Marty Ballou


Thirty-Five Years Locked Into the Groove with
by Bruce McCrae & Rick Bellaire

Coming up through the ranks in the final decades of the 20th century, Marty Ballou kept an open mind and opened his ears to the joys and possibilities of every musical opportunity which presented itself to the young bassist. He became equally adept on the upright bass violin and the electric bass guitar and his massive body of work, in the studio and on the stage, stands him alongside the all-time greats on both instruments. Marty is at the top of the list of New England’s “first-call” bassists. Highly regarded nationally for his work in the jazz and blues fields, he is equally at home in other genres including folk, rock, pop and Americana.

Marty on the job (Bass guitar photo credit: Ron Pownall)

Marty Ballou was born in 1960 and grew up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, graduating from high school in 1978. He later attended Northeastern University and the University of Rhode Island. He studied improvisation with trombonist/educator Hal Crook, jazz guitar with Leo Amitrano, classical guitar with Vincent Fraioli, and acoustic bass with John Lockwood. His professional career began in 1979.

From 1986 to 1992, he performed and recorded with the vocal jazz group, The Ritz (formerly known as Puttin’ On The Ritz), playing at the Fresno and Helsinki Jazz Festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival in Japan, and numerous clubs throughout the world. While with The Ritz, Marty recorded six internationally released albums, one for Pausa Records and five for Denon Records including their 1987 self-titled release featuring tenor sax giant Frank Wess and their final album, Almost Blue, with legendary trumpet and flugelhorn player Clark Terry.

While a member of The Ritz, Marty had the opportunity to record alongside jazz trumpet and flugelhorn legend Clark Terry when Terry guested on their 1991 album release. (Denon Records CY-77999)

Beginning in 1992, Marty spent the next five years as a member of the Duke Robillard Band, recording several albums behind the guitar legand and touring the U.S., Europe, Australia and South America.

The Duke Robillard Band enjoying a visit from a very special guest during their 1996 appearance at Wilbert’s in Cleveland, Ohio – blues legend Robert Jr. Lockwood. Shown left to right are drummer Marty Richards, saxophonist Gordon “Sax Gordon” Beadle, Marty Ballou, Duke Robillard and Robert Jr. Lockwood.

In the 2000, the Duke Robillard Band backed blues great Jimmy Witherspoon for a live album appropriately entitled “Jimmy Witherspoon with the Duke Robillard Band” (Stony Plain Records 1252)

John Lee Hooker with the Duke Robillard Band

Like most of his contemporaries on the southern New England blues scene, Marty served a stint with Roomful of Blues beginning in 1998. He formed the final Roomful rhythm section to feature original drummer John Rossi and recorded one of the band’s most celebrated albums, There Goes The Neighborhood.

Bullseye Blues Records BEYE-9609

Beginning in 2002, he worked with John Hammond’s Wicked Grin Band, making three albums with him and touring internationally.

Marty first recorded with John Hammond in 1996 as a member of the Duke Robillard Band on the bluesman’s Duke-produced album “Found True Love.” In 2002, he joined Hammond’s Wicked Grin Band. His five year run included several international tours and three albums, “Ready For Love” (2003), “In Your Arms Again” (2005) and this 2007 album which reached #6 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart. (Back Porch/Jopama Records 64741)

John Hammond and the Duke Robillard Band at the New Morning jazz club in Paris, France circa 1997 promoting John’s Duke-produced album “Found True Love” and the band’s album “Duke’s Blues” (Point Blank Records 4-1344). Seen left to right: Marty Ballou, New morning club owner, John Hammond, Duke Robillard and guitarist Paul Murphy.

The Wicked Grin Band on Brazilian television in the early 2000s (left to right): pianist Bruce Katz, drummer Neil Gouvin, John Hammond and Marty Ballou.

In 2008, he joined Peter Wolf’s Midnight Travelers band and played on their 2010 album, Midnight Souvenirs.

In 2008, J. Geils Band singer-songwriter Peter Wolf invited Marty to join his Midnight Travelers band. He recorded this critically acclaimed, best-selling album with the group in 2010. (Verve Records B0013896)

Despite his far-flung travels and recording commitments, Marty has retained a strong presence on the local music scene. He enjoyed a decade-long musical partnership with the late guitarist Thom Enright and he has recorded three albums with world-renowned Grammy winning folk artist Bill Harley.

This 2005 album was a culmination of the musical partnership between Marty and guitarist Thom Enright. The material was drawn from Thom’s own song catalog and the vast repertoire they’d assembled while working closely together for more than a decade. (Thom Enright Records 634479217203)

Marty has recorded three albums with children’s singer-songwriter and storyteller Bill Harley: Grammy nominee “I Wanna Play” (2007), “First Bird Call” (2009), and this 2005 album which won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2006. (Round River Records 719084012020)

He appears frequently with guitar virtuoso Bobby Keyes along with his most frequent rhythm section partner, drummer Marty Richards. The three musicians are also members of The Mystix, dubbed by The Boston Phoenix “a roots supergroup.”

In addition to performing in tandem with Keyes and The Mystix as well as with Duke Robillard, John Hammond and Peter Wolf, the Richards-Ballou team (affectionately known as “The Marties” on the Rhode Island scene) also provides backing for a host of other acts including jazz/blues artist Ursula George and The Young Adults.

The right man for the job. When Rhode Island legends The Young Adults reunited for a series of shows which were billed as their last-ever performances in 2011, they enlisted Marty Ballou to fill the bass chair. Seen here from left to right in April of that year are Marty, Thom Enright, Jeff Shore, Sport Fisher and Rudy Cheeks.

Marty has also performed with an impressive list of southern New England jazz luminaries including Dick Johnson, Art Pelosi, Ted Casher, Herb Pomeroy, Hal Crook, Ed Tomassi, Bob Gullotti, Tony Zano, Artie Cabral, Paul Broadnax, Scott Hamilton and Mike Renzi.

In the studio, he has lent his special talents on his instrument, as an arranger, and as a producer to dozens of other performers including Jay McShann, Herb Ellis, Martin Sexton, Cheryl Wheeler, Kenny White, Chris Flory, David Maxwell, Jerry Portnoy, Dan Moretti, and the North Star Jazz Ensemble.

Backstage with Marty Ballou, Marty Richards, Ronnie Earl & David Maxwell


Marty’s vast discography includes the following albums:

The Ritz with Frank Wess (1987)
Almost Blue – The Ritz with Clark Terry (1991)
Spoon’s Blues – Jimmy Witherspoon (1995)
Duke’s Blues – Duke Robillard (1996)
Rhythm and Bones – Porky Cohen (1996)
Hootie’s Jumpin’ Blues – Jay McShann (1997)
There Goes the Neighborhood – Roomful of Blues (1998)
Sweet and Swingin’ – Sugar Ray Norcia (1998)
Conversations in Swing Guitar – Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis (1999)
You Knock Me Out – Sax Gordon (2000)
Homage – Greg Piccolo (2001)
Blow, Mr. Low – Doug James (2001)
Down in the Mood Room – Jerry Portnoy (2002)
Blues in My Heart – Chris Flory (2003)
Intoxicated – Thom Enright (2005)
Max Attack – David Maxwell (2005)
Everything is One – Pete Francis (2006)
I Wanna Play – Bill Harley (2007)
Tres Muse – Dan Moretti (2009)
Comfort in the Static – Kenny White (2010)


On the eve of his induction into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame on April 26, 2015, Marty had this to say about his career:

”I have been a working musician for the last 35 years. I’ve devoted my creative energy to understanding and performing all styles of American music. Every day I learn something new and I am blessed with the privilege of sharing it. The music never lets me down.”