40 years in business is remarkable, especially when one fills it with colorful experience. Robben Ford is widely known to have a diverse career. Mainly he’s a brilliant blues guitarist with virtuosic skill, but he has marked his path at jazz and rock as well. This has placed him as one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by Musician Magazine plus five Grammy Award nominations. He’s been working with many other big names in different fields, and all these experiences has shaped him into who he is today. Blues is not the same in his hand, because just like a canvas he paints it with many colors and shapes.
Recently Robben Ford launched his brand new album “Soul on Ten” contains both live tracks and three new compositions. (Read the album review here). In “Soul on Ten” Ford is absolutely on ten, delivering his virtuosity, skill and strong blues feel with his guitar and vocal. This is an album to get if you feel like blues, but you’ll get the bonus of various tastes of jazz fusion, rock and soul all over the tracks as well. Together with his road-tested band of the last few years, Robben found the strongest band he’s ever played with, the drummer Toss Panos, guitarist Travis Carlton and keyboardist Neal Evans, Ford delivers one of the most stunning album he’s ever released.
We got a chance for an exclusive interview with Robben, just a while before his performance at Madison Ribberfest B-B-Que, Indiana. Let’s see what he got to say about his new album, the tracks, his experience and so much more.
Noticing at your experience and journey in the music world. Why do you choose blues as a “home” where you can come back anytime…?
Well I fell in love with the music when I was 13 or 14 years old and and I think the instrument that i would play have a lot to do why i haven’t pursued more of a perhaps jazz oriented career. For guitar, I like blues guitar players,that’s what guitar sound that you grabs, there’s the most kind of variety, style and sound. I like tone, I like style, I like variety, and electric guitar… for me it’s best in the blues realm.
What is blues for you personally?
I started listening to it when i was very young. It has very strong emotional tools means a lot of feeling into people.
Why did you choose saxophone in the first place before turning into guitar? and why guitar?
I was 10 year old when I heard a saxophone player in a live, and I really liked the instrument and then I told my mother I really wanted to play. So she got one for me, and I started studying it in school. My father was a guitar player, he didn’t play a lot but he played some, so we got a guitar at the house. I started fooling around with the guitar, just playing any musical instrument within reach, but I was studying the saxophone in school. The guitar just became more and more important to me, especially after I heard blues. I’m naturally a better more be quick to play the guitar than I am with the saxophone. It’s better suit.
Could you mention any of your favourite artist that you really like?
I’m a huge fan of Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and I love tenor saxophone players so I listened a lot to Paul Desmond, Sonny Rollins..
Listening to your albums, we found many layers behind the blues. How do you integrate jazz, funk, soul into blues?
Well, its a product for many years, playing different kinds of music. That was my inspiration that I can’t explain exactly. its not soemthing that you really think about. insporation doesnt have any form. You have your backgrounds, you have your experience, your strength and weakness, and you work with them. you know and try to produce the best of art that you can.
Looking through your career, there were times when you were into fusion. Could you share a bit about your fusion era?
That was 1974-1978, I worked with Joni Michell, called the LA Express. I was kinda thrown into that world. My first solo record was configured as a fusion record an higly impact stories and then I put together to group for my first record The Inside Story, we signed the deal separately. And then we’re called the Yellowjackets.
I heard that you’ve also worked along with Miles Davis. How was the experience working with him?
He was a major hero of mine and to get as his player was an incredible honor. We got a long very well. It was certain like here and that and you know and half of what I know is when I started listening to his music, so i felt prepared on certain level to play with him.. He’s a person who’s rather profound and a little bit intimidating. But we worked all that stuff out pretty quickly. Actually, I had a good feeling with him and he said many complementary things to me.
That’s really nice. Talking about your new album right now, why did you pick the name soul on ten as the title of the album?
There’s a little bit of humor in it, it’s like having an amplifier on ten, you have ten fingers, there are ten songs on the record.
Talking about you version of “SPoonful”. Why do you choose to finally play your version of this song with the band? (with Toss Panos/Neal Evans/Travis Carlton)
They are really great musicians, and I’m happy with them. Toss and I played together often in the last few years and finally started playing together a lot. And Travis Carlton also relatively new acquaintance through Larry Carlton, his father. So we built a group really well.
How does the new album differ from your previous album, especially the 2007’s “Truth”?
Well I enjoyed making a live records when I had not done that with an electric band before. It was kind of important to me to capture the group that I have right now live because it’s a particularly good group. And I felt prepared to stretch a little more. So, I like the group and I wanted to document this particular place in my music. I feel like I’m at my best right now. I’ve never played better, I’ve never had a better band, so I really want to document it.
Could you share a story behind the making of “Don’t Worry About Me”?
I started writing this song actually a couple of years ago for the “Truth” album, but it never was finished. Finally I just kind a made up a lot push to try to write the song. It’s very difficult to describe the creative process. The song starts off with easy going, just walking down the street kind of a thing, but then in order to finish the song I needed to do something radical, you just let it happening, it wasn’t finishing it though. So I made a left turn and decided to go ahead and rock. and it felt kinda great with the rock that I was in with the song. I couldn’t get pass with the opening chorus. So it’s all the tools to get myself ready to make something happen. I just go with exactly the opposite direction of the way the song began. It was almost like the whole different song. It was kinda free after writing, because at that point I felt like I could say anything. It didn’t have to be necessarily a continuation of the chorus.
In “Don’t Worry About Me”, you’re talking about the sociopolitical side of the previous album. Is there any reason you have behind the song?
Well I don’t find a lot of people actually saying things through music any longer. They are not trying to say anything with their music, they just want to make money with it. I think it’s important to actually say something real, something meaningful, rather than just write some trash and try to sell it.
How do you come out with “Earthquake” and “Thoughtless”?
“Earthquake”, I kinda wrote itself in about 15 minutes, it was almost complete. You can’t explain how that happen. you know what I mean. But it was based on something tension that I was experiencing by being a travelling musician and coming home to a wife that kinda upset that you have to get away. So that’s what both song were based on. It was about a relationship.
How do you describe yourself as a musician?
I’d say that primarily I’m a blues guitar player but I had so many different experiences because having played with pop stars, giants in jazz and blues, having my own band with variety of musicians, all of those things come together and make you as a musician as you are. In my case, I consider myself kind of a child though in traditional American music. Blues, jazz, RnB, of course some rock and pop is gonna be in there. But yeah, very American in style with strong mean towards soul music.
How’s your experience with Jimmy Whiterspoon?
It was like father and son relationship really. I was with him for two years, so much happened during the creative times. At times we were angry to each other, at times we were close. He had a very big personality. And definately did everything he could to put me in front of as many people as he could. He was real proud of me. He was like a father to me. He wanted to show me off. Very generous.
How was he on the stage?
He was a great master of swing, and I love swing. So I kind a got a big dose of swing from Jimmy Witherspoon.
Pictures credit to George Wells, taken from robbenford.com
Interviewed by: Edria
Editor: Riandy Kurniawan