Frankie Ballard gets to do what he loves for a living. Some artists might take the opportunity for granted, but in Ballard’s case, it drives his determination.
“I feel like God has said, ’OK, you can do this.’ And I have to honor that by working as hard as I possibly can so I don’t lose it,” he admits.
His hard work over the course of the past few years came to fruition with Tuesday’s (Feb. 11) release of Sunshine & Whiskey, his second album. Working with producers Marshall Altman and Scott Hendricks, Ballard says choosing songs for the album came easy.
“It wasn’t about what works together,” he says. “It wasn’t about what do we think could be a single. It was what moved me.”
Country fans have equally been moved as witnessed by the success of Ballard’s current single, “Helluva Life.” While the tune has already cruised to No. 7 on Billboard’s country airplay chart, it serves as much more than simply a lead-off single.
The track’s theme of appreciating the little things in life — with lyrics including, “The bad times make the good times better” — has connected Ballard to listeners more than he ever imagined.
“You have a feeling when it’s coming out that, ’I think people are going to be able to relate to this,’ but I had no idea that it was going to be as good as it has been. People have really taken it and made it their own. It’s so cool to see it transcend into so many different peoples’ journeys.”
Filming the music video for “Helluva Life” led Ballard to East Tennessee for two days and he admits experiencing an “overwhelming sort of nervousness about not being too overdramatic” with the project. Instead, he says he wanted “to marry the emotions that are in the song with the video.”
Fortunately his worrying was for naught, as Ballard believes the video “emotionally connected” and is excited about the result.
For the album as a whole, Ballard says fans “get a peek into who I am emotionally and who I have been especially over the past couple of years.”
His producers helped the entertainer achieve that result while providing a freeing environment that still included structure.
“Marshall and I were very much experimental, and no suggestion was too crazy. … And Scott really came in and helped to give us some direction and focus us on what it was that we were doing,” Ballard explains.
One of the highlights is the closing track, “Don’t Tell Mama I Was Drinking.” Written by Buddy Brock, Jerry Laseter and Kim Williams, the tune has been covered by everyone from George Jones and The Grascals to Gary Allan, but Ballard put his own spin on it with Altman’s help.
“We started wrenching on it, and I was so happy when it started to become my own — in my own style and fit in line with the rest of these tunes — because I love that song so much, and I feel like it’s a song that just can’t be heard enough. So I’m glad it’s getting another shot.”
Beyond vocals, Ballard puts his musicianship front and center on the album. After seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan on a PBS special when Ballard was 18, he says he was “mesmerized” and that it became a “pivotal moment” as he began honing his own guitar skills.
“He opened up that door to me — a world of possibilities — and all the people that influenced him,” he says. “It’s never ending.”
Now a virtuoso in his own right, Ballard took the opportunity to lay down his own guitar lines throughout his new album.
“I’m playing all the guitars and, among other things, just tried to pour as much of myself on to the album as I could, not just my voice. Sonically, it’s different because I don’t play like everybody else,” he explains.
For Ballard the result is a “signature sound” he’s been working on for a long time.
“I’ve always wanted to have fans that could recognize a Frankie Ballard song before I even started singing it. Hopefully, we’ve achieved that.”