There’s nothing like a hit single to get an artist back in the game. Just ask David Ball as he watches “Riding With Private Malone” cruise up Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, from No. 37 to No. 34 on the latest chart.
“It’s great to be back on the radio,” Ball says, “especially with something that touches people.”
“It’s intensively reactive,” says KVET Austin, Texas, assistant PD/music director Dave Marcum of the single. “It’s just huge for us. It’s a story song, and the best country songs are story songs. It has a great resonance with our audience.”
“Private Malone” is the first single from Ball’s forthcoming album, ‘Amigo.’ Produced by veteran Nashville tunesmith Wood Newton, the project was recorded for Arcaro, a joint label venture named for Newton’s native Arkansas and Ball’s native South Carolina. Newton took the project to Dualtone. It quickly picked it up and set a release date that was moved to Oct. 2 once the single took off.
“Knowing David and what he’s all about, Dualtone is a perfect match,” says Scott Robinson, who founded the label with Dan Herrington. Dualtone’s roster also includes Radney Foster, Chris Knight, and Jim Lauderdale.
“Our artists are all career artists who are true to who they are. That’s one of the cornerstones of Dualtone,” Robinson says. “We believed that David needed to be with a company that approached things differently and is not going to put him in the standard template and throw [him] through the system.”
Ball exited Warner Bros. after recording three albums, spawning such hits as “Thinkin’ Problem” and “Look What Followed Me Home.” Ball’s friend and frequent collaborator Luke Reed then introduced him to Newton. A native of Hampton, Ark., Newton has lived in Nashville since 1976 and has a lengthy list of hits to his credit, among them the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Bobbie Sue,” Kenny Rogers’ “Twenty Years Ago,” and Steve Wariner’s “What I Didn’t Do,” which was recently cut again by George Jones.
“We got together and wrote ‘She Always Talked About Mexico,’ which is on the new CD,” Ball recalls. “We just went from there. Wood had a little studio so we could go in and demo this stuff. I loved that sound.”
Ball says he and Newton took their time with the album and followed their muses. “Doing it ourselves was a real good thing because we were able to just stay focused on the music,” he says. “Sometimes if you are [recording] for somebody else, then you are trying to anticipate what they are going to think. If you go in and start a project and try to please someone else, you aren’t chasing the muse. We were after musical satisfaction. That’s what started this. We were able to chase it all the way down. I loved working that way.”
Once finished, Newton shared the album with Dualtone, and Ball says it was obvious that the label was the place to be. “We didn’t have to explain the record to them,” he says. “Both those guys are from Texas, so they get that aspect of it, and they realize the importance that that kind of music plays in country music: That Texas/Louisiana/Oklahoma sound. It wears well all over the world.”
It’s a sound that comes naturally to Ball, who spent years honing his craft in the Lone Star State before moving to Nashville. “I love dance music, and that’s still what I do,” says Ball, a BMI writer who has his own publishing company, Cedar Poppin’ Songs.
The variety of songs on Amigo illustrate the depth and breadth of Ball’s musicality. The collection ranges from the danceable title cut to the frisky “New Shiner Polka” to a cover of “Linger Awhile,” a 1926 tune previously recorded by Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, and Jimmy Rushing. There’s a smoldering take on Merle Haggard’s “Trying Not to Love You,” as well as a lush version of the country classic “Just out of Reach.”
Some of these songs, including “Texas Echo” and “Trying Not to Love You,” have been in Ball’s repertoire for years. “I wrote ‘Texas Echo’ probably back in ’75,” he recalls. “When you live with a song for that long, it just becomes a part of you. It’s real easy to cut… They have a certain freshness to them, and that’s what we were after.”
They had completed the album before Ball heard “Private Malone,” which Newton wrote with Thom Shepherd. “As a songwriter,” Ball says, “I just really appreciated what they had done with it.”
Newton says the idea for the song started when Shepherd saw something on the Internet about a man who bought an old Corvette and found a picture in it from the previous owner. In writing the song, Newton says he thought about his cousin, Jeff Newton. “He was a second lieutenant in Vietnam, and he owned a Corvette,” Newton recalls . “He went through hell and back, and he made it back, but the day he got home, he had a wreck and got killed in that Corvette. I had met him that very night, and he had invited me to go with him to town.”
Robinson says that Dualtone wanted “Amigo” even before they heard “Private Malone” and that it believes in the strength of the album as a whole; consequently, it will not release “Private Malone” as a commercial single. “This is about the record, about the artist. The single — even though it’s a great, powerful single — is just one element of a beautiful body of work,” Robinson says. “So we aren’t putting out commercial singles. We want people to hear the record.”
Ball is gearing up for the Honky Tonk Tailgate tour with Rhett Akins and Daryle Singletary. There is also discussion of Ball embarking on a tour of military bases after the first of the year.
Dualtone also plans to create an Internet campaign focusing on “Private Malone.” “We will have a discussion group set up where people can post their thoughts, feelings, notes, and letters about the song,” Robinson says. “We are just getting inundated with E-mails from across the country about what this song means to [people].”