I’m the Troubadour is Hal Ketchum’s first record in six years, but the longtime country hitmaker (“Small Town Saturday Night,” “Hearts Are Gonna Roll”) and Grand Ole Opry member can’t really discuss the way the music business has completely changed since then. “I’m happy to no longer really participate in it,” Ketchum, who got his start at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels in the eighties, says. “When I lived in Nashville, I ate, drunk, and slept it. I went to bed at night wondering about the health of the current single. I woke up in the morning thinking about the health of the current single.” But since 1998, when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it’s Ketchum’s own health that has been the primary concern. He continued to make music for another decade, but eventually hit a wall, both mentally and physically. There were bouts of partial paralysis and blindness, and some serious depression. “But I feel great right now, man,” Ketchum says. “I got my mobility back, and that’s what led me to try and get back to this point. I was living in a cabin in Wimberley, and I just started writing these songs, and I thought they were good enough to hear. They really started coming back to me.” Ketchum has since relocated to Fisher, where he restored a grist mill built in 1888. “That’s our home,” he says. “First thing I did was put a porch off the back. It looks out on this beautiful oak grove, and it’s a great environment for writing songs. I don’t really get bothered much out here. I sat on the porch last night and took a head count: there are eight people in downtown Fisher, Texas.” I’m the Troubadour is out on Music Road, the label owned by singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave and Kelcy Warren, and features Ketchum’s longtime guitarist Kenny Grimes, as well as guest vocals from Austinites Malford Milligan and Tameca Jones. “Just to be free make a record, and for these guys to say look, we love these songs, and be open to just making the best record we could was fantastic,” Ketchum says. “I’m just happy to be playing again, and most importantly, I’ve got my hands back. I’m actually playing decent enough rhythm guitar to be in my own band now, so that’s a good thing I think.” Below, Texas Monthly‘s exclusive premiere of a song from I’m the Troubadour, “Sweet Loreen.” “‘Loreen’ is kind of a true story,” Ketchum says. “Back in my youth, I spent a couple of days out in Terlingua. So it’s a somewhat true documentation of that journey.”
Ketchum plays the Shiner Music Festival in Shiner on September 27, with upcoming shows in Plantersville (October 4), Wimberley (October 5) and Gruene Hall (October 17).
(Photo by Pete Lacker)