Multiple Grammy award-winning songwriter Glen Ballard (BA 75) has been influenced by just about every form of music he has been exposed to.
As a music major at UM, Ballard studied classical piano, but, coming from the deep Mississippi Delta city of Natchez, he also learned how to play blues guitar. Growing up near the musical mosaic called New Orleans didn’t hurt either.
“It was around me, all kinds of music,” Ballard said in a 2007 interview with music mogul Guy Eckstine. “Certainly the real blues, real R&B music, real country music… stuff that hadn’t really been given a category. It was just people expressing themselves in a really brilliant way.”
That likely explains how Ballard is able to move seamlessly from genre to genre, working with an eclectic mix of the biggest names in music. An abbreviated list includes Quincy Jones, Alanis Morissette, Van Halen, Aretha Franklin, Aerosmith, Wilson Phillips, Michael Jackson, Dave Matthews Band, Christina Aguilera and No Doubt.[youtube]J7dOUQoAZbM[/youtube]
Not bad for a Mississippi kid who packed up and headed west to Los Angeles only days after graduating from UM. He left with only one person to call when he arrived—a family friend who worked at a golf course. That relationship led to a golfer who happened to run Sunset Sound Recordings. Before Ballard knew it, he had a job.
“Incredible records have been made there—The Doors, a lot of great stuff,” Ballard said. “So immediately, I was working without really knowing how this all happened, other than one phone call.”
Along the way, Ballard has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, including Morissette’s runaway debut album, “Jagged Little Pill,” and her career-launching hit, “You Oughtta Know.” For that album, he earned Grammys for Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album and Best Video, and he was awarded the prestigious Album of the Year.
Ballard’s secret to “Jagged Little Pill”? Chemistry. In what he describes as one of his favorite collaborations, Ballard and Morissette started riffing off of each other in an informal jam session—Ballard on guitar, Morissette with vocals.
“It was like a tennis match, with a rally that goes on for an hour,” he said in a videotaped YouTube interview. “The chemistry was right. Sometimes it takes a month to write a song; in our case, we wrote a song a day. We had no way of knowing we were writing a 35-million seller. When the chemistry is right, it’s like a magical transformation, like alchemy.”[youtube]YrCFoCWQL6E[/youtube]
Last fall, Ballard added a new honor to his stunning collection with his induction into the UM Alumni Hall of Fame.
“Glen Ballard is an extraordinary man. His success in all parts of the music business underlines his seemingly endless creativity and his dedication to his craft,” said College of Liberal Arts Dean Glenn Hopkins. “He is, by the way, also an unassuming and thoughtful man that you would want as a friend.”