It’s no surprise that country music singer David Ball enjoys a strong connection with military personnel.
Ball’s hit “Riding With Private Malone” was released in 2001 and picked up steam in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, even though the private mentioned in the song was from an earlier conflict.
“It was really for those Vietnam veterans,” Ball said of the tune. “They used to come through the line and shake my hand after the show. That was what really started to get me involved.”
Ball is a spokesman and fundraiser for Operation Troop Aid, which sends care packages to troops serving overseas. He will play at the Brickyard on Tuesday in what’s billed as the Independence Day Kickoff for Operation Troop Aid. Fans can make contributions to Operation Troop Aid at Ball’s merchandise table. As always at the Brickyard, military personnel and their spouses get in free.
“He (Ball) deserves a big Bravo Zulu,” Operation Troop Aid founder Mark Woods said, using military slang for a job well-done.
In a telephone interview between gigs in Wyoming, Ball came off as folksy and funny, though not one afraid to state his opinion of the current state of country music radio.
“I play that country AND western music,” Ball said at one point. Asked if he’d ever performed in Wichita, Ball said, “How am I supposed to know? Well, I’ve toured with a lot of people. I’m positive I’ve been through Wichita, Kansas.”
Bell’s other big hit, “Thinkin’ Problem,” came out almost a decade earlier than “Private Malone,” and even that wasn’t the beginning of a career that started in the 1970s.
Ball grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., and formed a band there called Uncle Walt’s Band with Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood. The trio moved to Austin, Texas, where they became pioneers of the genre known as Americana.
“That band was very experimental. We were adventurous, we would play anything.”
Ball moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career and arrived with the proverbial hit in his pocket — the classic honky-tonker “Thinkin’ Problem.”
The album it appeared on produced a couple more hits, but Ball said his presence on country radio gradually diminished.
“I really don’t know what happened. In this business, you have to have a record label, a manager, an accountant. I really didn’t have that. I just had that song, ‘Thinkin’ Problem.’ I figured I would figure it out later.”
The hits might have dried up until “Private Malone,” but Ball kept doing what he loves most: making music. Bob Dylan, a fan, invited him to play on a Jimmie Rodgers tribute album in 1997, and Ball performed at the Kennedy Center celebration of Dylan the same year. He won a Grammy for “Old Folks at Home” from a collection of Stephen Foster tunes in 2005. He released “Sparkle City” in 2010 and a collection of Christmas songs last year. Lyle Lovett, an old friend from Austin, recorded one of Ball’s songs a few years back.
Although baffled by much of what plays on country stations, Ball thinks he’s got at least one more hit in him. He says his latest single — “What’ll I Do” — is “the best song I’ve ever had” — and he might be right.
Mostly, he just enjoys performing — “whether it’s touring with Alan Jackson or in some honky-tonk over in the corner.”
As always, Ball and his band mix it up, throwing everything from jazz and blues to Tex-Mex and hard country into the mix. His band, the Pioneer Playboys, consists of Troy Cook Jr. on guitar, Billy Pierce on bass and Scott Metko on drums.
“The whole purpose of this is to have this great band – that comes first,” Ball said. “We don’t do a big show, we play music. Elton John and Kiss weren’t real big influences on my style of music.”