Robben Ford’s first instrument was the saxophone, which he says he still favors when listening to music.
But it’s a good thing he switched to guitar, an instrument he quickly mastered as a teenager. In fact, everyone seems to want this guy in their band — and they always have.
(photo courtesy of Willa Stein and www.willastein.com)
“I want everything I play to be clear, but I’ll even use bad technique at times,” Ford told Modern Guitar Magazine last year. “Bad technique, at times, is actually better for expressing certain things. So, I’m not beyond leaving myself a few weaknesses here and there.”
If there is a weakness in Ford’s guitar playing he’s done a remarkable job of hiding it over nearly four decades as a highly sought after studio and stage musician. In addition to a successful solo career, the 57-year-old Californian has played with just about everyone from Charlie Musselwhite to Miles Davis, has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, and sports a resume of more than two dozen albums of his own.
After picking up the guitar at age 13, Ford was playing professionally by 18. He got his start with Musselwhite, playing in the blues great’s backup band. Then he branched out and joined a talented group of musicians who evolved into the award-winning fusion jazz group, Yellowjackets, with whom Ford recorded two albums before he embarked on a solo recording career that continues today.
In 2007, he released Truth, his latest effort, to criticial acclaim.
But Ford is as much reknown for his work with other artists as he is for his own music. His jazzy blues guitar style made him a coveted axe-for-hire from the start. In addition to Musselwhite and Davis, he’s recorded and/or toured with George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Greg Allman, Joni Mitchell, and an impressive array of others.
In recent years, he’s also become a guitar teacher. He now holds regular clinics for guitar students which consist of day-long sessions during which he teaches music theory and technique. Held near his California home, the 25-student clinics regularly sell out — although there’s still room at the next one, scheduled for March 28 in Ojai, Cal.
So, whether or not Ford allows himself “a few weakenesses here and there,” we’ve yet to hear it in his playing.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)