Sterling Ball – Mutual Appreciation Society

Intrigued by the work by Ball and his trio on the Mutual Appreciation Society release, we asked Sterling to enlarge upon the album content and array of guests by way of a set of customised questions. Enjoy this veteran’s responses and thoughts in this piece, which is free of Ballpuns and references, you may be pleased to learn….

William Ray Lynch

What common influences do you, John and Jim share? And perhaps more interestingly, where do you think you might differ? (In musical tastes)

Our age, seriously. We are roughly the same age and grew up listening to Beatles, Beach Boys, Motown progressing in real time through San Francisco sound, British invasion, Bowie, the blues. Jim and I may have had a stronger dose of country. Jim and John have a very deep jazz vocabulary and are brilliant artists in their own right in that genre. The only jazz bones in my body are rooted in western swing.

I love the trio format, everyone works to put the songs over ..what two things make the threesome appeal to you? And is the bass work on this record you?

This record actually started as a sort of personal and recreational project for John and me. We started with the two of us for the first few songs. We recorded all the basics live. Sometimes I would be on guitar and sometimes bass. In most cases I would take those and go back into the studio and build layers and parts with my sort of crazy tool kit. Sometimes John would join me. We called Jim to put some parts on the first few tracks and decided that he needed to join this “party” It was the same though Jim would cut the basic…add his solo and leave and then I would build the song out. John was an amazing producer…he kept me focused.

For this project, you have many guests of differing styles…what do you draw upon to give each player the best setting? Do you often do this in live shows? (have guests)

We try to make the song feel real good. That is something where it helps to have played hundreds of shows and in some cases 4 decades of friendship and playing music together. I think it’s important that theses artists trusted us and the vibe of the project and none of them played their normal kind of song. We did live shows for years…now I don’t want to do them. I like the studio hours and the creative process there.

What guitars do you use? What strings – gauge and brand? Do you use a plectrum?

I did one live show for this. I used a Music Man Silhouette baritone and six string bass, a Bongo 4 string single H, and St Vincent and a Valentine. I use Ernie Ball Regular Slinky’s and I don’t use a pic. I use both Ernie Ball flat and round wounds Hybrid Slinky 45-105

What tuning(s) do you favour?

Standard tuning. The baritone is B to B

Love that ‘clavinet’ sound on opener Payday Song…the track makes me think of Cornell Dupree, was he &/or Stuff the band an influence?

Loved Cornell and Stuff..but I heard Stevie on this and asked Jim to play the clavinet on this.

Which of the songs on this release find you chaps a/ at the most reflective? and b/ the most forceful?

It would definitely be Treat Her Right because we did that for my older brother Sherwood Ball who passed away recently. It was a song we did with the old band that most of the MAS crowd had played with Sherwood singing. Google Sherwood Ball…A truly gifted singer who left us too soon. Sherwood was a top LA Session singer and also was in Jay Graydons touring band. Jay even said this when Sherwood was still with us. “I’ve worked and produced some the greatest vocalists in business and Sherwood Ball and Stevie Wonder were the best”

I Want You Back – were you not tempted to go all-out country on this one?

No that’s the thing…these feels and approaches are sort of where I live…where John, Jim and I mesh….the three of us in the studio have a fun chemistry. Keep in mind that Jim Cox is absolutely on the most recorded keyboardists and John has a 40 active session career. What the three of us do together is unique…or at least I think it is…hahaha

The Steve Morse feature The In Crowd finds him very melodic and funky..who suggested that number?

That was for me to play…that’s what turned this record in a completely different direction. I played Steve Morse the basic track…just bass drums and keys and he said “I just absolutely love the groove on this song…..ummmmm do you mind if I add some guitars? Remember I didn’t invite any of the guests…word spread amongst our friend network and all the artists asked to play on it.

Albert Lee is one of our finest, from Warming Up The Band onwards..a big influence on Brad Paisley – do you know Brad?

Albert and I have been friends since I was 17. He slept on my Mom’s couch when he first moved to the States. I have played hundreds of gigs as his bass player. I know Brad because he is a very important Ernie Ball string user.

Please tell us about the Disney Medley!

Ok, all the artists with the exception of Vai and Petrucci were given tracks that we had recorded. Vai said, “If I come up with a unique track can I tell you guys and have you cut it and Ill add my guitars?” John Petrucci said “Hey you guys are having all this fun and I feel left out” “I can’t think of a song” I said “easy…The world doesn’t know your love of Disney. Lets do a Disney Medley” So it was a telephone call with Jim John and I in the Studio in California and JP home in New York. John would suggest songs and Jim would instantly play them. Jim is like the musical internet! He can play anything on demand. I said it had to end with It’s a Small World because the principal designer of Small World was Roland Crump the same artist who did all the original Slinky and Ernie Ball logos.

I now rib Mr Lukather as That Guy Who Plays With Ringo and Paul! – how did you meet him?

I met him at Jay Graydon’s 40th Birthday Roast. My relationship with Jay and our strings and the fact that Jay had his summer home near our factory and we would hang…go to dinner…play bar gigs…The roast was in LA and I’m sure people there knew of me but didn’t know me. I opened the roast and absolutely killed it. Luke comes up and say’s “Where have you been all my life? I am your new best friend” Since that day unless Luke is on the road we speak every morning….

For me the most appealing track on this record is the Wes-tinged bossa with Jay Graydon Strip Mall – any thoughts?

That was a jam… and I think it is a polarizing track on the record…some love it some don’t get it. When they were mixing they went to the “this is jazz” mode and we had to say “NO this is humor mode” I think Jimmy’s Organ solo is all world and only Jay could play that solo!

I had a great discussion with Billy Gibbons on ‘playing the room ‘ and I often change a setlist depending upon the acoustics / responses…….any thoughts?

I like to change the set or song based on the peoples faces.. If we are playing a song that is uplifting and the crowd looks like they are texting something somber we jump to a ballad…Ok, just kidding.

What’s the Ball Road Diet?

I am a cook so it is pretty diverse and also from my culinary career I have many friends around the country that own restaurants…but keep in mind that is business travel. I don’t tour anymore

Which song or instrumental of yours could open a thriller film?

Oh Boy I always imagine these songs being driving songs…I can see them in a movie with the person flying down the road in a convertible

You and the band are offered the chance to record a Dylan song with Lucinda Williams ..which one do you choose? And what musical arrangement do you put together?

Blowin’ In The Wind…lots of layered acoustics and John’s percussion and maybe a accordion for Jim

Honesty time! Which other band or artist would you NOT want to follow on stage?

Honestly I can’t see us playing on a stage so that is a hard one

Do you have any live/festival appearances lined up?

No we are getting ready to go into the studio for the next one….All the Players are confirmed with a few new surprises!

Name the best live album in your collection – and what’s the appeal? The highlight tracks?

Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East…BB King Live at the Regal

Which song reminds you of secondary school days?

Payday for sure. The biggest local band in Orange County where John and I grew up was HONK and they played a rendition of Payday….Ours of course sounds nothing like theirs but it was a inspiration!

Pete Sargeant


Sterling Ball

(Thanks to Sterling and the Mascot crew)

Feature Image Photo Credit: William Ray Lynch 

Other Photos Supplied By Artist

Sterling Ball, John Ferraro & Jim Cox’s new studio album ‘Mutual Admiration Society’ is out now on Favored Nations/Mascot Label Group.

You can read our full review of the album here:

For more information visit the band’s official website here:

Sterling Ball