I don’t know if it’s worse or better that neither Greenwich-born country-folk singer-songwriter Hal Ketchum nor music super-fan Marianne Higgins Peruzzi Barone died from the damn plague.
Whatever; we just sadly lost both.
Marianne and I had been Facebook friends for years when we met just once, at an after-party for her high school reunion that our mutual friend Ray hosted. We discovered then that I’d likely bought tunes from her at Just A Song, a great vanished music Mecca on Albany’s Central Avenue, not far from the Blue Note and J.B. Scott’s. She kindly mentioned enjoying my Gazette reviews and columns. We also discovered we’d been at hundreds of the same shows. That’s no small thing among us boomers; a bond like Bruce Springsteen sang about in “Bobby Jean.” Imagine the Boss here, crooning in his most melancholy voice. “We liked the same music. We liked the same bands.”
Everybody liked Hal Ketchum songs and singing, as fans showed with a tribute-fundraising event nearly two years ago in one of his many adopted hometowns. He’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was no longer singing when I heard about the event, checked in with his former bandmate Bob Warren and the folks at Greune Hall down in Texas. Then I wrote this:
We don’t have to be Greenwich Central School grads or remember Hal Ketchum from teenaged gigs at St. Paul’s Parish Hall, the Oasis, the Curious Cat or Kayo’s to hail him as our voice of small town Saturday nights here.¶
And while we can’t get to the sold-out tribute-benefit show Sunday near Austin, we can contribute to his medical needs via GoFundMe and stream the show live as his musician friends pitch in to help him fight Alzheimer’s. At Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, “Raised by Wolves: Bound for Glory – A Texas Tribute to Hal Ketchum” sold out quickly.¶
After playing in the Greenwich area in the Norman Pumpernickel Choir, Ketchum moved to Texas in the mid-80s (when high school band-mate Bob Warren moved to Saratoga Springs) and began playing a weekly gig Sundays 4 to 8 p.m. at Gruene Hall. The Feb. 23 tribute fundraiser there will feature Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, Lee Roy Parnell & Rob Roy, Walt Wilkins, Jesse Dayton, Slaid Cleaves, Waylon Payne, Kenny Grimes, Nico Leophonte, Los Mistiqueros and others.¶
Warren recalls meeting Ketchum in high school where he, Ketchum and Paul Foster harmonized in the band room on “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and other soft-rock radio hits. As the Norman Pumpernickel Choir, they played songs by Cream, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and, of course, the Beatles. Ketchum drummed and sang, Foster played bass and Warren, guitar. They closed many shows goofing on “Hey Jude.” Warren said, “We stayed on a C-chord for the entire song including the long fade out.”¶
“Hal always had a little something extra in his voice,” said Warren, “a sweetness akin to that of the Everly Brothers….the stridency of Paul McCartney when he unleashed. You were thrilled to hear him sing!” Warren said, “His voice can sell a song whether it is mediocre or great. When he writes a great one it is something special!”¶
While Warren formed the Bob Warren Band as one of the North Country’s most versatile and powerful ensembles, Ketchum moved from Austin to Nashville and built mainstream stardom as the 72nd member of the Grand Ole Opry and a hit-making recording and touring artist. Soon, as Warren recalled, Ketchum’s hit “Small Town Saturday Night” was everywhere. Ketchum’s 1986 debut appeared on Austin-based Watermelon Records; later albums followed on Curb Records. His most recent (11th) release is on Music Road Records, “I’m The Troubadour” (2014). Curb also released compilations in 1996 and 2008. Ketchum’s Greenwich tribute “Small Town Saturday Night” was among 17 singles that charted on Billboard’s Hot Country songs; three reached number two.¶
Ketchum resumed making music, painting and carpentry work after recovering from acute transverse myelitis in 1998. He played The Egg in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010, often with former band-mates. “Inviting me to join him onstage at The Egg and lending his voice to a song from my ‘Clear Connection’ album at that time was very sweet and gracious of Hal,” Warren recalled.¶
Sunday, Ketchum’s (mostly Texan) musical friends return that sweet graciousness.¶
“We are very honored and grateful to all of the musicians who have stepped up to honor Hal with their presence and music,” read a statement from Gruene Hall, which also noted Sunday’s event will feature video of Hal performing with Kenny Grimes. The progression of Alzheimer’s prevents Hal from attending in person. “Thanks to all of the good folks who are donating their time to make this happen,” said Tracie Ferguson from the venue.¶
Fans can live stream “A Texas Tribute to Hal Ketchum” at Gruene Hall Sunday via The Dancehall Tapes: A Texas Music Preservation Project,” starting at 3 p.m. at http://www.thedancehalltapes.com/ or via Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/thedancehalltapes/ To help Ketchum’s family meet his medical needs, visit http://www.gofundme.com/f/halketchummedicalfund or buy a virtual ticket to the show at http://www.gruenehall.com¶