I feel for Mr. Ballard, one of the greatest songwriters in the pop era, who never “took off” with his solo career. He deserves it more than most – just look at all those artists/bands who have covered a song that he wrote: Agnetha Fältskog, Bay City Rollers, Roger Daltrey, Kiss, Night Ranger, Rainbow, At Vance, America, Santana, Bruce Dickinson, Uriah Heep and lots, lots more….
You should definitely listen to an album of his!
Ballad Of A Guitar Man
By Ray Telford
Way up there at the KG publicity office Russ Ballard lines up the Detroit Spinners` “I`m Coming Home”, for a second turn on a dilapidated sound system that scarcely does justice to Thom Bell`s masterful production. But even so it has Russ listening hard and he is evidently grooving on what he hears.
Earlier this year Russ announced his departure from Argent, a band who`d stuck together for four years and whose personnel had always, on the face of it, seemed indivisable. All their press interviews previously had hinted at the closeness and feeling of musical brotherhood within the group. To an outsider the policy could have read something like the band that stays together wins together and Argent were just beginning to win.
Hit singles and at least a couple of high selling albums plus a reputation for being the nicest guys seemed good enough reason for them to continue along that safe and comfortable path. A renegade in their midst was unthinkable yet here was Ballard saying he didn`t mind if there happened to be a few duff notes on his first solo album – if the overall feel was right then he was happy.
A far cry indeed from Argent`s high precision and faultless musical technology.
At this moment Russ has all but finished his album. Most of the tracks with him playing electric guitar, bass, drums and piano, are all in the can and the results he says are beyond his expectations: “After being in a band so close knit as Argent were,” he says, “and the way that everyone used to lean on each other – to come right out and do something so isolated and on my own has been an immense challenge. I always felt I could do it and as far as I`m concerned it has worked to my satisfaction.”
Whereas Argent were primarily a musical construction kit overtly concerned with the correctness and mathematics of what they were playing. Russ is trying to infuse in the new album a degree of personalised soul – a slant all his own which he eventually hopes to be recognised through.
“It`s a reaction to all I`ve been through in the past,” he tells you. “This album is just an album of songs which I hope people will remember and associate with me. This is my contribution to music, or to my kind of music, much more so than what I did with Argent. With them I was getting too involved in some ways – in ways that I knew just weren`t right for me as a musician.
“I mean, I`m not John McLaughlin and I don`t want to be playing like him. I`m not that involved in that kind of music, though I can listen to it and appreciate everything these guys are trying to do.”
Helping out on Russ`s album have been a horn section, largely made up of Gonzalez musicians, who he says have lent invaluable assistance in getting exactly what was wanted. The aim, Russ says, was to present the music with plenty of spaces.
“There`s also strings on the album,” Russ goes on, “but they`ve been arranged in such a way that they maybe only play one extended chord at the end of a song. I`m trying to keep it from being overdone. The main thing for me is to keep it from becoming too schmaltzy. It has to be kept funky. The good thing is that all the guys who`ve been helping out have all been around a bit and if I explain to them just what I want it`s done.
“The rhythm tracks I did myself mainly because I felt I could do them to my own satisfaction. There`s been times before when I`ve said to a drummer just play it simple and straight forward and they always put in some extra fill which I didn`t want and you say `no I want it this way` and they go in again and play it the way they hear it which still isn`t what I wanted. OK so I do it myself and there`s a couple of misplaced beats but it feels right and that`s the thing that matters.”
Later this year, Russ says will see the emergence of a Russ Ballard band. The exact line-up remains fluid in his mind, though he`s aiming for bass, drums and a co-lead guitarist to enable him to switch from guitar to piano as required as a working basis.
“Again,” Russ predicts, “it`ll be a simple thing”. It`s easy to write a piece of music which has everything going on but the hardest thing to learn is to know what to leave out. I`ve heard so many guitarists who clutter up a song simply through overplaying but I`d rather write a song with four chords in it than one with 24 chords if the one with four sounded right. It`s not something you can put into words because it has to do with feeling.
“With Argent we used to do so many overdubs to get something sounding technically correct but I`d rather it sounds human even if there are mistakes.”
Though Russ admits that recording nowadays is probably the most important selling point for a band, he also fervently believes in the power of live sets: “From a writing point of view I believe you must be on the road to come up with the real goods – for the songs to sound fresh and spontaneous etc. – but a piece of recorded music is there for ever whereas people can watch and enjoy a live gig and forget all about it in a year`s time.
“That way you have to keep proving what you`re capable of – which isn`t necessarily a bad thing.
“I think the Beatles wrote their best stuff when they were on the road. I say that because if you`re at home all the time there`s nothing to drive for. I`ve always gone for an actual performance in the music – like in some of the early Presley records there were a few duff notes but the performance was always brilliant. Again that applies to the Beatles so much – they were as much performers as they were musicians.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Tim Hardin, Joan Baez, Mike Garson, Mike Oldfield, ELO, Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock, Queen, Wendy Waldman, Alan Stivell, Contraband.
The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!
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