Reared in the village of Greenwich in upstate New York, Ketchum hails from a family where singing and playing music was part of the daily (and nightly) diet for generations. He was exposed to country music (his father was a fan) as well as the symphonic classics and, one year, even the Newport Jazz Festival at the nearby Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
"It was just a natural thing to be intrigued with music," explains Ketchum, who started playing drums at age nine and by 14 was gigging at local bars and taverns. Anyone looking for a reason why "Small Town Saturday Night" immediately struck a chord with music lovers - and the roots of Ketchum's innate knack for connecting with an audience in live performance - can find the origins in his years of making music for regular people seeking to transcend the everyday on weekend nights.
A move to Texas landed him in a house on the edge of New Braunfels in the very heart of the Lone Star State, just a stone's throw from historic Gruene Hall, an old dancehall that is the virtual mother church of the Texas music scene where talents like George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and many others began their rise to fame.
He began spending every Sunday afternoon drinking beer and playing horseshoes with the locals at the dancehall, and "listening to Townes Van Zandt or Lyle Lovett staring at his boots playing to nine people or Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore with this guy named Spider on the musical saw," remembers Ketchum. "It was my songwriter school."
An album he recorded on his own dime and released on a small Austin indie label, Threadbare Alibis, caught the ear of Curb Records, which signed Ketchum and brought him to Nashville to record his major label debut, Past the Point of Rescue. "The label dropped 'Small Town Saturday Night.' in early 1991 as the first single. And it went to #1 on August 16th of that year. And suddenly I was a genuine hillbilly singer," he says with a chuckle.
Since then Ketchum has distinguished himself as a hitmaker with 15 Top 10 singles and five million albums sold as well as a true singing and songwriting artist with a capital 'A' and one of the most engaging performers on the American live music circuit. He has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1994 and often hosts the "Opry Live" show on GAC. In addition to being a master woodworker - which is how he made his living before music - Ketchum is also an accomplished painter who sold out his first show at the distinguished Penna Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Ketchum with the encouragement of his friend, the songwriter Jimmy LaFave, has written a new album, Iím the Troubadour. Its lead single, ďBaby Iím Blue,Ē has an easygoing groove and lilting melody that should hit the pleasure centers of anyone who listened to country radio in the early í80s.
Ketchum was living in a cabin in Wimberley but has since relocated to Fisher, where he restored a grist mill built in 1888. ďThatís our home,Ē he says. ďFirst thing I did was put a porch off the back. It looks out on this beautiful oak grove, and itís a great environment for writing songs. I donít 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.Ē
'Iím the Troubadour' is out on Music Road, the label owned by singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave and Kelcy Warren, and features Ketchumís longtime guitarist Kenny Grimes, as well as guest vocals from Austinites Malford Milligan and Tameca Jones. ...Miles Raymer, Entertainment Weekly
ďJust 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,Ē Ketchum says. ďIím just happy to be playing again, and most importantly, Iíve got my hands back. Iím actually playing decent enough rhythm guitar to be in my own band now, so thatís a good thing I think.Ē