Hal Ketchum, a singer-songwriter who rode the 1990s country music wave with hit singles including “Small Town Saturday Night,” “Past the Point of Rescue” and “Hearts Are Gonna Roll,” died Monday of dementia complications at his home. He was 67.
His wife, Andrea, posted the news on social media today. “May his music live on forever in your hearts and bring you peace,” she wrote. He had revealed his diagnosis in April 2019.
After settling in Nashville via Texas in the late 1980s, Ketchum broke out with a string of hit country singles starting with “Small Town Saturday Night” in 1991. That track peaked at No. 2 — as did follow-ups including “Past the Point of Rescue” and “Hearts Are Gonna Roll.” “Sure Love,” the lead title track from Ketchum’s 1992 LP, hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Watch the official video for “Past the Point of Rescue” here:
Country music was seeing a frenzied boom in popularity at the time, fueled by the mega-success of the likes of Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood and Brooks & Dunn. Ketchum’s albums didn’t sell by the ton like those acts did, but he continued to score hits with tracks including “Mama Knows the Highway” and “Stay Forever,” both of which hit the country top 10.
He became a member of Nashville’s revered Grand Ole Opry in 1994.
Ketchum’s popularity had peaked mid-decade, but he continued to record and tour into the late 2000s. Late in that decade — exhausted and battling multiple sclerosis — he left Nashville to return home to Texas. “I was hiding out,” he said in his website’s official bio. “I’d been in the public for so long. I didn’t even go into town; I had my daughter bring me groceries. I develop a form of agoraphobia, really. I found pleasure in watching the stars at night and watching the sun during the afternoon. I also put out a lot of bird feeders and basically talked to myself all day long.”
Born on April 9, 1953 in Greenwich, NY, he began his musical journey as a drummer before pivoting to banjo and acoustic guitar. He honed his songwriting craft with encouragement from the likes of fellow New Braunfels/Gruene Hall local Lyle Lovett and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and eventually moved to Music City. There he cut his 1988 debut disc, Threadbare Alibis, for Watermelon Records.
It failed to chart, but Ketchum moved to Curb Records, which would release his follow-up — 1991’s Past the Point of Rescue, which went gold — and his next eight albums, including the commercial hits. By 2009, his health was deteriorating as he battled acute transverse myelitis, which is related to his MS. He would release a final album, I’m the Troubadour, in 2014.
Here are some tributes to Ketchum posted on social media today:
“There is an indescribable place on that stage where it feels like you are a part of history, a very fine history, and I really like that a lot. I felt the magic of the Opry the first time, and, so, I came to it in amazement.” – Hal Ketchum
Thank you, Hal❤️ pic.twitter.com/MBIolt6srd
— Grand Ole Opry (@opry) November 24, 2020
So sad to hear that Hal Ketchum has gone to live amongst the angels. We will miss you down here, Hal! He was such a talent and a dear soul. #riphalketchum
— LeAnn Rimes Cibrian (@leannrimes) November 24, 2020
RIP @halketchum I played Ann Arbor #theark w/him -I only knew him as a country hit maker. He played solo and BLEW. MY. MIND. His voice,guitar,songs! +he was incredibly friendly n fun n we jammed. he welcomed me. it was a beautiful experience. He’ll b missed. #oneofakind
— Elizabeth Cook (@Elizabeth_Cook) November 24, 2020
Rest Easy brother Hal Ketchum … pic.twitter.com/YRhZrKd1CC
— Joe Bonsall (@joebonsall) November 24, 2020
Rest In Peace, Hal Ketchum. And God Speed. I was so proud and excited to share the Austin City Limits stage with him in 1994. https://t.co/kPzvsR1wc6
— Kelly Willis (@KellyWRobison) November 24, 2020
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