Mark Seiger

'Riding With Private Malone': The Story Behind David Ball's Chilling Tribute to a Veteran


The Wood Newton and Thom Shepherd-penned "Riding With Private Malone" immediately resonated with country music fans as soon as they heard David Ball singing it on the radio. The song not only brought Ball back to the top of the Billboard charts for the first time in years, but it gave America a patriotic song about a veteran that took on an even deeper meaning after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. It's a touching song that continues to pull on the heartstrings over 20 years since it was released.

In the song, the narrator finds a note in the glove compartment of an old car he buys. The note was written by the car's former owner: Private Malone, a veteran who died fighting in the Vietnam War. Newton told The Boot that when he and Shepherd sat down together to write a song, he was inspired by being a young man in college during the Vietnam War and its effect on his generation. So they decided to take those sentiments and make them part of the song. 

"Thom had the name of Malone, because it rhymed with 'home.' He had seen a story about a guy who had restored a 1966 Corvette and put up a website about it. And he had seen another story about this guy who restored a car, and he would tune the radio to one channel, but it would always change back to a different station, so he thought the car was haunted," Newton said. 


They decided on a Corvette in the song because it's widely considered a classic. Four writing sessions got the song where they wanted it to be, but they never thought an artist like David Ball would be interested in recording it.

"I never thought David Ball would be interested in this song," Newton told The Boot. "He heard it when Thom and I were doing a songwriter's show in Nashville, and he knew immediately he wanted to sing it. He knew I'd written it, but maybe it was good he heard it the first time coming from someone else. He learned it and worked it up, and we recorded it in my studio on Music Row in Nashville. He already had the album, Amigo, finished, so we didn't know if the song would make it onto that album or not."

But Ball did include it on Amigo and even released it as the album's first single. He knew he had found something special and was excited to share it with the world. It peaked at number two on the charts and is still considered one of the best patriotic country songs and stunning story songs ever recorded. Not to mention one of Ball's greatest hits. Kind of like the Corvette, it's become an American classic. 


In an interview with The Tennesseean, Newton said the song, which has spawned its own Facebook page, was also inspired by urban legends about classic cars. There are tons of urban legends out there related to old cars, similar to old hotels, so there was no shortage of inspiration when it came to brainstorming the song's story.

"This particular story was our imagination," Newton said. "But those urban legends of those classic hot cars -- it happened all over America."

But the car is only a small part of the song. The real heart of the song, Newton says, is the spirit and bravery of America's veterans. Which is true. It's why the song has continued to resonate with listeners decades later and has become a staple of American patriotism. Private Malone, and everything he represents, has really become an important part of country music.

"It showed the bravery of those guys that are going off to fight. They know that they may not come back," Newton said.


"Riding With Private Malone" Lyrics

I was just out of the service thumbing through the classifieds
When an ad that said old Chevy somehow caught my eye
The lady didn't know the year or even if it ran
But I had that thousand dollars in my hand
It was way back in the corner of this old ramshackle barn
With 30 years of dust and dirt on that green Army tarp
And when I pulled the cover off, it took away my breath
What she called a Chevy was a 66 Corvette
I felt a little guilty as I counted out the bills
What a thrill I got when I sat behind the wheel
I opened up the glove box and that's when I found the note
The date was 1966 and this is what he wrote
He said, my name is Private Andrew Malone
And if you're reading this, then I didn't make it home
But for every dream that's shattered, another one comes true
This car was once a dream of mine, now it belongs to you
And though you may take her and make her your own
You'll always be riding with Private Malone
Well, it didn't take me long at all, I had her running good
I loved to hear those horses thunder underneath her hood
I had her shining like a diamond and I'd put the ragtop down
All the pretty girls would stop and stare as I drove her through town
The buttons on the radio didn't seem to work quite right
But it picked up that oldie show, especially late at night
I'd get the feeling sometimes, if I turned real quick I'd see
A soldier ridin' shotgun in the seat right next to me
It was a young man named Private Andrew Malone
Who fought for his country and never made it home
But for every dream that's shattered, another one comes true
This car was once a dream of his, back when it was new
And he told me to take her and make her my own
And I was proud to be riding with Private Malone
Well, one night it was raining hard, I took the curve too fast
And I still don't remember much about that fiery crash
Someone said they thought they saw a soldier pull me out
They didn't get his name, but I know without a doubt
It was a young man named Private Andrew Malone
Who fought for his country and never made it home
But for every dream that's shattered, another one comes true
This car was once a dream of his, back when it was new
And I know I wouldn't be here if he hadn't tagged along
Yeah, that night, I was riding with Private Malone
Oh, thank God, I was riding with Private Malone
Private Malone
This article was originally published in 2020.

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