- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — David Ball should be making his living by singing his 1994 smash hit, "Thinkin' Problem," to an ever-shrinking audience. At least, that would be his fate if he followed the typical career path of a midlevel country singer.
That's the road he was on earlier this year.
Then his single "Riding With Private Malone" went all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard country charts this month. Mr. Ball released the record on the independent label Dualtone after being dropped by Warner Bros. and before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Riding With Private Malone" tells the tale of a man who buys a Chevrolet once owned by a soldier who died in Vietnam. The story climaxes with an accident, in which the narrator is rescued by the ghost of the dead soldier, Pvt. Andrew Malone.
Mr. Ball's album "Amigo" has sold more than 120,000 copies, mostly on the strength of the hit and the recent appetite for patriotic songs.
Dualtone plans to release a version of "Riding With Private Malone" to adult contemporary stations in January.
"It's an impressive feat," says Mike Brophey, program director at country station WKLB in Boston. "David's been around a while, and it's nice to hear him sing such a strong song."

Mr. Ball, 48, was a member of the eclectic trio Uncle Walt's Band in the 1970s. He recorded unsuccessfully for RCA in the late 1980s, then hit it big when "Thinkin' Problem" went to No. 2 for Warner Bros. in 1994.
Two more albums failed to kick up much dust for Warner Bros., and Mr. Ball was dropped. He recorded "Amigo" on his own with producer Wood Newton.
"Once I was cut loose from the big machine, I knew it was time to make a definitive record, an artistic statement," Mr. Ball says. "When you're with a major label, you've got to sketch out for them what you want to do and discuss it, then test and research it to death.
"You can't make art that way, by committee," he says. "Give the people exactly what they want, and you bore them to death."
"Amigo" has a Western swing feel to it, a drastic difference from the sound favored by today's country-music producers.
"When those major labels are paying thousands of dollars a day for those big studios, those drummer guys bring in six miles of drums," Mr. Ball says. "If it doesn't take eight hours to set them up, you ain't doing nothing.
"This record is really a Texas dance-hall record. It's more friendly, not such a big rock sound. I don't like them drummers to dominate me."
Mr. Ball took the album to Dualtone, founded by Dan Herrington and Scott Robinson, two former employees of Arista Nashville, a successful country-music label that fell victim to corporate consolidation. The label is distributed through BMG.
"The doors at radio are open for independents, but it's got to be the right artist and the right record," Mr. Herrington says. "You are still at a huge disadvantage. You just don't have the money to spend, obviously."
Says Mr. Ball: "It's a good time not to be in the corporate music business right now. 'Private Malone' has put me in a nicer touring bus, which won't kill me. It can get pretty scroungy out there when you have to cut corners at every level."
Mr. Newton, who wrote "Riding With Private Malone" with Thom Shepherd, brought the song to Mr. Ball as they were nearing completion of the "Amigo" album.
"I'm a fan of story songs, but I had never recorded one," Mr. Ball says. "I was looking for that type of song and had been for a number of years.
"The first time I heard 'Malone,' there was something familiar about it. I felt like I knew Andrew Malone."

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