Guitar legend Robben Ford returns to Tahoe
Blues and jazz rocker Robben Ford is returning to Tahoe Friday, Feb. 8.
A four-time Grammy nominee, Ford has played with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, Miles Davis, George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Bonnie Raitt, Claus Ogerman and Michael McDonald.
Born in 1951 in Ukaih, Ford was the third of four sons in a musical family. His father, Charles, was a country-western singer and guitarist before entering the Army and marrying Kathryn, who played piano and had a lovely singing voice.
Robben Ford’s first chosen instrument was the saxophone, which he began to play at age 10 and continued to play until his early 20s. He began to teach himself guitar at age 13 after hearing the two guitarists from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. In the late 1960’s, Ford frequented the Fillmore and Winterland Auditoriums in San Francisco to see great guitar performances from Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Albert King and B.B. King
“It was an incredible time for electric guitar,” Ford said.
” I fell in love with the sax playing of Paul Desmond and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and before long found Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Yusaf Lateef, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and, of course, Miles Davis.”
These influences have stayed with Ford, playing a large part in his particular blend of jazz and blues that defines him as a guitarist and allows him to play in a wide variety of settings.
After high school, Ford and his brothers Patrick (a drummer) and Mark (a harmonica player) formed the Charles Ford Blues Band (named after their father) and recorded for the Arhoolie label. Robben (on sax and guitar) an Patrick Ford went on to tour the U.S. with San Jose harp great Charlie Musselwhite.
Witherspoon picked up Robben Ford’s first attempt at forming his own jazz quartet. He toured the U.S. and Europe with Witherspoon, where seen by Tom Scott and members of the L.A. Express – who were about to begin a promotional tour with Joni Mitchell – saw him.
Ford was invited to play guitar on the tour and played on two recordings with Mitchell and the L.A. Express.
“The two years I spent with Joni were the most formative of my musical life,” he said. “Joni was just brilliant and very accessible then, and the members of the L.A. Express became good friends and teachers to me. It was great.”
Harrison invited Ford to join him on his “Dark Horse” tour of the U.S. and Canada, raising Ford’s musical profile even further. Shortly after the two-month stint with Harrison, Ford moved to Colorado to take a break from music and to study with Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa.
In 1977, Elektra records approached him to record for the label, which produced his first solo recording, “The Inside Story,” with a group of musicians who went on to become the Yellowjackets.
After Elektra closed in the early 1980s, Ford moved to San Francisco to be close to family and his early musical base. Soon his career would take another upward swing, recording and touring with Michael McDonald, securing a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records, and meeting his soon-to-be wife, actress Anne Kerry.
After moving to New York with Kerry, he was called to play with musical icon Miles Davis.
“Producer Tommy Lipuma played Miles my work with the Yellowjackets, then three days later, Miles called me personally to join his band – Shocking!” Ford said.
Ford lamented having to leave Davis after only six months because of recording commitments with Warner Brothers, but the jazz legend told him that if he ever wanted to come back, “Just come back.”
Ford’s 1988 release for Warner Brothers, “Talk to Your Daughter” brought his first Grammy nomination (Best Contemporary Blues Recording), and he started touring the world under his own name. Still based in New York, he backed David Sandborn on the television music show “Nite Music,” on which he played host to a variety of musical acts. Ford toured with Sandborn in 1990, then moved back to Southern California shortly thereafter to be closer to his own band.
After leaving Warner Brothers, Ford signed with Stretch/GRP records, where he finally found a real home for his creativity, recording three CDs for them with his band “The Blue Line” (Tom Brechtlein on drums and Roscoe Beck on bass).
After a very fruitful eight years, Ford disbanded the group and recorded two more CDs for the label, which by then had become Stretch/Blue Thumb: “Tiger Walk” (an instrumental recording in New York with Keith Richards’ rhythm section) and “Supernatural”, Ford’s most accomplished work up to that point as a songwriter.
As his contract was up at Stretch/Blue Thumb, Robben signed with Concord Records, the largest independently owned record company. In 2002, he released “Blue Moon”, and in 2003 “Keep on Runnin’, ” a recording full of the ’60s blues/R&B feeling with which he grew up.
Ford’s third release for Concord is titled “Truth.”
“I feel this is the best work I have done in terms of a solo recording,” Ford said. “It is my most realized work as a songwriter, and I feel like I am reaching higher ground as a guitarist. ‘Truth’ represents the blues as they are today; some of the songs are sociopolitical in essence, but not without humor, and the musical setting is fresh.”
After-party: the Shane Dwight Band
Location: Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room
Date: 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 8
Cost: $22 Advance $25 Day of Show
Tickets: http://www.crystalbaycasino.com, (775) 833-6333 or at the venue
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User