body. Ketchum had to relearn basic tasks, including how to sing and play the guitar again, and recovered enough to continue to record for Curb until 2008 when he retired to his cabin in Wimberely, TX. “I went through some really serious bouts of paralysis, blindness and the fear that goes with all of that. I was in kind of a dark place,” Ketchum says. “I didn’t write, didn’t perform. I was just laying low…”
But the music spirit in Hal Ketchum has surfaced once again, and working with Austin, TX-based label Music Road Records, the 61-year-old singer is set to release his first album in six years called “I’m The Troubadour” on October 7th.
According to Ketchum, the enthusiasm from Jimmy LaFave and Kelcy Warren of Music Road, and his desire to start writing again, is where the inspiration for the new album came from. “I came to the realization that I had gotten to this deep level of depression, and I finally said to myself, ‘I can still do this. I can still write.’ The key for me was getting up every morning and having something real to do. Some days, my hands don’t work as well as they should, I’ll get a little wobbly on occasion, but I just keep going.”
“I wasn’t really planning on doing another album,” Ketchum continues. “The whole Nashville scene is extremely competitive. You’re as good as your last record. People are always showing you spreadsheets on how much money you owe for videos and tour support and everything else. I think there’s a certain level of resentment that comes with that.“
That’s one of the reasons why fans of Ketchum shouldn’t expect his new album to be exclusively country, but a mixture of country, blues, folk, rock, and soul. “I like to say that I’ve been successfully misunderstood for 30 years. I mean, I was a cabinet maker from Gruene, TX. I got a record deal and I had a number one record out of the box, and suddenly I was a ‘country’ singer. The genre served me very well, and I’m really grateful for the opportunities that the country music world brought to me. But creatively, this record was a really beautiful departure for me. It’s really opened me up again. the freedom of working with Music Road Records, without genre restrictions and commercial pressure, has given him new life … I think it’s going to be refreshing for people who haven’t heard me in a while to know that the old man’s still swingin’.”
Ketchum insists he still loves country music and is honored to play it. But I’m The Troubadour will be an exploration of all of his musical influences.
“My mother put a great poem on my wall when I was a little kid called ‘Keep a-Goin’. It went –
Ain’t no use to sit and whine, ’cause the fish ain’t on your line,
bait your hook and keep a-tryin’, keep a-goin’.
“So that’s become my motto,” Ketchum says. “Just keep going.”