The Song Remains: Hal Ketchum 1953 – 2020

It’s with much sadness that we’ve learned of the death of Hal Ketchum, who passed away at his family home on Monday night, due to complications from dementia, after three years of battling with the illness that brought about his early retirement from performing and recording. He was only 67 years old.

As a long time fan of Ketchum’s music, I wrote about him just four months ago, in our Forgotten Artists series, praising a fine singer and songwriter whose early career had promised so much but who battled with health issues for much of his life.

Inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1994, following an impressive string of hits, Ketchum released his first album in the late 80s and scored early success, before really breaking through with hits like ‘Small Town Saturday Night’ and ‘Past the Point of Rescue’ at the start of the 90s, though he’d been working small venues for some years prior to his recording debut. Born and raised in Greenwich, New York, it wasn’t until he moved to Austin, Texas in 1981, that he really started to find his feet as a writer and performer. Perhaps there’s some symmetry in the fact that Hal Ketchum has passed away just a month after his friend and fellow New York Stater, Jerry Jeff Walker. Jerry Jeff was the man who gave Hal Ketchum his first big performing break as his opening artist; appearances that lead directly to that first recording contract.

Ketchum was known for his easy singing style and for songs that celebrated the ordinary events of small-town America and he was much loved on the country music scene, both by fans and his fellow musicians. Earlier this year, back in February, Texas’ famed Gruene Hall had hosted a live-streamed tribute show in honour of this adopted son of the Lone Star state, a show that served as a fundraiser for his health care and featured a celebrated guest list that included some of the cream of Texas’ Americana musicians – Ray Wylie Hubbard, Waylon Payne, Lee Roy Parnell, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis among others.

Hal Ketchum’s last album, in 2014, was entitled ‘I Am the Troubadour’ and that was the way this artist had always seen himself and how he should be remembered; a simple writer and singer of songs that resonated with the man in the street. Having written about Hal Ketchum so recently it seems wrong to chronicle his life all over again, instead, I’d urge you to take some time to listen to some of the fine songs he wrote and remember an artist who came to prominence late in life but packed a lot of great music into a career forged against the odds.

About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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Tony Cristaldi

My late Pop was a huge fan of Hal’s. He knew the family, having lived in the next small town over toward Vermont (my birthplace, Cambridge NY), for much of his early life. In the early 1990s, he got me into Hal’s music. Unlike my late Pop, I wasn’t a C/W fan. And unlike my partner of 14 years, I’m not a Y2Country type fan either. But I really like(d) Hal’s music because of the Americana/folk influence. I also found his smooth vocal style to be closer to Roy Orbison than any Country artist.

Ironically, my Pop passed the same day as Jerry Jeff Walker, a month before Hal.

Hal’s struggles, decline and early passing were sad to see as a fan. His passing came much too soon, but in spite of us losing the man, what a gift of a musical legacy Hal left to all of us!