The Wide Angle: Finding my way in country music

Published 6:30 am Saturday, November 28, 2020

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This past Tuesday, country star Hal Ketchum passed away due to complications from dementia.

It was a sad end to a long and successful career.

I’ve never been much of a country fan. For years coming out of high school, I told myself often it was, “Poison until I die.” “Cinderella until I die.” “Motley Crue until I die.”

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That was my world growing up. My small, small, confined world.

I took this philosophy of music into my college years, thinking that my world doesn’t change and my favorite music will live forever.

Several years in Brookings, South Dakota, going to school at South Dakota State University began to change that somewhat.

New friends and new opportunities began to open up new worlds of music to me. My time working at KSDJ, the campus radio station, was a real eye-opener for me as I began to hear music I had never heard before. My girlfriend at the time was another source. Jess introduced me to trance music and while I fought it like the stubborn soul I am, the music took hold.

I found a love of music from Europe that toyed with concepts I had never even thought could be real. Therion and Nightwish brought together the worlds of metal, classical music and opera to create a sound that blew me away.

I found new music in metal, heavy metal, trance, club and jazz and yet, I found no room for country music.

It was twangy and sentimental. I had no place for this in my new growing world of Stabbing Westward, Ministry and Massive Attack. I was METAL and Dwight Yoakam, Garth Brooks and Hal Ketchum had no right to be in this world.

I expanded my musical life, but never really got away from my stubborn views on music.

However, here’s the catch. You don’t live in South Dakota for as long as I did (1992-2004) without it having some sort of affect on you.

It started innocently enough. Flipping channels on the radio in a state that had more country stations than people, I would inevitably find a tune that took hold of my attention. That tune would expand into an entire song and soon I was nodding my head along with Chris LeDoux.

I had a chance to cover Kenny Rogers at the South Dakota State Fair as well as meet him before the show. Great guy and funny and of course I loved “The Gambler.” After I was done shooting, I even stayed a little while to enjoy the show.

Enjoy country music.

At some time one just has to admit you like something. I still couldn’t admit that I enjoy country music as a genre. Just not my cup of tea, but I did reach a point where I could admit an appreciation for the music and everything that surrounds it, if that makes any sense.

When I was in Huron and still fairly fresh out of college myself, I fell in with the Huron University rodeo team. Coming from a college experience that had me rockin’ hard and head banging, this seemed particularly strange,and yet here I was spending time in the town with them.

A greater group of men and women you’ll never find. Every preconception I had got thrown right out the window. Imagine my surprise when me and a few of the team found common ground with Guns n’ Roses.

And now we find our way back to Hal Ketchum. While not overly familiar with his music, two songs immediately came to mind when I saw he had died: “Past the Point of Rescue” and “Small Town Saturday Night.”

The tunes were as fresh now as they were when I heard them and were marked by Ketchum’s magnificent voice and great storytelling.

They were catchy songs and a joy to listen to and really that’s the sign of strong music: To break through one’s preconceptions of the music and know that it is just good music.

More than that, those two songs are timeless in my mind. I listened to them both Tuesday night again for the first time in ages and found I still very much enjoyed them and the memories that came back. My time in Huron, the rodeo team and South Dakota as a whole.

That’s how you really know good music.