Ballard was initially a guitarist with Buster Meikle & The Day Breakers in 1961, together with Roy Ballard, Russ's older brother on piano and Bob Henrit on drums. After a stint with The Roulettes, backing Adam Faith, he then went on to join Unit 4 + 2 in the early 1960s, before becoming the lead singer and guitarist of Argent, writing their hit "God Gave Rock and Roll to You", which would later be covered by both Petra and Kiss.
In 1972, Ballard performed on Colin Blunstone's album Ennismore, which was produced by Chris White. Ballard also wrote the hit single, "I Don't Believe in Miracles", which featured on that album.
He left Argent in 1973 and pursued a solo and songwriting career. He wrote such hits as Three Dog Night's "Liar", Hot Chocolate's 1977 UK chart topper "So You Win Again", and Rainbow's "Since You Been Gone" (also featured on Ballard's second solo album Winning) and "I Surrender". As a solo artist, Ballard charted once on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, when "On the Rebound" reached #58 in 1980. Progressive rock band Uriah Heep covered "On the Rebound" in 1982 on their album, Abominog.
Ballard also wrote and performed on Roger Daltrey's first two solo albums - Daltrey (1973) and Ride a Rock Horse (1975).
British pop band Hello recorded Ballard's "New York Groove" in 1975, reaching #7 in Germany and #9 in the UK.
Ballard also wrote the #17, 1981 hit for Santana, called "Winning", which appeared on their album entitled Zebop! and had previously been released by Ballard himself on his second solo album.
Ballard wrote and produced "You Can Do Magic" for the group America. The single climbed to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1982, and helped resurrect the band's career. The following year, America brought in Ballard to produce their follow-up album, Your Move. One of its tracks, "The Border", which was co-written by Ballard with Dewey Bunnell, reached #33 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Borrowing from The Cure's Simon Gallup's 1981 "Other Voices" bass riff,[original research?] Ballard wrote ABBA singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad's 1982 solo hit: "I Know There's Something Going On" (with drums played by Phil Collins). The track reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. He also penned "Can't Shake Loose" for fellow ABBA former member, Agnetha Fältskog, which peaked at #29 in the same listings.
His song "Voices" - from the album Russ Ballard - was featured on the Miami Vice episode entitled "Calderone's Return: Part 2 - Calderone's Demise", which aired on 26 October 1984. The song was a brief hit on rock radio stations, peaking at #15 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. However, "Voices" stalled below the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #110. The song "In The Night" (also from the Russ Ballard album), was also featured in Miami Vice, and included in the episode entitled "Calderone's Return: Part 1 - The Hit List". The show also featured "Your Time Is Gonna Come" by Ballard.
"The Fire Still Burns", the title track of his 1985 album attained #15 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
In 1991 the song he co-wrote with John Waite and Jonathan Cain, "So This Is Eden", appeared on Bad English's album, Backlash.
Ballard has also written and produced for Elkie Brooks, and more recently, acting as a talent scout, he "discovered" Lauren Harris.