Make no mistake, David Ball likes making hit records.
He has made quite of few of them, in fact. “Thinkin’ Problem,” “Riding with Private Malone” and “When the Thought of You Catches Up with Me” were Top 10 country hits, with a dozen more notched into country airplay.
He’s played for the big crowds. Recorded for the big music execs. Followed rigid studio schedules.
But these days, the 65-year-old country singer has gone back to basics.
“It wasn’t too long ago I realized that, when you are out there doing a big show, playing to 20,000-plus, sooner or later you’re going to wind up in a harness swinging across the stage with some kind of fire explosions,” Ball said, laughing.
As such, Ball — whose hit records stretch from the late ’80s to 2004 — revels in dance halls and intimate venues these days. The Orange Blossom Opry in Weirsdale, known nationwide for feeding its performers hearty Southern meals, is one of his favorite spots.
He returns Friday night to OBO, fresh off his self-released album Come See Me his first in eight years. With its first single “I Got a Broken Heart in the Mail,” this is a disc of honky-tonk tracks, fun and free and far from polished.
It was recorded in his home studio in Nashville.
“I’ve got a great little studio. I started doing everything myself,” he said. “I’m an old upright bass player. I dug out the old bass fiddle and put that on there. It was a while just messing around with this thing — all that technology, it’s a little complicated.”
Once comfortable with all the studio gadgets, he did what David Ball does next: Go to the pawnshop to buy guitars.
“I got some old stuff, but that electric guitar is quite the instrument. I’m not really a hot-licks guitar player. I play like Johnny Cash’s background guitar players. Very simple,” he said.
“So this collection of songs seemed to work in this way, and, as a songwriter, people always say keep it simple. So this is not complicated. It’s not overcooked. I captured these songs and let it go. It was a joy.”
Come See Me was released in September, and the reviews have been good so far, particularly among the feathered fans outside the studio door.
“I’ve got these guinea hens. They’re like chickens,” Ball said. “They like music, and so they got into this habit of when I’d be in there really wailing away, they’d come up to the door and start squawkin’. I had to redo a couple of (tracks) because they were in there singing. Those are my background vocals there.
“They’re pretty loud,” he added. “Chickens are country music fans, I’ll tell you that.”
The show he will bring to the opry is powered by a stripped-down ensemble; it will be an intimate set that invites audience interaction and chatter.
“We’ll do anything. If people really want to hear something, holler it out. We’ll try to get to it,” Ball said. “We like to play music that’s fun to play, and I really like to write that kind of stuff. That’s what this new record is, just music that I would like to hear.”
This is David Ball in the instant age of digital downloads and a recording business that does not reward hit songs as it once did. He is, quite simply, an old upright bass player picking old guitars and playing what he wants to play. And diehard fans or guinea hens can chill, dance and/or sing along.
“It’s about the songs. It’s about the songwriting,” he said. “I like what we’re doing because it’s not complicated, and I sort of think these people (the fans) feel the same way. They’re not going to be interested in standing in line, finding a place to park. This is different. This is more spontaneous, kind of intimate.
“They don’t have an agenda, the people who come out. They just want have a good time and hear some good music. It’s that simple.”