“I NEVER meant to push or shove you/ Do you know how much I love you/ No you don’t, but I do/and I wonder if I’m past the point of rescue?”
Those lyrics have been swirling around sweaty dancehalls and small town bar lounges from Manorhamilton to Memphis for years and testify to the power of love overcoming adversity. The song ‘Past the Point of Rescue’ was written by Limerick-born songwriter Mick Hanly in the early 1990s and since then it has been covered by Mary Black, Maura O’Connell, and The Dixie Chicks.
In 1991 it was the title track of an album by American country music artist Hal Ketchum and reached No 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. The album was Ketchum’s first major-label release and catapulted him on the road to stardom in Nashville.
Ketchum was born in Greenwich on the New York/Vermont border in April 1953 and music played a big part in his upbringing. His mother played guitar and was a noted singer and his grandfather was a concert violinist. Hal first learned his musical craft as a drummer and in his early teens he played in a bluegrass band with his brother.
At 17 Ketchum moved to Florida and worked as a cabinet maker but after settling in rural Texas he began frequenting a music venue called Gruene Hall and it was during this time he decided to become a singer/songwriter.
“Austin was so vibrant with music and I felt like I fell into a goldmine there,” Hal tells me. “At Gruene Hall it was just a case of a lot of great people getting together, having a few beers, and dancing and listening to great music. I saw Bo Diddley there and Townes Van Zandt and great bands like Asleep At The Wheel and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
“It was sort of my schooling in terms of songwriting. I was lucky enough to be around Lyle Lovett at that time and he encouraged me to start writing songs. I recorded my first record in Texas and the support I got from the community there was fantastic.”
Ketchum eventually outgrew the Texas scene and in the late 1980s relocated to Nashville, signing with Curb Records. Hal went on to sell more than seven million albums and had a number of hit singles including ‘Past The Point Of Rescue’, ‘Small Town Saturday Night’, ‘Hearts Are Gonna Roll’, and ‘Mama Knows The Highway’ during a hugely productive time in the early 1990s.
“I feel very fortunate to have been part of that troubadour/singer-songwriter scene in Nashville at the time,” he says “You had people like Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rodney Crowell and many other great, great songwriters. After that it really opened up for me and I toured around the country a lot.”
Recording his first major label album was a daunting task for Ketchum. However he was thankful to have the experienced hands of Allen Reynolds and Jim Rooney as producers. During the recording process he discovered ‘Past The Point of Rescue’ and it was to be his calling card for many years.
“Rooney is just such a great spirit and a great song man,” Hal says. “I found he was a great soundboard for ideas. My publisher was playing ‘Past The Point of Rescue’ a lot in her office and I fell in love with the song instantly. When it came time to record the album it was a natural choice to have on there. Reynolds and Rooney put together such a great arrangement. It was my first national record so I was really amazed by how quickly it took off.”
Upon release, the album was certified gold and produced four hit singles between 1991 and 1992. Three years later Ketchum was inducted as the 71st member of the Grand Old Opry after selling more than one million copies of the record.
Not only is Ketchum a big country music star in America, he has also enjoyed chart success in Ireland.
“I was surprised and kind of overjoyed by how well my music was received in Ireland,” he says. “I don’t think the passion for country music in Ireland has wavered at all over the years. The scene has always been strong and it’s always been a great place to play. Going to Ireland is sort of like my pilgrimage now and I look forward to it so very much. It’s been a good few years since I’ve been to Galway but I do remember the joy of just being there and looking out at the bay.”
Hal Ketchum plays the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday October 29 at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.