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Guitar Hero Frankie Ballard Brings "Sunshine and Whiskey" to Chicago

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 Cora

I grew up listening to rock and blues music. I’m a recent country music convert and still adjusting to my new identity. Musicians like Frankie Ballard make that transition easier. I knew I could trust him when we talked about his blues influences and he dropped a catalogue of performers he studied. The Michigan native’s voice and tone filled with worldly respect and humble admiration when talking about blues legends and guitar playing. I already respected him preparing for the interview. Fresh out of college he played over 200 nights a year in a 300 mile radius while taking monthly trips to Nashville. That type of dedication is something we all can get behind. If the idea of country music puts up your hackles, you might enjoy Frankie’s music.

If you already like country or just elegant and confident guitar riffs, you’ll like Frankie. He took a break from restringing his guitars to speak with us. Halfstack: When people think of country and country music, many think of the South. What's been your experience coming from Michigan and singing country? Frankie Ballard: Well, I’m from Southern Michigan, see. A lot of people ask me, “What do you know about country?” But as long as there are blue collar, hardworking people there will be country music fans. I grew up listening to it with my dad. It was always there. Wasn’t until I started traveling around that people started saying you had to be from the South.

H: How has it been an advantage?  
FB: I think it definitely gives me a different perspective. Grew up on a lot of Bob Seger. It heavily influence me and not sure a lot of people experienced that the way I did. Enjoyed the rock and roll scene. I think that’s really made a difference. H: "Helluva Life" garnered your first Gold record. How did that feel? What did it mean to you? FB: It’s amazing always imagined what that’d be like, you know. The two words “gold record” makes me think of Elvis. So surreal to have one. I gave it to my parents so it’s hanging on their wall back home. H: You had a little different approach writing this album. On the website, it says, "[w]hat had been missing ...was a blue-collar sense of crafting his own product from the bottom up, of putting his stamp on every step of the process." What was that experience like? FB: I got to make this record the way I wanted to make it. Real important to me. The mixing of the music I think makes a big difference. I wanted to take my time and play a lot of guitar on it. A different way of looking at things. I got with a producer, Marshall Altman, who allowed me to do that. Big difference maker. Really took our time, fiddled around and experimented with different sounds. Really think we made something that sounds different and fresh.

H: Is there an example from the album where we can really hear your stamp?
FB:I think Sunshine and Whiskey, my current single, you can tell production wise. I’m simply playing guitar and we really fiddled around with it. The vibe of that tune. So much of what I think makes that song work is the vibe so that’s a perfect example. Production all across the board is different. The freshness. I had a little different perspective. H: Country Weekly described you as a "true guitar hero" with an elegant, supple style of playing rarely seen in these days hard rock country. Who are your influences and how'd you develop your style? FB: Heavy blues influence like Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then I started looking back to see where Stevie Ray Vaughn figured out his stuff and I found Freddy King and a lot of old school blues guys. You know I went down the whole Lynyrd Skynrd. As a guitar player you really discover all those guitar heroes. Hendrix, Clapton, Led Zeppelin. Went through a whole rock and roll thing, really discovered classic guitar playing. As for the way I play it’s really based in Southern rock and blues primarily.

Ballard in Omaha, Nebraska

H: You're preparing for your first headlining run. How will that be different than other tours? Are you preparing for it any differently? 
FB: On a lot of tours you might get forty-five minutes, maybe thirty minutes to strut your stuff and win some fans. I’m excited to do a whole set, the whole story. Get to play all the songs on the album. Get to have some fun. Play some guitar. Really looking forward to it. It’s exciting but also nerve wracking. You’re the one responsible for getting people in seats. It’s going to be fun though, really looking forward to it. Lot of great rooms. H: What do you love about touring/performing live? FB: For me it’s all about the energy. I love strapping on the guitar, singing the songs, playing with a live band. That energy you get from the stage, that energy you get from the crowd. That relationship that happens. It’s really a lot of fun. There’s no place on Earth you can get that. I really just love being able to rock with the fans.

H: What's your favorite song to perform live? 
FB: I got this one on my album called “Drinky Drink”. It’s really a lot of fun to play. Really upbeat, the tempo is raucous, lot of guitar playing. That’s just a fun one to get people partying. It’s a party song. I’d have to say "Helluva Life", too, because it was my first number one. Everybody knows it. A lot of people come to hear that song.

H: What's the number one thing you'd like people to know about your work and you? 
FB: I take it very seriously. It’s everything to me. For example I’m in Montgomery, Indiana right now talking to you. I’ll be working on my gear all day, sound checks. I’m in the trailer, got my stuff, working, changing strings. I just can’t get enough of it. I just pour everything into it. It’s my whole life and I want people to know that when they come see me. They’re just getting a look into who I am. It’s a lot of fun to be able to share it. So support our Northern brother in a Southern man's game. Frankie Ballard performs this Friday, September 12th, at Joe's Sports Bar. For more information on Frankie, visit his website.

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