Originally created 01/16/04

Ramblin' Rhodes: Singer was taught by variety of styles



Growing up in South Carolina, David Ball was exposed to the classical-piano playing of his mother, sacred music in the church where his father preached and the mixture of sounds played on local radio stations.

"What always excited me as a kid was turning on the radio and hearing a song you liked and what it meant to you," Mr. Ball said in a telephone interview from his Franklin, Tenn., home. "I was the redheaded preacher's boy and very much interested in having a good time."

All of his musical exposures came together when he and two friends, Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood, created Uncle Walt's Band in Spartanburg in the late 1960s. The band became the rage of the Austin, Texas, scene in the early 1970s.

"It was (Texas singer/songwriter) Willis Alan Ramsey who heard us playing in Nashville about 1971 and told us, 'You guys have got to come to Austin,"' Mr. Ball recalled. "We went from playing to three or four truck drivers a night in Nashville places like the Red Dog Saloon to people in Austin hanging off the rafters to hear our music."

On Thursday, Mr. Ball will bring his mix of hard-core country and Texas dance-hall music to the Augusta Futurity's Western Culture & Food Festival for an outdoor concert with John Anderson in front of the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, 605 Seventh St.

Mr. Ball's hits include Thinkin' Problem, When The Thought of You Catches Up With Me and his great story-ballad Riding With Private Malone.

The concert, which begins at 6 p.m. with Mr. Ball opening, is included in the $4 festival admission. There are $2 discount coupons available at Pump 'N Shop locations, and another $2 discount coupon can be obtained with the purchase of any Coca-Cola or Budweiser beverage. Comcast cable customers can gain free admission for up to four people to the festival and concert by showing their cable bill at the gates.

Other musical entertainment for the festival includes the bluegrass band Pine Mountain Railroad from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23, followed by a Latino/salsa concert from 7 to 10 p.m.; and a Southern rock concert featuring the Rhes Reeves Band and the Shiloh band from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24.

Mr. Ball burst onto the national country scene in 1994 with Thinkin' Problem, which he co-wrote with Allen Shamblin and Stuart Ziff. Its chorus goes:

"Yes, I admit I've got a thinkin' problem

She's always on my mind.

Her memory goes round and round.

I've tried to quit a thousand times."

His 2002 hit Riding With Private Malone brought him widespread fame.

He and songwriter Wood Newton, who was in Augusta in September for a concert on the Augusta Common, were working in 1991 on Mr. Ball's Dualtone album Amigo when they heard Thom Shepherd playing some of his songs and liked what he was doing.

Mr. Newton and Mr. Shepherd started collaborating, with one of their creations being Riding With Private Malone. It's the story of a man who buys a Corvette that had belonged to a young soldier, Pvt. Andrew Malone, killed in Vietnam. The man wrecks the car and is saved by someone later identified as the late soldier.

Mr. Ball's musical journey began in Spartanburg, where his father was the pastor of Fernwood Baptist Church.

"About 1969 when we formed Uncle Walt's Band," Mr. Ball said, "Walter was getting interested in rock 'n' roll, and Champ was getting into folk and bluegrass.... I was on upright bass, Champ was on acoustic guitar and mandolin, and Walter was on acoustic guitar.

"I was buying any album with an upright bass on the cover when I was about 18 or 19, and one day I came across a Bob Wills (Western swing) album. I thought, 'What is this? He's got three fiddles and two electric steel guitars."'

It was that Western swing sound combined with Mr. Ball's love for the blues and the influences of Mr. Hyatt and Mr. Hood that led to the unique sound of Uncle Walt's Band.

By the 1980s, Uncle Walt's had run its course. Mr. Hood played with a variety of bands, including Lyle Lovett's and Austin diva Toni Price's combo before dying in 2001 of lung cancer.

Just as Mr. Ball was becoming famous, Mr. Hyatt became the first vocalist signed with MCA Records' Masters Series. His MCA album King Tears was produced by Mr. Lovett.

On May 11, 1996, a ValueJet plunged into the Florida Everglades with Mr. Hyatt aboard. He died along with the other passengers and crewmembers.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks," Mr. Ball said.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 33 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.