Robben Ford's diverse musical career stared when he taught himself guitar at age 13 after listening to Mike Bloomfield. Born in 1951 in the small northern California town of Ukiah, Ford moved to San Francisco at age 18 to form the Charles Ford Band with his two brothers (named after his father who was also a guitarist). He was soon hired to tour with Charles Musselwhite gaining valuable road experience. In 1972 the re-formed Charles Ford band recorded their only album (on Arhoolie) and left a legion of fans, many of them guitarists who owe a huge debt to Robben 27 years later. Robben then went on to play with Jimmy Witherspoon, L.A. Express, George Harrison and Joni Mitchell. From 1977 until 1983 he was a member of the Yellowjackets. During that time he also embarked on a solo career and session guitarist. In 1986 Ford toured with Miles Davis and it was in the late 80's and early 90's that he returned to his roots, the blues, with the formation of his current group, Blue Line. Even though Ford can play his guitar with incredible speed and harmonic complexity, he also plays with impeccable taste and phrasing, which he is quick to attribute to his years of playing blues with Jimmy Witherspoon, Charlie Musselwhite and his current band The Blue Line. "The blues is the best place for learning to play the guitar," Ford said, "because it has that connection with the voice. Those (blues) guys play guitar the way they sing." Ford also says a guitar player needs to listen to other instruments to really know how to play the guitar. "I have always been a player. I've always been coming much more from the instrument, getting my inspiration from players like John Coltrane and Miles Davis and people like that." The saxophone is the instrument that Ford prefers to listen to. A horn player has to breathe, and recognizing that helped Ford add tremendous depth and poise to his guitar style. His guitar playing subtleties and improvisational approach also came from a much more intimate source, his relationship with blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon. Playing the blues with Witherspoon taught Ford that the real magic of music is communication. "When you can feel some kind of vibration in the room," said Ford, "then you know you have real communication with your audiences. Witherspoon had that. So did Miles Davis." One of the great guitarists of the past decade, Ford continues to mesmerize every audience he plays for.
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Copyright © 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
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