Thursday, December 20, 2007

Robben Ford Earns Grammy Nomination

Ojai guitarist considered for coveted award

By Nao Braverman
Local guitarist Robben Ford has accompanied some of the nation’s most innovative musicians. But his own musical freshness and talent are being acknowledged this year with a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues recording for his 2007, “Truth.” Though this is his fifth nomination, Ford is pleased to be recognized for this particular album and his interpretation of contemporary blues.
While he has played in a variety of musical genres, having accompanied a broad range of artists with styles as disparate as Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis, he chose to make “Truth” a blues album. Perhaps because today’s truths are full of blues.
“Miles Davis once told me that black people don’t play the blues anymore but the white people got them, and he’s right,” he said.
“Truth” addresses present-day issues, social, economic and political, such as the war in Iraq, not in a preachy way, but rather in an honest manner, he said.
Though he describes creating music as an organic process, not something to be considered in any literal sense, he acknowledges having a certain deliberateness when producing music for this album.
“I wanted to make a blues album that draws on tradition while creating something that was timely, and relevant,” he said.
Ford sees contemporary rhythm and blues as primarily dominated by producers, who use the same chord progressions, the same format. Most songs are aggressive and one-sided, many are about women. But if you go back to its roots, there was much more variety.
“It was a lot more of an open field, creatively,” he said.
So without “throwing the baby out with the bath water” as he describes it, he incorporates pieces of his traditional and modern influences into songs that address contemporary issues. In the case of this album, his collection of songs all somehow relate to the theme of truth. Fittingly the album’s one cover song Ford sings with Susan Tedeschi is Paul Simon’s “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor.”
Of course, he includes songs about women and strife, topics that rarely escape a true blues album, no matter how contemporary.
Ford’s music draws from all his influences, and fortunately he has an impressive list to draw from, having played with Jimmy Witherspoon, Bonnie Raitt, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis, among many others.
“He was a very challenging individual,” Ford said of Davis. “He had such a powerful presence that people would tend cower from him. He would push people’s buttons and challenge them to rise to the occasion, and he loved it when they did. But I was lucky enough to engage with him in an ordinary way. Then he was great.”
But of all influences, it was Mitchell who had the broadest talent, lyrically and artistically. She taught him more about making music than anyone else, he said.
Ford moved to Ojai 14 years ago to be closer to a local Buddhist community and purchased his home from singer Ricki Lee Jones.
He recently produced an album with his wife, actress and cabaret singer Anne Kerry Ford, and a 28-piece band. The album titled “Weill” was dedicated to the late composer Kurt Weill and some of the tracks were recorded live in Germany at a 100-year celebration at which his wife was invited to sing.
The couple recently returned from Moscow where he toured for the first time.
Locally he holds guitar clinics, always a hit. Other than that he continues to write and play, continuing on the musical journey that he formally began when he was 8 years old with a piano, then saxophone, and eventually the electric guitar.

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