Ballard is perhaps best known for his two Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits. The “Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders in 1965, and 1975’s “You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt (first sung by Dee Dee Warwick).
Ballard was encouraged in music by his mother, and was three years old, when he played the piano for KTSM, an El Paso radio station. At 11 he attended a program for gifted young musical students at the State University of Iowa (now the University of North Texas). During high school and college he played in a series of amateur dance bands, and graduated from what is now the University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in radio studies. He served in the Army in Japan as a radio operator, then moved to New York and became a song writer and a composer of musicals, including Come Back Little Sheba. His song, Hey, Little Baby, was recorded by band leader Mitch Miller and became the theme of the 1958 World’s Fair in Belgium.
Earlier in his career in 1957, Ballard discovered the Kalin Twins and became their manager. He wrote the Kalins’ Decca debut single, “Jumpin’ Jack.” The follow-up, “When” (written by Paul Evans) made the U.S. Top Ten and #1 on the U.K. charts. After leaving the Kalins, in 1958, he wrote “Ev’ry Hour, Ev’ry Day of My Life,” a hit for Malcolm Vaughan, and Frankie Avalon’s Top-Ten hit “Gingerbread.” In 1958 Mr. Ballard’s “Hey Little Baby” was on the B side of “March From the River Kwai” by Mitch Miller and his orchestra.
Ballard’s own recording career was less successful. In addition to recording several singles under his own name without much success, in 1960 he adopted the alias Buddy Clinton to cut a two-sided single featuring the songs “Take Me to Your Ladder (I’ll See Your Leader Later)” and “Joanie’s Forever,” both co-written by then-unknown composer Burt Bacharach with his writing-partner Bob Hilliard. He also wrote “Good Timin’ ” for Jimmy Jones which reached #1 in the UK in 1960.
Ballard wrote one of his most successful songs in 1963, “You’re No Good,” which was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick. A competing version recorded by Betty Everett appeared weeks later and was a bigger hit, cracking the R&B Top Ten. The next year, the Swinging Blue Jeans had a Top 10 hit with it in Britain, and later recorded his song “It Isn’t There.”
In 1966 the Zombies recorded his “Gotta Get a Hold of Myself.” Ballard wrote “I’m Alive” expressly for the Hollies which became their first #1 hit. One of Ballard’s best-known songs, “The Game of Love,” was recorded by Manchester-based Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders in 1965. The single went hit #1 in the U.S. and peaked at #2 in the U.K. Ballard also wrote the subsequent Mindbenders’ chart singles “Just a Little Bit Too Late” and “She Needs Love.”
Ballard’s other songs include “Ginger Bread” for Frankie Avalon, and “There’s Not a Minute” for Ricky Nelson. Ballard later wrote songs for the Ricky Nelson feature film “Love and Kisses.”
Linda Ronstadt’s version of “You’re No Good” hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1975. Ballard also wrote a series of commercial jingles, including a theme for the Greyhound bus line. In 1981, Ballard settled in Dallas, Texas, and three years later moved to Denton, 35 miles north of Dallas to become a real estate investor and manager.