Gary James' Interview With Jeff Lawrence About
Bud Ballou is a legend in Syracuse, N.Y. Besides being on the radio, he hosted his own dance program on channel 9. In the Winter of 1966, Bud left Syracuse for Denver, Colorado and later moved to Buffalo, New York and finally Boston. Bud Ballou died in 1976 at the age of 34, of a cerebral Hemorrhage. That he is still talked about today gives you an idea of just how special he was. Jeff Lawrence spoke with us about all things Bud Ballou.
Q - Jeff, where did you first meet Bud Ballou?
A - When I worked at WMER in Boston. That's around 1968.
Q - He left Syracuse for Denver at a time when he had a hit TV show and a very popular radio show. Did he ever tell you why he left?
A - I know he had the TV show because I still have, they're like little slides they used to use on the screen and had pictures of him. You'd see the Bud Ballou Show. They're like glass slides. We used to do a lot of nightclub stuff and incorporate these slides onto the back of the stage when we were doing whatever we were doing.
Q - What shift was he working in Boston?
A - He was doing nights. On Friday nights he was doing an "Oldies" show, anything from five years before and back.
Q - Would you listen to his on-air patter?
A - Not really. I wasn't paying that much attention. I was paying more attention to the music. He ended up doing a record hop at a local high school. I went down with a couple of friends and was gonna hang out There was a Trivia thing and I started answering all his questions and he was sort of upset with me.
Q - Why would that be?
A - Well because I kept answering all of his questions. He was trying to do some kind of show with the Trivia he was doing. As soon as he would ask the question, I would come out with the answer.
Q - Bud Ballou had a connection with The Beatles.
A - He was a big fan of The Beatles. He was on one of the tours with them. He followed them around. He was one of the correspondents
Q - What year was that? 1964?
A - '64 or '65. We'd sit and talk about that once in awhile. I think it was the '64 tour.
Q - Did he ever tell you how he ended up getting on that tour?
A - I think they just randomly picked radio announcers who were popular at the time. They would go out for part of the tour. From what he explained, he didn't do the whole tour. He'd only do a certain part of it. Someone else would come in and they'd do a part of it. A lot of people got a chance to hang out with The Beatles and do their thing. They'd do their interviews. He used to take a lot of pictures, which we would show in the clubs. They were on slides and I don't know what happened to those after he passed away. I'm thinking they went back to his family and his kids got them.
Q - Those are probably valuable pictures!
A - Absolutely! He had pictures of them hanging out in restaurants. There were some taken from the side of the stage where he was hanging out. He was right there with them.
Q - I've heard the rumor for years that Bud Ballou was trying to get The Beatles to perform at the War Memorial in Syracuse. Is there any truth to that?
A - He couldn't raise the money for it. They were tight on the schedule and there were certain times they could get in there and he had to have the money by a certain time and it just didn't work out for him. Nobody wanted to back a Rock 'n' Roll show, even if it was The Beatles.
Q - You say he tried to get a second mortgage on his house to raise the money?
A - Yeah. He tried to get some of his buddies to put some money together. They offered to help him out, but there just wasn't enough money to cover it.
Q - I read that in 1964, The Beatles were getting $7,000 per night against 60% of the gross, whichever was higher. That quickly rose to $25,000 per night against 60% of the gross, whichever was higher.
A - Back in those days, $7,000 was a lot of money.
Q - I always thought a promoter would step forward with the money and a radio station would advertise the show.
A - That's what he thought too. He thought it was a no-brainer. Back then, if you weren't a promoter and just a jock (disc jockey), nobody wanted to back it. They thought you were crazy. Banks weren't going to give you money to do something like that. You had to scrounge around to see what you could get.
Q - I hear that Bud liked to "party." What does that mean? Drinking?
A - Yeah. More beer than anything else. I know when he was living in Massachusetts he used to like the Carling Black Label. He'd drink a lot of beer. We'd all drink a lot of beer. But there were no drugs.
Q - I wonder if that hurt his health.
A - I think with what he had, it didn't really matter. He used to tell us all the time, people that had what he had died when they were 22 or 23 years old. For him to be going on 34 was just bonus time for him. He pretty much lived like it was his last day, which it could've been at any time. He was a lot of fun to be around. He was serious. We'd have some serious times. We were always looking to go out and have a good time.
Q - What would you expect from guys playing Rock 'n' Roll on the radio?
A - Yeah. It was just a fun time.
Q - How long did you work with Bud?
A - I worked with him at the radio station from '68. I left to go to WBCN back around late '69, early '70. And then I hooked up with him again at WBBF in Boston in '72. He was full-time and then he went part-time. We started doing a lot of clubs. We were doing clubs five or six days a week. There weren't any DJs spinning at clubs back then. We always had a certain place we'd go and fill the place. While we were on the stage spinning, we'd be doing these hokey contests like you do on the radio and we'd have the slides flashing in the background, light shows. The whole bit. We were doing it before anybody else was.
Q - And making more money than if you were on the air.
A - Oh, yeah. That's why he was doing part-time at that point, '73, '74. Plus he had his advertising agency he was doing pretty well with.
Q - He had his own advertising agency?
A - Yeah.
Q - What was that called?
A - Ballou Associates. He did a lot of restaurants and that kind of stuff.
Q - He's place ads where?
A - On radio stations. What he'd do is, he knew everybody on local radio stations in Boston. He would set up a deal where he could get air time at a discount through his buddies. Then he'd be able to sell the radio time to his clients at a cheaper rate than any other agency could do 'cause he had these connections.
Q - He was quite the entrepreneur.
A - Yeah. Then we'd go into the station and make the spots and we'd send them out. I think when he passed away, the woman who took over Ballou Associates and all the shows, she handed the advertising to one of the other guys that worked there at WMEX and WBBF, Ron Robbins. He was doing it for awhile. He was doing all the agency stuff. Another thing that Bud used to do to that I loved and that I used to help him do, after awhile after I found out how he was doing it: he would take certain songs, say a "White Christmas", and find every version he could find of "White Christmas" and blend them all together. So you'd hear fifteen versions of "White Christmas" all together in one song. He would do that back in the tape days, cutting and splicing. He'd sit in the studio for hours doing that kind of stuff. It was just incredible the stuff that would come out of this guy's mind.
Q - I found out recently that Bud Ballou actually managed to interview John and Ringo the day before The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. He called the hotel they were staying at.
A - Well, I know that when Paul McCartney And Wings did their Speed Of Sound tour, he was hanging out with Paul McCartney in Boston. I remember the night they were playing in Boston was one of the regular nights we were supposed to be doing a club gig and I ended up doing it by myself, and I had somebody come in and help me move all the equipment around. He said if he got out of the show in time, he would come by, but he never came by. I wouldn't have come by either. I would have stuck it out and hung out with Paul.
Q - What did he say about hanging out with Paul?
A - To him it was like talking to the guy next door. It was no big deal. And he never thought of himself as a big deal. He never would talk about how he was this great DJ. He was just one of us. We were just kind of hanging out and do what we do. If we came up with a great idea, we'd do it. That's the way he was. It was never like, "I can't do that. I'm Bud Ballou."
Q - You're lucky to have known Bud Ballou.
A - He was a great guy. There's a few people that I know that still remember Bud fondly and loved the guy. I was living with him down on the Cape for awhile when he passed away. There's a few of us that will still sit down and tell Bud Ballou stories.