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SUCCESS IS CATCHING UP WITH DAVID BALL

Success and royalty checks arrive about a year apart. So, although David Ball's album "Thinkin' Problem," with its infectious title track, was recently certified platinum (meaning 1 million in sales), his latest royalty check was in the neighborhood of $28.

But, as Ball says, "It takes a long time to get out of Texas, and when you do, you're in Oklahoma." Of course, it also took David 17 years to get into Texas.The son of a Baptist preacher, Ball was born in Rock Hill and raised in Spartanburg, S.C. At age 5, he saw Fred Kirby in concert and says, "I can still see him in his cowboy suit singing `Big Rock Candy Mountain.' It left quite an impression on me."

By the time he graduated from high school, he and two friends had formed Uncle Walt's Band. Mostly they played bluegrass - "Doc Watson-type stuff. I remember Don Reno and Red Smiley. That will always be some of the best music I ever heard." In the mid-'70s the whole band moved to Austin, Texas, where Ball finally met the honky-tonk sounds of Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills - oh, and sometimes had as an opening act "some broccoli-haired kid named Lyle."

After 10 years, the band broke up and Ball headed home to South Carolina. But he had already started to "put jalapenos in my coleslaw" by fusing Texas dance-hall music with his home-grown Carolina bluegrass. For a while he thought there was no room for him in Nashville because his sound was so hard-core country. Then he heard Randy Travis' "On the Other Hand" and said, "That's it. I'm not waiting anymore. I'm moving to Nashville, and I'm going to learn how to do that."

By 1988 he had a record deal at RCA, but after three low-charting singles, RCA shelved the album. (Riding on the success of Ball's current Warner Bros. album, RCA has released some of those cuts as "David Ball.") Ball himself was unhappy: "I felt my music had slipped right through my hands when I wasn't paying attention." He settled in for a few years of being the "human jukebox" at The Idle Hour, a Nashville bar that's mostly "concrete block, neon lights and a pool table."

When Warner Bros. came calling in 1993, Ball was ready. Now his latest single, "Look What Followed Me Home," is following the path his first two took up the charts. Ball says, "I sing loud, and I sing real hard." All we know is, we like to listen.

When the money does start coming in, Ball would like to get a bigger house for his wife, Janet, and his 11-year-old daughter, Audrey. Oh, and a pool table in the basement for himself. To our ears, there's at least three more hits on this album. He'll be able to afford that house.

QUIBBLES 'N' BITS

Happily Ever After Dept.: Suzy Bogguss and her husband, Doug Crider, celebrated St. Patrick's Day by welcoming their first child, Benton Charles Crider. Ben, as he will be called, weighed in at 8 pounds, 12 ounces. Don't miss Suzy's current album, "Sym-pa-ti-co," which features her good buddy Chet Atkins.

Y'all Come Back Saloon Dept.: Big thumbs-up to the folks at Liberty Records who signed the Oak Ridge Boys last December. The Oaks had been without a major label deal for a few years because the suits on Music Row thought they were, well, too old.

Joe Bonsall reports that they already have recorded a Christmas album for fall release and plan to cut a brand new album by the summer. Personally, the mighty Oaks have always had it made in the shade with us.

Smooth Cuts Quote of the Week: "The time that I spent on the road taught me a great deal of patience, and if you're going to achieve anything worthwhile, then you must cling to that patience." - David Stewart, in his book "Heart and Sole" (White Boucke Publishing, $12.50).

David, you'll recall, walked from Gillette, Wyo., to Nashville (over 1,600 miles) in 1988 to fulfill his dream of singing at the Grand Ole Opry.