Country music has made and broken careers for close to a century now. David Ball of Spartanburg is one of the survivors, enjoying a long career in the field. In high school he joined the legendary acoustic trio Uncle Walt's Band, playing a blend of bluegrass, blues, swing and folk, "and then that of course led me into Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family," he recalls of his introduction to country.
The group moved to Texas, where it became the rage in clubs across the state, and where its unique blend of sounds eventually came to be called Americana, with Uncle Walt's Band being named one of its progenitors. The Lone Star State exposed Ball to more classic country music, which fired his imagination. "I got to see the original Bob Wills Playboys and all these big bands playing in these dance halls. I just loved it...Hank Williams Sr. was still on every jukebox...So that was it, I was hooked," he said.
Ball wrote songs for Uncle Walt's band, as did the other two members. But statewide acclaim didn't translate into national success, so Ball eventually struck out on his own, honing his songwriting skills in Nashville. He was rewarded in 1994, when his song "Thinkin' Problem" became a major hit, and the top selling country song of the year. More hits from the platinum-selling "Thinkin' Problem" album followed.
Talking about what makes a hit record, Ball said "a hit record can be funny, a hit record can be very sad. And some's got it, and some ain't. It's not something you can manufacture on demand."
Ball favors the singers of the 1940s and '50s over the more "corporate" sound and image of today's country stars. He looks forward to Ken Burns's new documentary on the music, and hopes it shakes things up in the industry. "Wouldn't it be great if it's kinda the catalyst for a split in country music that would develop an interest in the... roots of country music all the way up to Merle Haggard? And it would be great if it revives an interest in more of the traditional country stuff that has less noise and more substance."
COUNTRY MUSIC: A FILM BY KEN BURNS, AIRS IN EIGHT PARTS BEGINNING SUNDAY, SEPT. 15 AT 8 P.M. ON SOUTH CAROLINA ETV.