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David Ball bounces back with an ode to a Vietnam soldier

In 1994, David Ball stepped up to the plate in Nashville with three strikes already against him: He was over 40, unheralded and traditional to the core. But the talented singer/songwriter defied the odds and took country by surprise. His first hit, "Thinkin' Problem," soared to No. 2, and his album of the same name sold a million copies.

Then the bottom dropped out. Two follow-up albums failed to yield any big hits, and David was released from his record contract.

"For a while, I think, radio was too focused on demographics and not the songs," he sums up. "A great song on the radio will make someone's day."

David's new hit, "Riding With Private Malone," is doing just that. The touching tune, dedicated to a Vietnam War soldier, has already marched into the Top 10 and tugged at America's heart. The song tells the poignant story of a man who answers a used-car ad and ends up with a classic '66 Corvette, the vehicle of a soldier who didn't make it back from Vietnam.

"We're hearing amazing stories because of it," acknowledges David. He recalls an inspirational letter from a retired Army lieutenant colonel, who owns a vintage '65 Chevy Super Sport. The man told his son - a Marine preparing to head to Afghanistan in the nation's current conflict- that the car will be his when he returns. "Your song transcends entertainment," wrote the colonel.

But that's hardly what David set out to accomplish when he recorded the hit, which was a change of pace for him. "My songs are usually not in that storytelling bag," observes David, who lives near Nashville with his wife, Jan, and 17-year-old daughter, Audrey. "I just tend to write stream-of-consciousness, danceable stuff."

Some of that dancehall-style music made it to David's new album, Amigo. Because David found little support from major record labels, he brought the album to independent label Dualtone.

"We didn't have the big dollars to make this record," admits David in his trademark drawl. "But we had a lot of people who were passionate about it."

Now David's own passion has been re-energized by his renewed popularity. "I've had my ups and downs," he confesses. "And it's kind of due to radio airplay. That's been gone from my life for four or five years, and I want it back."

- M.B. Roberts