By Bob Putignano
Robben Ford has had a wildly diverse career. He taught himself guitar when he was thirteen and has mentioned numerous occasions that his first influence was Michael Bloomfield. At eighteen Ford moved to San Francisco to form the Charles Ford Blues Band (named for his dad, who was also a guitarist) and was soon hired to play with Charlie Musselwhite for nine months. In 1971 the Charles Ford Blues Band re-formed and recorded for Arhoolie in early 1972. Ford then went on and played with Jimmy Witherspoon (1972-1973), the L.A. Express with Tom Scott (1974), George Harrison, and Joni Mitchell. In 1977 Ford was a founding member of the very popular group the Yellowjackets, where he stayed until 1983, and simultaneously had a solo career, and worked as a session guitarist. In 1986 Ford toured with Miles Davis and he had two separate periods (1985 and 1987) with Sadao Watanabe, but he seemed to really find himself in 1992 when he returned to his roots, the Blues.
Ford formed a new group, the Blue Line, and has since recorded a couple of Blues-Rock dates for Stretch that are among the finest of his career. In 1999 he released Sunrise on Rhino and Supernatural on Blue Thumb, plus Tiger Walk, Handful of Blues, and others for that revived great label of the Seventies. Afterwards, Ford signed with Concord Records where he has released three CDs, the latest being the August  Truth.
Recently I caught up with Ford on my radio program Sounds of Blue (www.SoundsofBlue.com) to talk about his brand new disk for Concord Records, Truth.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How you doing, Robben? Have you recovered from last night?
Robben Ford: Good, thanks, and I am getting there. I had my CD release party last night, so I am waking up slowly, but I am all right. We had a blast and the record will be released in Europe in late June and in the U.S. early in August.
BW: Are you still living in Los Angeles?
RF: I live about one hundred miles north of Los Angeles in a small town called Ojai, pronounced "Oh-High," [laughs] Which really is beautiful. I've been in and out of Los Angeles and New York City for a while, but even though I like the cities, it's good to be away, too. I am close enough to Los Angeles to make it functional.
BW: Is there much of a music scene anymore in and around Los Angeles?
RF: There is a certain amount of that, but it's a little more underground than it used to be. And definitely it's more of a Rock 'n' Roll scene than anything else, with guys like Waddy Wachtel and musicians that were part of the rocking Southern California scene. There is a great hang at a place called The Joint, plus I also used to have a jam at a relatively new club called Sam's in Los Angeles, but then I started to travel a bunch and had to drop it.
BW: Conceptually, how did this new recording, Truth, come about?
RF: I actually recorded part of my record in New York City, because I wanted some New York musicians on this disk, so the only way to work that out was to come east. Regarding how this new recording came about, it was a long time between records, but I have to say that Concord has been great and I really feel that this is my best recording for them. I wanted some time off since Keep On Running, which was a little bit more traditional than Truth. This new record has a more modern feel to it, in a sense that it is kind of more topical, as the music is more about things that are happening today, thus the title Truth. There is so much going on in the world that needs addressing, so I felt that I had to find a way to do it that was not overly political or preachy. I just wanted to relate to the way everyday people feel about their lives.
BW: Speaking of your previous CD, you definitely were more traditional as you had people like John Mayall on it and covered the Cream's "Badge." Truth is definitely a departure from the more earthy sounds on Keep On Running.
RF: We did a few covers on the last one, but the new one is entirely all-new material, except for the Otis Redding cover of "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Bob, did you know that song by Otis? I didn't, until my manager brought it my attention.
BW: I think I have a brief memory of that Redding track, but it certainly jogged my memory reading the flysheet that came with your CD, which said it was a B-side of an Otis hit.
RF: Yeah, I thought it really worked with the overall concept that I was going for.
BW: You've had a very interesting career, as a Blues-based musician you have covered a lot of ground, going from the likes of Miles Davis to Joni Mitchell to Jimmy Witherspoon is quite unusual, but somehow you make it all work.
RF: Thanks. It has been a very broad musical experience. I started with Charlie Musselwhite when I was eighteen.
BW: I think I have that LP on Arhoolie.
RF: Right, very good, it's kind of obscure now. I joined Jimmy Witherspoon when I was twenty, I spent my twenty-first birthday on the road with Joni Mitchell, and when I was twenty-two I was working with George Harrison. These were big jumps in the types of music I was playing and it continued throughout my career. But through it all I always wanted to make my own music and things really kicked in for me near the end of the Eighties with the Talk To Your Daughter album, which was Grammy-nominated for a Best of Contemporary Blues Recording. From that point on I was able to focus on my career for recording and touring.
BW: For a mostly Blues-styled player, you have spent most of your recording career on Jazz labels like Verve and Concord.
RF: It's interesting as Verve downsizes Concord keeps expanding.
BW: That is true, especially as Concord continues to not only re-release from their incredible vaults, but they also simultaneously release new recordings.
RF: And now Paul McCartney is on Concord.
BW: McCartney actually did a cameo on George Benson's and Al Jarreau's multiple-Grammy-award-winning CD Givin' It Up where they all sang "Bring It On Home To Me," which was a pretty cool track. Concord did this in the past when Ray Charles sang on Poncho Sanchez's Outa Sight disk, then followed with the Brother Ray CD Ray Sings, Basie Swings. So Concord seems to know what they are doing.
RF: They were thinking ahead. And they definitely know what they are doing. I did not hear those tracks, so I have to check it out.
BW: You are the only Blues guy on Concord.
RF: That's right; I guess there is no one like me. [laughs] But there aren't a lot of people playing Blues with this kind of sophistication, there is that Jazz element that Concord likes what I am doing, which kind of separates my music from the more traditional Blues recordings and Concord gets it. Plus they enjoy the music. This is what I have been going for, as this has been my approach for some time now.
BW: The only guest on Truth is Susan Tedeschi.
RF: Yep, and I was not that familiar with her music, but I was in a store with my wife and we heard this girl singing her butt off, sure enough it was Susan. I know her husband Derek Trucks and I called them up to ask if she would do a guest spot on this record and she said, "Absolutely." So we flew her out to Los Angeles, had a great time with her, and I am really please with the way our duet came out.
BW: Do you miss New York City?
RF: Oh yeah, and I wish I still lived there, though I am not sure if I am going to get back to New York this year as I have been touring together with Larry Carlton.
BW: I meant to ask you about that. I spoke to Larry earlier this year and he was telling me that you were jamming some dates together.
RF: We did a live DVD and CD in Paris and Japan and we've been on a roll traveling to Australia, Korea...we are off to Europe in July of this year, then we have a few dates in the U.S.A. in August and September.
BW: This DVD/CD is an import, will there be a U.S. release of the Robben Ford and Larry Carlton CD/DVD?
RF: Yes, I think the CD is already out or at least available here and the DVD will come out a little afterwards.
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: firstname.lastname@example.org web site: http://www.SoundsofBlue.com