Robben Ford bounces back from exhaustion, brings the Blue Line to Vancouver

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 12, 1995

I’ve been reviewing bands in the Georgia Straight since 1982—“Geez, when’s that old hack gonna pack it in?”—but this is the first time I’ve reviewed a gig at Richard’s on Richards. Since its inception, the upscale downtown club has been prone to hiring nondescript Top 40 dance bands to provide a mindless soundtrack for the mating rituals of the posh bar’s high rollers, but lately things have been changing down at Dick’s.

In the past few months various touring bands with worthy music of their own have been showing up, a case in point being San Francisco’s Robben Ford and the Blue Line, whose visit last Sunday (October 8) had local guitar nuts gobbling their Thanksgiving turkey in hopes of getting to the venue in time to nab a decent seat.

According to a local rep at MCA Records, Ford was too “mentally and physically exhausted” a few weeks back to be put through a phone interview with the Straight—which is why there was no preview of his show in last week’s issue—but he didn’t look in bad shape when he took the stage with bassist Roscoe Beck, drummer Tom Brechtlein, and keyboardist Bill Boublitz.

The quartet started out with “Running Out on Me”, a new tune that borrows and rebuilds the classic riff from Sonny Boy Williamson’s “One Way Out”, and as soon as Ford took off into his solo the supportive cheers from the musician-filled crowd made it clear they’d been anticipating some fancy fret action.

Bassist Beck pulled out a freaky-looking electric stand-up bass, which he would favour most of the night, on a Stevie Ray Vaughan–style shuffle that also showcased Ford’s fluid jazz stylings. (He’s toured with Miles Davis and was a founding member of the Yellowjackets.) But as talented a player as he is, it was also evident from that tune that, try as he might, Ford just can’t deliver the soulful-white-boy vocal chops of a Stevie Ray, or even an Eric Clapton.

His limited singing abilities didn’t stop him from successfully pulling off a slinky, reggaefied version of the old Animals hit “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, but Ford was clearly at his best when reeling out fiery instrumentals such as “The Miller’s Son”, from his new, Danny Kortchmar–produced CD, Handful of Blues.

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