In high school Tom met and befriended several other lads of like mind: "There were these three guys in my high school who were master fingerpickers -- John Koenig, Carl Buffa and Bret Lopez." In no time Tom was playing with Lopez and Koenig in The Yerba Buena Blues Band.
"We were just kids, but we managed to get gigs. In those days I was too broke to have an amp or a PA or even a mic, but somehow we'd manage to borrow equipment before every gig. Our biggest gig was the 1967 Easter Sunday Love-In in Elysian Park. There were over 10,000 people there to see all these Frisco bands like Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Strawberry Alarm Clock. I was 16 years old and scared to death to be onstage fronting a band, but it was also very exhilarating. I knew right then what I wanted to try to do with the rest of my life."
By then, when they weren't gigging themselves, Tom and his bandmates were regular attendees at Hollywood's celebrated Ash Grove. In addition to all the influential guitarists Tom saw there, the club also presented the finest living blues harp players: Sonny Terry, Big Walter Horton, Howlin' Wolf, Junior Wells, James Cotton, George Smith, Alan Wilson, Big Mama Thornton, Driftin' Slim, Hammie Nixon, Paul Butterfield, Slim Harpo, Dr. Ross, Mel Lyman and many more. "What a fabulous club that was," Ball now reflects. "Little Walter was really the only great player we didn't get to see there, and that was only because he died before he ever played in L.A. Thinking back, we were so lucky the Ash Grove allowed minors to come in! And the place was dead cheap -- you could see Lightnin' Hopkins and Brownie and Sonny for two bucks! Of course I should've realized right then that blues and folk music might not be the world's most lucrative professions..."