Bob Ballard says music has had a big impact on him—ever since he was 3 or 4 years old.
“I’m a very auditory person, so sound is very important to me,” he says. “When I was little, I’d sing outloud before I went to sleep every night, and because I like to sing, I started writing songs. I had learned piano when I was young, and later, I took jazz-guitar lessons. I’ve been playing music on stage since I was 14.”
Ballard, a Desert Hot Springs resident for almost four years, was born and raised in Boston, the oldest of four brothers and the son of a mother he describes as “very Irish.”
“My mom was a child of the Depression,” Ballard says. “She loved to read. She even won an award for reading the most books from a local library. What sticks with me is that she always wanted me to be kind to other people. She died at age 53.
“It seemed like my dad worked all the time and was never home. He was a kind of closet musician—he did have a guitar. He meant well, but he’d always say to me, ‘Did you get a job yet?’ I was really just the opposite from him. I’m resistant to anybody telling me what to do.”
Ballard laughs that he was kicked out of his Catholic high school because his hair was too long. “The rule was that your hair couldn’t be touching your collar.”
He ended up attending two public schools. “I discovered I was interested in science and fascinated with putting things in order. And, of course, I was always doing music.”
Ballard’s first marriage was when he was very young; the young couple had what he describes as “a love child.” He worked in factories (“That’s the kind of job you got back then”)—but he was still making music.
In 1975, Ballard moved to Las Vegas and worked as a bartender while performing whenever he could.
“In a casino, it’s like working in a factory,” he says, “whipping out drinks as fast as I could go.”
In 1979, Ballard went back to Massachusetts to earn a degree in accounting, and went to work for the Government Accounting Office in Boston.
“I traveled a lot,” he recalls, “and I found out what was really going on in government—and got paid for it.”
Ballard began his own accounting business, including clients from government agencies. In 2005, he sold his business to a larger firm, and moved to the Ventura County city of Ojai, where he opened a recording studio. Yes, music has a way of always weaving its way through Ballard’s life.
“I feel an emotional connection to music. I was influenced by people like Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—the whole Woodstock generation, singing and writing about things that matter,” he says. “It was also an era when we still had inspiring politicians, people who were trying to make a difference with what was going on at the time—people like Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I believe in nonviolent direct action, and that you have to do something about what you believe in—and not just think about it.”
In addition to performing live, Ballard has composed for film and television, including more than 160 college-student short films. He says he has earned honors including the ASCAP Plus Award and VH-1 Save the Planet Song of the Year. He was a UK National Songwriting Contest finalist and was named best male vocalist at the Southern California Music Awards in 2006.
Perhaps the most interesting story Ballard tells is about an ancestor of the same name.
“His father had created the first sheet-music printing company in the world,” Ballard said. “The son, the one with the exact same name as mine, didn’t want to go into the family business. He wanted to play the lute. He ended up as the lute player in the court of Louis XIV!”
And then there’s Bob Ballard, the activist.
“I’ve learned a lot from the times I haven’t had very much,” he says. “There were times in my life when I even went without food. In Ojai, I started a nonprofit organization called the Hearts of Fire Project to empower homeless people through self-expression, doing workshops and then selling the pictures they created to help fund their needs. I’ve learned to appreciate everything; I wake up every morning feeling grateful. I’m inspired by people who have very little.”
Ballard came to the desert from Ojai after he was burned out by the 2017 fire; he said he knew the area from living in the desert from 2012-2015. He’s found the last year—like so many of us have—to be emotionally trying.
“I’ve been doing some live shows on my Facebook page during the pandemic, in addition to writing and producing music,” he says. “I’ve also installed a recording studio in my home, and now I’ve also become an audio engineer.
“I’ve been struggling with my own emotions with all that’s been going on. I worked in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., that was stormed on Jan. 6. Some of my music is about things like that. (Later this month), I’m releasing Cloudless Sky on a new all-digital platform.
“Looking back, every choice I’ve made in my life seems like it was the best thing to do at the time. I have great sons and two grandchildren, and I’m competing with people half my age. I’m sure I must have had rebellious people back in Ireland in my mother’s family.
“There are three things that motivate me: music, public affairs and social justice. What can make me cry are the things that happen to people just trying to make it through another day. Music is more than something to listen to. My music is meant to evoke some kind of response.”