Hal Ketchum was a mainstay on country radio in the 90’s. Huge hits like “Small Town Saturday Night”, “Past the Point of Rescue” and “I Know Where Love Lives” resonated with audiences far and wide. Ketchum’s songs also embodied certain trends that would later escape Nashville and flourish in Texas. Specific, heartfelt, smart, melodic and distinct. Ketchum cut his teeth in the burgeoning Texas troubadour scene of the 1980’s that blossomed on the shoulders of Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. A regular gig at Gruene Hall and an independent record release led to Nashville, which led to his grand successes.
As the years wore on, Ketchum’s musical muse wore out. He found making music less enjoyable and lacking the fulfillment to which he’d originally been attracted. As this inspirational fade began, a health issue paralleled this. Ketchum was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called acute transverse myelitis, a companion disease to multiple sclerosis. Ketchum was achingly familiar with the hell that living with an MS disease can be, as he lost his mother at a young age to the affliction. Touring became more of a challenge and less frequent. Studio time became less enticing and more of a hassle.
And so it went for the next decade or so. Then, something funny happened. Music seduced Hal Ketchum again. In a most unlikely place. Ketchum had removed himself from many of the trappings of modern life, decamped to a secluded cabin in Wimberley and worked on treating his MS ailments which sometimes led to paralysis and blindness. This dark despair and challenging existence caused him to overcome more than he ever though possible and fall back in love with his gifts. As he mentioned in an interview with Billboard, “One day I just said, ‘This is a gift that God has given me, so I better get back to it.'”
On October 7th, Hal Ketchum will drop his latest album, the aptly titled I’m the Troubadour. Songs from an impassioned artist fighting back from the depths of despair to deliver an artistic triumph. It’s a special record and is already and deservingly receiving critical praise.
That story would strike me as interesting on its own. However, MS has a very personal connection to me. My mother lives with MS. I’ve watched it turn her from a physically vibrant and active woman into an immobile person dependent on others for many things the rest of us take for granted. Yet, her spirit is always positive and happy. I’m confident that’s the same spirit that was at the root of Hal Ketchum’s revitilazation. MS can rob people of their physical gifts, but the soul remains unchanged. Perhaps it is even stronger. In the infamous words of Jim Valvano regarding cancer, “It cannot touch my mind…it cannot touch my heart…it cannot touch my spirit.”
Hal Ketchum is the troubadour and he’s also the inspiration.
**Ed. note – I’m participating in MS Walk Waco on October 18 and am currently raising funds. To read my mom’s story, learn about our fundraising efforts and learn more about MS, please CLICK HERE.