Having quit the band Argent two years earlier, Russ Ballard had hoped that a second solo album would ignite his solo career. Winning, released in 1976, did bring attention to several of Ballard’s songs, although little of it under his own name; Santana covered its title track on their album Zebop!, the Bay City Rollers re-recorded Are You Cuckoo? and Roger Daltrey borrowed Just A Dream Away for the score of the film McVicar in which he starred. But it was Since You Been Gone that cemented Ballard’s reputation as a go-to songwriter to take rock music into the charts.
“I knew immediately that Since You Been Gone was radio-friendly,” Ballard recalls now. “Because I wrote it on the piano, we recorded it that way. Which was bad because it was an obvious rock song. My version was kinda soft.”
Following its appearance on Winning, Since You Been Gone became a Top 50 US hit for the Illinois band Head East. It was also recorded by all-female South African band Clout, and as a duet by former Runaways vocalist Cherie Currie and her sister Marie. Others who covered the song include Brian May, the Graham Bonnet-fronted band Impellitteri, and Michael Ball.
The best-known version, though, is by Rainbow, who toughened it up for the opening single from their first post-Ronnie James Dio album, Down To Earth. It gave Rainbow their first ever UK Top 10 hit. But not everybody in the band was thrilled by this development – drummer Cozy Powell considered the track a “sell-out”.
But regardless of its genre it remains a bloody good tune. The original version of Since You Been Gone was edgier than that of Rainbow’s. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore transposed its keyboard riff to lead guitar, singer Graham Bonnet replaced the harmony line ‘Do do do do, do do do do’ with the emphatic ‘Woah’, and the result was stunning.
“I first heard Rainbow’s version on the radio out in my garden on a nice summer day, and I went: ‘Wow!’ Because what they had done with it sounded really strong,” Ballard relates fondly.
On successive albums, with singer Joe Lynn Turner having replaced Bonnet, Rainbow carved out a more commercial course still – Ballard contributed another belter, I Surrender, to fifth album, Difficult To Cure – but Since You Been Gone was where it all started. Blackmore expressed his thanks, albeit belatedly, in person when Ballard was invited to perform Since You Been Gone with the reunited Rainbow at London’s O2 Arena in 2017.
“We had a nice chat in his dressing room, and I realised we had more in common than I expected,” Ballard remembers. “Both of us had been involved with [iconic record producer] Joe Meek, and I had been offered a job in The Outlaws [whose line-up featured Blackmore], though I had to turn it down. In fact, I offered to write a song for Blackmore’s Night,” he adds with a grin. “But that didn’t happen because I never spoke to Ritchie again.”