“I feel like the life of an 1800’s train robber can easily be compared to the life of a traveling musician,” states Tylor Ketchum, front man for the gritty Americana band, Tylor and the Train Robbers. “Of course we’re not killing people or stealing money along the way, but life on the road definitely can feel like the Wild West at times.” This band would know, touring 200 dates a year for the past few years, and they’ve done it without the help of a manager or booking agent.
The band is made up of Ketchum, his brother Jason Bushman on bass, Johnny “Shoes” Pisano on lead guitar, and Flip Perkins on drums. Ketchum and Bushman have been playing together for most of their lives, starting when their mother taught them to play guitars chords as kids. Originally from the small town of Helix, Oregon, the brothers moved to Boise in their 20’s in search of a music scene. They formed Tylor and The Train Robbers after adding the more experienced Pisano and Perkins to their group.
“I met Johnny after moving to Idaho and he became a mentor to me in a lot of ways,” Ketchum points out. “He taught me a lot about songwriting and helped me build the band to what it is now. He introduced me to Flip, who he played with for years, so they had already developed a synergy playing together, which made it easy to come together as a band.” Despite the 40-year age gap between the brothers and band mates, the chemistry is undeniable and is reinforced by their passion for the music of the American West.
And from the American West enters “Black Jack” Ketchum. A Texas cowboy turned outlaw, he was a member of the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, which operated out of the same New Mexico hideout as the famous Wild Bunch led by Butch Cassidy. “Black Jack” is also a distant relative of Tylor Ketchum and the inspiration for the band’s name and now their new record, Best of the Worst Kind. Set for release on the anniversary of Black Jack’s hanging, the music is a bit of roots, country and Americana with influences from Texas and Red Dirt country music.
The 12-song record is the band’s sophomore effort, following the 2017 release of Gravel. The Boise Weekly ranked Gravel as a top local release in 2017 and noted, “Like (John) Prine, singer-lyricist Tylor Ketchum (who’s only in his mid 20’s) has an eye for detail and a plainspoken evenhandedness that songwriters of any age should envy.”
Gravel was a record that captured an accurate representation of the band’s live show in the studio. “This time around, with Best of the Worst Kind, we wanted to add some depth and color without losing our original sound,” explains Ketchum. “Also, as time passes we’ve had more time to hone our sound and become tighter as a group. We’re more comfortable in the studio together and can let the creative process flow more freely.”
Lyrics still set the stage on Best of the Worst Kind. Kicking it off with “Lost and Lonely Miles”, a song about feelings of entitlement, Ketchum sings, “did you take the hard way, was it the way to go? If you take it easy on yourself you might think you have nothing left to know.” Tylor also dedicates a song to his ancestor on “The Ballad of Black Jack Ketchum”. Although not a title-track, the album’s name comes directly from a line in this song. On the song, Pisano plays a Tennessee Rose Gretch, which brings Western vibe to the song. The lyrics tell the story, but the instruments build the suspense of the story and take the listener along for the ride.
“Hide your Goat” is a song born of a guitar. “I am one who believes that when you buy an instrument there are songs inside of it that you couldn’t write otherwise,” Ketchum states. “Last year I bought a new (vintage 1964) 12 string Gibson B-25. The first time I sat down with the guitar, this song just came out.” The last song on the album, “Place Like This” is and ode to the universal “old guy at the end of the bar”. “On the road we meet a lot of people, but this is a character who seems to be there no matter what town we’re in,” Ketchum asserts. “He will strike up a conversation and tell a story about the good old days. But you never know what his life is really like. I wanted to tell his untold story—the truths he would never tell.”
Besides the remarkable sibling chemistry between the brothers, another family element of this project is the fact that Tylor Ketchum’s grandfather, Gary Ketchum who is also related to Black Jack, did the artwork. And Pisano’s daughter, Jennifer sings on the album. “Jennifer is my fiancé”, confesses Ketchum. “She sings with the band regularly at our shows and has developed her own following within our fan base, so we definitely wanted her to be a part of this album. In some ways we’re like a convoluted version of a family band, now.”
When asked about his hopes for Best of the Worst Kind, Ketchum becomes thoughtful, “I would like this album to help people connect our band name to something real and not just a catchy title. Our goal for our music is to connect with people. We just want to relate to people and remind them that they are not alone. I think what makes music a beautiful thing is that it brings all different kinds of people together.”