Earl Poole Ball
Tin Tube Tunes
Earl Poole Ball is known at “Mr. Honky Tonk Piano,”
a sobriquet he earned during a 20-year stint as the
piano player in Johnny Cash’s band, and playing
numerous sessions with The Byrds, The Flying Burrito
Brothers, Buck Owens, Wanda Jackson, Merle Haggard,
Jo-el Sonnier, and Buck Owens. In addition to that,
plus extensive session work and work in TV and film,
he’s also done work as a writer / arranger / producer
for Cash, Haggard, Linda Ronstadt and numerous
Ball’s musical journey has taken him from his native
Mississippi to Texas, then to California, to
Tennessee, and back to Texas. Since 1999, Ball has
been a mainstay of the Austin recording and live
music scene. Pianography (Tin Tube Tunes) is a
retrospective of sorts, serving as a sampler of
Ball’s considerable keyboard and singing skills, and
takes the listener on an exploration of the many
influences that have shaped Ball’s style and career.
Pianography is divided into three sections. The
first section consists of seven studio tracks
recorded in Austin over the past couple of years
with some of the city’s finest session players.
While most of Ball’s resume’ reflects a country
background, there’s a lot of early rock & roll, with
the blues burning in the background, as it does on
most American music these days. Of the studio
tracks, my favorites are the autobiographical title
track, a whirlwind tour of his adventures, the rowdy
“Say You Love Me,” and the reflective “Something’s
Gonna Get Us All.”
Four sides were recorded live at the Johnny Cash
Bash at Austin music club Emo’s in February of 2010.
Ball covers his former boss’ “Big River” in grand
fashion, then tears through a pair of kickers…Roy
Orbison’s “Down The Line” (also covered by Cash) and
“Mean Woman Blues.” These two rockers bookend a
somber reading of the gospel classic “Will The
Circle Be Unbroken,” with vocals by Lisa Mills.
These tracks are a lot of fun to hear and probably
would have been a blast to see in person.
The last two songs are from a little further back.
“Second and San Antone” was recorded in 1967 and is
a textbook example of rockabilly, with an
enthusiastic vocal and musical performance from
Ball. The closer is a 1977 Ball composition,
“Flowers on Papa’s Grave,” a classic country tune
that recounts a visit to his grandfather’s grave.
Pianography shows that Earl Poole Ball would
probably have done well had he moved to the front of
the stage instead of being content to play in the
background. Hopefully, there’s still plenty more to
hear from him in the future.
--- Graham Clarke