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Riding with David Ball

By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 2001

Chances are when most people think of David Ball, they remember his big hit, "Thinkin' Problem," and then probably wonder what became of him.

After a few less than stellar discs for Warner - commercially unsucessful, albeit well done honky tonk - Ball roared out of no place with a new lease on musical life thanks to the huge hit off his new "Amigo" album, "Riding With Private Malone."

The 48-year-old South Carolinian himself is surprised with "Private Malone," which gained much steam in the wake of Sept. 11.

"It really surprised me to tell you the truth," he says in an interview from his Nashville home. "I thoght the record was great, but due to the state that everything was in and all the struggles I had at major labels, I wasn't thinking that DualTone was going to be able to create the success to bring it home."

DualTone label is one of the new labels in Nashville - started by two Arista refugees - with the likes of Jim Lauderdale and Radney Foster on board.

Ball seemed poised for a solid career after his first single for Warner (he had three singles for RCA in 1988 and 1989, but an album went unreleased), "Thinkin' Problem," hit number 2 in 1994.

A follow-up single, "When the Thought of You Catches Up With Me" hit the top 10 later that year and a third single, "Look What Followed Me Home," peaked at 11 in early 1995.

Two later albums, "Starlite Lounge" and "Play," yielded no hits, not even close.

"I'm sure Warner Brothers felt very frustrated being unable to break my records, but just due to the nature that it was a big organization, I was outside the loop," he says.

He and Warner went their separate ways.

Speaking of the break, Ball says, "It's terrible, but at the same time with that comes freedom, which is exciting...With the major labels, it's just a business. That's all it is. If you can catch the right wave...I was lucky with 'Thinkin' Problem' to catch that particular wave. Warner was expanding and hungry and looking to have a lot of success with new artists."

"We both just realized it had come to an end," says Ball. "I really don't know what was going on at Warner Brothers. I had some ups and downs. You really have to have a good team together. That means everybody along the way. That's hard to do when you're trying to come back. We stumbled so badly at Warner Brothers that it was almost impossible to get back up and remain up. It's hard to walk away from a contract at a major label. We both knew it was time to go."

Ball plucked down less than $50,000 to record his own album with no label definitely aboard to release the songs.

"Warner had pretty much given me freedom to do pretty much what I wanted to do. But for some reason, we always wound up in a major studio with one of the top producers. Once you step into that world, that's where you are. We, of course, didn't have a budget. We had to figure out how to do this on our own. We had time. That's the one thing we had. That's what saved us because that's what it takes - it takes heart, soul and time in a record. You can't rush it. Prior to that, you block maybe two months and go in with a record and knock out a record with the pros. Everybody knows the score, and you just go in and do it. I was never comfortable in those situations. The recording can go real quick, but I'm not a fan of modern studio situations. I think they can be a little bit sterile."

"You use those regular cast, and you mike them the same way, and you work with the same engineers. You don't have to do it that way. Lucky for us. It works for some people, but I won't ever record that way around. The next album I do, I hope I'll do it in my living room."

Ball recorded the disc with producer Wood Newton - "we took our time" - over an 18-month period ending in the spring. "We started, and we would just sit on it and do a little bit more. We cut 13 songs."

"When we were finishing it up, we wanted people to hear it," he says. "We wanted to get it out to people. We just go by our gut. We just go by what feels right. That can be a very hard thing to do especially in this town because you got other people telling you what's what. It was so great that I was on the front line with Wood, and there we were."

As for DualTone, "We played them the record, and they got it. That's always refreshing. Wood took the record around to a few places. It was 'it'll probably be about a year and a half before we can put it out.' We knew what we were doing."

Ball says he wanted a label that "did right by the music and we didn't have to sit for hours at board meetings explaining (the music)."

"They, of course have a big BMG distrubtion deal, which helped us out a lot," says Ball. "Any time a certain Wal-Mart is out, bam, they're restocked. That's a real good thing as far as keeping the sales up. This thing took off, and it took off a lot faster than you'd think being on an independent label.

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