NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published March 5, 2014
Anyone who has read my book "Face The Music" knows what an interesting and varied life I've led. I am a career-driven person and my music and all that surrounds it has been an all-consuming passion. Thanks to my mother, music runs deep in me. Thanks to my father I have a very strong determination and drive to succeed. However, in time one begins to figure out what the really important things are in life:
Each person has their own mindset, lifestyle, and personal needs. Although I have lived alone occasionally, and was for the most part contented being by myself, I am the kind of person that enjoys sharing his life with another. I have been married four times, but the lifestyle of a musician is very difficult and mostly a continuous struggle trying to find a means of support. There are no "steady paychecks" and if there's one thing women in general require its financial security and stability. So I harbor the brunt of blame for the first three marriages failing, although I will never regret the birth of my daughter Missy from my first marriage. She is the one crowning achievement in my young adult life.
I don't know if these revelations have or will dawn on many working musicians. I don't know many musicians who have remained married to the same woman for a majority of their adult lives. I have several bachelor musician friends that must have figured all this out earlier. Some were married... once. Others just never went that route at all, and remain bachelors. As for women musicians . . . . . I don't have a clue. I even married one once, figuring that we would be sharing a career, but even that didn't work out.
I had (literally) given up after the dissolving of marriage #3, and got myself a big dog. Then I met Jane...... On a blind date, of all things. This marriage has certainly not been any easier to keep afloat, especially since all of my career choices are slowly being shut down by technology (and advancing age). Jane and I both fight very hard trying to make things work and keep one step ahead of the bills. One thing that HAS made a difference is our son Robert. He is such a joy to be around and has given much strength to our family's determination to fight the good fight.
As I approach "old age" and look back, I do have a few regrets. I don't know if I could go back and make different decisions that it would alter anything, however. I didn't have any career moves that I did not take advantage of or at least explore before finding out it was a dead end. I feel that "greatness" or "discovery" just missed me by inches several times but I don't know what I could have done to change that either. I suppose my biggest regret would be that I chose to live here in the Ozarks, as far removed from the center of all things music as humanly possible. It wasn't one of my most well thought out career decisions. But on the other hand there have been so many positive things that have come out of that decision.
First, if I had moved to a music city (LA, NYC, Nashville… even Memphis) my studio would not have been here to record so many great artists and bands. These bands would SURELY have never had an opportunity to record their original music. Why? Because these people didn't have the money to invest in recording (and remember, this was long before recording technology was affordable to the masses). I knew that when they came to me. And so I recorded them for free - at my own expense. That's not exactly another good career move when I wasn't making any money to speak of in my recording business anyway. But the music was SO GOOD, that I felt it needed to at least be preserved. I didn't just record EVERYBODY that came in for free. I only invested, or "speculated", in the bands or artists that I personally believed in. Looking back today I realize I have archived the music legacy of a region of the US that would otherwise not have such a wide variety of original compositions to boast of. It would have all been lost. It is the main reason I decided last year to donate all my media assets, my entire body of recorded work for the past half decade, to the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. (The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a department of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), was created in 1997 through an endowment by the late Richard C. Butler Sr. for the purpose of promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of Arkansas history, literature, art, and culture.) David Stricklin, the Center's Manager, has assured me that my library will have a prevalent home at the Butler Center "Music of Arkansas" Exhibit. So, after I am long gone, the music I recorded will be available for future generations. This would have never happened if I had chosen to leave and "make it big".
Second, my decision to return to my hometown and build my own recording studio eventually led to me discovering my video heritage. As a young man, my mentor was my Uncle Harold Deems. He was what they used to call a "hobbiest" of 8mm films. He loved using his 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera, and spent much of his free time filming his vacations during his retirement and on their travels. Just as soon as he would get his films developed he spent many painstaking hours editing those films together on large 7" reels. I could hardly wait for he and Aunt Francis to come visit us at Blackberry Hill Lodge when I was a kid, because on the first night they'd drag out the film projector and screen and we'd sit up after dinner while he ran his films in a smoke-filled room. Oh! The exotic places I saw! And he was a GOOD filmmaker (not to mention he'd already cut out the bad edits and poorly shot material). He always hand-made special titles for the beginning of each new subject. Sometimes he'd use a greeting card and by cutting it up could perform stop-motion animations - like a cartoon lady wielding a rolling pin which he would cut out of the image and then move the arm up and down on film to give it movement. For the times, it was ingenious! His use of the camera shutter speeds was no less dramatic, sometime shooting at a high rate of speed to give the playback image a slo-mo effect. The films were always so entertaining, and because much of it was family, we were all spellbound for the entire presentation.
When I started going to military school in the 8th grade, I lived only about 20 miles from my grandparent's house, who had retired to Florida. That's how my parents found out about Admiral Farragut Academy in the first place. On weekends that I wasn't confined to campus for various infractions of some school code, I would spend the time at their house in Largo. They also had an 8mm movie camera, which I borrowed every chance I got. I spent every spare dollar on movie film during my Junior and Senior years there, and have a treasure trove of home movies from that time of me and my buddies on liberty hanging out and generally acting like teenagers. . . . . . Priceless stuff which I drag out every school reunion to much groaning by my fellow alumni.
When home video became (barely) affordable in the 80's I was one of the first to jump on board. Fortunately, at the time, I was the manager of a Hubert's Home Entertainment Center in Mountain Home. My studio was located in the basement of the Hubert's complex. We were Sony dealers and got the opportunity to get started in video production, such as it was in its infancy. I had already learned the art of camera movement and composition from my years of working with the film camera. I went to every groundbreaking, every newsworthy event, and every public gathering in the county. All at my own expense of course. Video was so new that most people didn't realize how important it might be to future generations to archive what was happening right now. My archives of this area began in 1979. Today I have more than 252 HOURS of video archives that I have recently donated to the Donald W. Reynolds Library. The library has set up a dedicated computer kiosk in the archives room for the public to enjoy. None of these valuable and priceless videos would be available for future generations if I had not chosen to live here.
And lastly, if I had not chosen to stick it out in Mountain Home, Arkansas, I would not have met wife #4, Jane Perry Ketchum. And we would not have been so blessed with the birth of Robert Warren Ketchum III. My final regret is that he did not get to meet his wonderful grandparents, but I AM thankful that he still has his "Papaw" and "Mamaw" from his mother's side, Earnest and Allene Perry. Both sets of his grandparents come from the Greatest Generation. Both of his grandfathers are WWII vets, having served to ensure my generation's freedoms and Robert's as well.
So…. All in all it's been a pretty good trade off. I "gave up" being a rock star but in the end I have all I could have ever wished for. I know money isn't everything, but it's still a struggle to make ends meet, and I will continue to work towards creating a more stable life for my wife and my son. I will never get too old for that. And they certainly deserve it for sticking it out with me.