Song of the Day: Hal Ketchum “I Miss My Mary”

Ketchum Past Point of Rescue One of the many great country albums of the early 1990s was Hal Ketchum‘s Past The Point Of Rescue (1991). I picked up the CD after hearing Ketchum’s “Small Town Saturday Night” from the album and seeing the video that included scenes from the movie The Terror of Tiny Town (1938). But the entire CD ended up on repeat play at my house for some time. One of the standout tracks on the album is “I Miss My Mary,” which reminds me of some of the great songs written by Keith Whitley.

In “I Miss My Mary,” the singer recounts leaving his lover and child behind. The title gives away the sentiment of the song, but Ketchum’s aching vocals and the song’s lyrics reveal a lifetime of stories and sadness.

Ketchum explained in an interview that the song has a true story as its source. While Ketchum was at the Orchard Inn bar in Northern California, he struck up a conversation with an old man who told how he had left his wife and child forty years earlier on that exact date. Inspired by the story, Ketchum went back to Texas and wrote “I Miss My Mary.”

In the video from 2007 below, one may see that Ketchum’s appearance has changed since 1991, but his voice is still awesome. Check it out.

If you wonder what Ketchum has been up to lately, like the speaker in “I Miss My Mary,” Ketchum has been through some challenging times. Ketchum explained to Billboard that he lost his taste for making music for awhile, and Twang Nation reveals how a 1998 diagnosis of the neurological disorder acute transverse myelitis required Ketchum to relearn basic motor skills.

But Ketchum is back making music, and he has a new album coming out October 7, 2014 called I’m The Troubadour. The album’s genesis came from when Ketchum began writing songs in a cabin in Texas. Check out the title track below from I’m the Troubadour, Ketchum’s first album since 2008.

What is your favorite Hal Ketchum song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    4 Little Girls on a “Birmingham Sunday”

    4 Little Girls On September 15, 1963, racists exploded a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, injuring several people and killing four little girls aged 11-14: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. The incident is largely seen as a turning point that helped inspire the Civil Rights Movement.

    In Spike Lee’s excellent documentary about the incident, 4 Little Girls (1997), many of the people who knew or were related to the girls give moving stories about the events surrounding the bombing. It would be decades before some of those involved in the bombing would be brought to justice, and the movie interviews former Alabama Attorney General William Baxley, who reopened an investigation into the bombing in the early 1970s, resulting in the conviction one of the men involved in the bombing in 1977.

    Baxley had long been interested in pursuing justice in the case even before he was attorney general. In the movie, he explains how he used to listen to Joan Baez’s song “Birmingham Sunday” every day.

    “Birmingham Sunday,” which was written by Richard Fariña, appeared on Baez’s album, Joan Baez/5 (1964), released in the year after the bombing. The way the song helped inspire Baxley through the years to help bring some justice to the tragedy helps show the power of song. Spike Lee’s movie also shows the power of film, and you may watch 4 Little Girls below.

    Photo of church window at 16th Street Baptist Church, donated by the people of Wales after the bombing, via public domain.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Alt-Country Tribute to Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”

    Producers Logan Rogers and Evan Schlansky have gathered some artists to put an alt-country spin on Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 album, Born in the U.S.A. The result, Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in U.S.A. (2014), features artists such as North Mississippi Allstars, Holly Williams, Joe Pug, Apache Relay, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Justin Townes Earle, and Blitzen Trapper.

    For now, you can listen to a stream of the full album below. Each of the artists puts a new spin on the one of the twelve tracks on the album. Check it out.

    Standout tracks includes Holly Williams mining the sadness underlying “No Surrender,” Justin Townes Earle reworking and slowing down “Glory Days,” and Quaker City Nighthawks finding the country heart of “Darlington County.” Dead Man’s Town will be available September 16.

    What is your favorite song on the album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The Heroic Death of Folksinger Victor Jara

    Victor Jara's Death

    On September 15, 1973, Chilean singer-songwriter and political activist Victor Jara was killed. The killing took place in a stadium before a large crowd of prisoners being held by the military after a coup, but before his brutal death, Jara had one final act of courage and heroism.

    Jara had supported Salvador Allende, who had been elected president in 1970. But the Chilean right wing used the military to stage a coup d’état against the popularly elected Marxist on September 11, 1973. Allende allegedly killed himself rather than surrender (although some argue he was murdered), but many of Allende’s supporters were taken prisoner, including Jara, seen below performing a few months earlier in a July 1973 TV show.

    After the arrest, Jara and about 6,000 others were taken to the Santiago boxing stadium, according to Chilean journalist Miguel Cabezas. Jara tried to help the other prisoners who were kept in the stands, but when the prison camp commander recognized the singer, he had Jara taken to a table in the center of the arena for everyone to see. Officials had Jara place his hands on the table, and with an ax they cut off the fingers of both his hands. The officer beat Jara, screaming, “Now sing, you motherf***er, now sing.”

    Jara rose up from the blows and went to the edge of the bleachers. To the horrified crowd, Jara said, ‘All right comrades, let’s do the senor comandante the favor.’ He lifted his bleeding hands, leading the crowd in singing the anthem of Unidad Popular, the party of Allende. Officials opened fire, and Jara’s body fell dead. Below is a documentary about Jara’s life with English subtitles.

    Scholars still debate how much of a role the U.S. played in the Chile coup. President Richard Nixon, fearing the success of a socialist elected official in South America who was friends with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, imposed economic sanctions on Chile that at a minimum contributed to the circumstances of the coup.

    Nixon, however, would be out of office in less than a year in August 1974, resigning in disgrace. In Chile, General Augusto Pinochet would hold power much longer, remaining as president until 1990 and in other official offices for almost a decade after that. His last years, though, were spent facing charges related to human rights violations, although he died in 2006 without being convicted for any of his crimes. But legal action continues against others involved in Jara’s murder.

    As tyrants fall away, though, history remembers the heroes and the martyrs. The military burned many of Jara’s master recordings, but Jara’s wife Joan Jara was able to take some recordings out of the country. American folksinger Phil Ochs, who had met Jara in Chile, was devastated by the killing, and he helped organize a memorial fundraiser called “An Evening With Salvador Allende” in New York in 1974. The same year, a Soviet astronomer named an asteroid after Jara.

    Others paid tribute to Victor Jara, including Pete Seeger. More recently, when Bruce Springsteen performed in Santiago, Chile in September 2013, he performed Jara’s song “Manifesto” in Spanish. He introduced the song, saying “If you are a political musician, Victor Jara is still a great inspiration. It´s an honor to be here and I take it with humility. Victor Jara is alive.”

    Here is a link to an interesting interactive timeline of the coup, but if you are reading this post on a mobile device, note that it uses a lot of data. Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    And Then There Was One (Magician on AGT)

    AGT Magicians

    This week on America’s Got Talent, three magicians performed in the top twelve, but after America voted, only one magic man was left standing. The comedy-magic team of David and Leeman left everyone amazed with their giant lottery ticket trick, while Mike Super put Nick Cannon in a money machine and revealed a secret message he had given Howard Stern earlier in the week. But it was Mat Franco, featured in a previous Chimesfreedom post, who wowed America with his card tricks to advance to the finals.

    This season of America’s Got Talent found some excellent magicians, so it was sad to see it narrowed down to one. On the other hand, it is likely that having so many magicians split the vote for magic fans, making it harder for any of them to win with the other ones around. Franco should benefit from the elimination of the other two magic acts when he goes to the finals.

    Did America get it right? Check out the three performances below. Here is David and Leeman amazing everyone by using random numbers selected by the judges.

    In the following segment, Mike Super gave a prominent role to Nick Cannon and some one-dollar bills to match a prediction made with cards and a special message he revealed with a (malfunctioning) small butane torch.

    Finally, Matt Franco incorporated several card tricks into his act, even involving the audience at home. The next night, he would learn that this performance was sending him to the finals while the other two magicians went home.

    Was Franco the best of the magicians? All three acts did a great job this week, although none of them probably had their best performance of the season. Franco’s act seemed a little small and scattered compared to the cell phone trick he did last time he appeared, so I suspect his prior work played a role in the vote. Looking just at the night, I liked David and Leeman’s act the best, but on overall strength through the season, the audience probably got it right in picking Franco if only one act could proceed to the finals.

    In the finals, Franco will have some tough competition, even though one of our favorite acts, Blue Journey, was sent home. The six remaining acts also include excellent singers like Emily West, Sons of Serendip, and the amazing 12-year-old Quintavious Johnson. So we will have to wait and see whether Franco can pull a million-dollar win out of his hat.

    Which magic act did you like best on this season’s America’s Got Talent? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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