ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 22, 1993
By Steve Newton
In 1973 the Doobie Brothers recorded a tune called “Ukiah”, about a place in Northern California with “green trees and timberlands; people workin’ with their hands”. Judging by the lyrics, it was a pretty nice place to be. And for Ukiah-raised guitar great Robben Ford, it was also ideally situated on California’s musical map.
“San Francisco was only two hours away,” says Ford, “and when the whole ’60s musical revolution occurred, I used to see everybody and their uncle in San Francisco. Hendrix, Cream, Albert King, B.B. King, Paul Butterfield—everybody.” Ford’s early love of rock ’n’ roll—blues-rock in particular—is well-represented on his new album, Robben Ford and the Blue Line, which he’ll showcase in a performance at the Town Pump on Tuesday (April 27).
“[The blues were] the first thing that ever really excited me about being a guitar player,” says Ford, contacted by phone at home in Los Angeles. “I mean, I’ve always been a lover of music, you know, but I think when I was around 13 or 14 I heard the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s first album, with Mike Bloomfield on guitar, and that’s when I realized that I wanted to be a guitar player.
“I heard some jazz guitar,” he says, “but for some reason jazz guitarists never excited me. I used to check it out, because it was obviously musically advanced—compared to the Rolling Stones, for instance—but still it was the blues guitar that really turned me on and kinda struck a chord with me.”
Ford’s latest album was up for a Grammy award in the category of best contemporary blues recording, but was beat out by Stevie Ray Vaughan’s posthumous release, The Sky Is Crying. Ford’s previous offering, 1988’s Talk to Your Daughter, was also nominated, but lost to a Robert Cray disc. Grammy or no Grammy, however, Ford’s talents on guitar can’t be denied, and fans of top-notch musicianship should also note the résumé of his bassist, Roscoe Beck.
“Roscoe hasn’t had a lot of exposure,” says Ford, “but he’s been kind of a behind-the-scenes person. He actually was the bassist on Eric Johnson’s first record, Tones, and he played on half of [Johnson’s] Ah Via Musicom. And he’s worked a great deal with Leonard Cohen, touring and recording.”
The back line of the Blue Line is drummer Tom Brechtlein, who’s no slouch either, having played with the likes of Al DiMeola and Chick Corea. Ford’s band is signed to Corea’s new label, Stretch Records, although that’s as close as the jazz connection gets these days.
“The only hindrance [of signing with Corea’s label] is that, until they hear it—and sometimes even for a while after they hear it—people will view the album and the band as a jazz thing, which it’s not. We’re working very hard to break down that perception, you know, and step by step it’s working out. People are starting to get the picture.”