That philosophy has sustained the singer through a career that stretches back more than a decade, and it forms his work today, as he alternates touring with work on a new album that finds him collaborating once again with the finest producers and writers in Nashville.
“I devoted most of my available time to writing and recording,” Ketchum notes, “and one of the first things we cut is ‘Forever Mine,’ a song that I wrote with my wife, Gina. This is a talent that none of us knew she possessed, but she came up with a great idea and a great first verse, and it’s really nice to keep it so close to home.
“Allen Reynolds is a real pleasure to work with. I call him an organic producer, because his approach is totally song-driven. There aren’t a lot of tricks, there’s not an obsession with technical perfection. He’s really interested in the quality of the song and the performance, and I’ve benefited greatly from knowing him because of that.”
“There’s sort of an underlying Texas theme to the album. I lived in Austin for 20 years, and our first introduction was based on that Texas singer-songwriter approach. So we’re kind of returning to that. We’re spending a lot of time looking for material and getting the old gang back together to do the recording, and I’m really enjoying their company. I’ll be releasing a new album 05 – I’m real excited.”
“I went out and played some acoustic dates with Jesse Valenzuela [of the Gin Blossoms]. He’s a great player and a great guy, he sang and played guitar with me. We hit the road and had a great time, established a new friendship. I also have some shows with Leon Russell coming up. I really enjoy his music and he too is a super guy.”
The spring of 2003 saw the domestic release of King Of Love, an Americana and Texas Music chart favorite that marked Ketchum’s debut as a producer. “On my early albums, I was always invited to give my opinion, but I never really got that involved in the actual producing,” he says, adding that Reynolds encouraged him to take on the new role. “I didn’t know much about it. I would just kind of observe Allen to see what he did. So when I started on this record, I called him and went over and spent some time with him in the studio, just asking basic questions. He was helpful and supportive.”
The summer of 2004 capped a busy year for Hal, maintaining a busy touring schedule that included regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, and an oversold performance at Hal Ketchum’s 2nd Annual Gruene Reunion, a multi-artist concert event that pays homage to his roots at the famed Texas venue.
“Gruene Hall is important to me because I really started playing and writing down there,” Hal says. “I met Lyle Lovett and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and a lot of great local songwriters going through there, and it really encouraged me to write. It was like going to music school to me. It’s the oldest dance hall in Texas, and just a wonderful musical environment.”
Hal first traveled to Gruene Hall from his home in the Adirondack Mountains when he was 17. His early musical experience includes playing drums in an upstate New York R&B trio and soaking up the music and culture taught to him by his family. “I was raised by my parents and grandparents to have a great respect for the Native American people, their history and culture. I hope this deep respect is reflected in my music.”
The lessons Hal learned at Gruene Hall in the 1980s served him well when his career took off in 1991 with the hit single, “Small Town Saturday Night.” Following up with such high-profile offerings as “Past The Point Of Rescue,” “Sure Love,” “Mama Knows The Highway,” “Hearts Are Gonna Roll,” “Five O’Clock World,” and “Stay Forever,” he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry cast in 1994.
Hal’s music has found favor with both fans – selling more than 4 million CDs – and with radio, where he has scored fifteen Top 10 hits, including five in the Top 5. BMI has recognized his achievements as a songwriter with special citations for a million or more airplays for five different songs, including three for “Stay Forever”. His songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as Neil Diamond and Trisha Yearwood, while his popularity with other performers gained him cameo roles in music videos by occasional songwriting partner Charlie Daniels, Charley Pride, Tish Hinojosa and others. In an unusual instance of artistic cross-fertilization, the Nashville Ballet has twice produced a dance cycle based on Hal’s 1999 Awaiting Redemption album, inviting him to perform as part of the 2003 production. He also contributed songs to the soundtracks for major motion pictures Maverick and Something To Talk About.
Yet, as busy as he has been in the musical field, Hal’s talents run too broadly to be confined to a single artistic discipline. His original paintings have been exhibited at the Amado Pena Gallery in Santa Fe, and he has even held discussions with the Country Music Hall of Fame about mounting a showing there. “I constantly paint,” he notes. “I have a studio at my house. I’ve really gotten into what’s probably best called a sort of form of folk art.
This year Hal is teaming up with his friend Montel Williams to present a national tour of concerts – Jam Against MS (JAMS) to raise awareness and funds for the Montel Williams MS Foundation. The concerts will truly be a jam session, with Montel joining Hal for a one-and-a-half hour musical romp. JAMS will have its first run in June and July of 2005.
Hal has recently finished recording several sides at Curb Records, as well as a duet with Katie Cook. In April Curb released the Bellamy Brothers tribute album Angels and Outlaws, featuring Hal singing Let Your Love Flow.
In an age of evanescent stars and disposable music, Hal Ketchum stands out as a durable creator whose first loyalties are to his family, his fans, and to his art. Ask him what makes him tick musically and the answer comes readily. “I’m interested in songs that just move people – us first, and then other people,” he says with a quiet strength. “It’s as simple as that