ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 13, 1997
By Steve Newton
When the time came for California guitar great Robben Ford to record his latest CD, Tiger Walk, he had a pretty good idea which rhythm section he wanted backing him up. He’d heard it on a Keith Richards album.
“I’m not really a Stones fan,” says Ford, on the line from his home near Santa Barbara, “but I like Keith’s records, and part of that has to do with the fact that [drummer] Steve Jordan and [bassist] Charlie Drayton are playing. And also Steve has coproduced and cowritten those records with Keith, so I think his influence brought them closer to a genuine R&B source than what the Stones ever did.”
In order to help capture the vibe he had in mind, Ford obtained the services of engineer Niko Bolas, who had worked on those same Richards albums. It was through Bolas that Ford connected with former Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrel, who helped infuse Tiger Walk with a smoking funk flavour. “I knew I wanted to use Charlie and Steve,” asserts Ford, “but beyond that I wasn’t sure what other instrumentation I was gonna use. Niko recommended that we try Bernie. And Bernie was just such a wonderful addition to the whole thing.”
Ford’s seventh solo album, Tiger Walk is also his first full-fledged instrumental recording, although the no-vocals route is one that the 45-year-old picker had been contemplating for a while. He’d previously released three bluesy, song-oriented CDs with bassist Roscoe Beck and drummer Tom Brechtlein as Robben Ford and the Blue Line.
“I just felt like I wanted to take a break from writing lyrics,” he relates, “because it’s really hard! I wanted to make it a little easier on myself, and do something that came a little more naturally.”
Aside from his solo recording career, Ford’s life in music has included a stint in the ’80s fusion band he put together, the Yellowjackets, and sideman roles with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, George Harrison, and Joni Mitchell. He also spent six months with jazz legend Miles Davis before returning to his blues roots with the acclaimed Talk to Your Daughter album of ’88.
Although guitar-based instrumental music has been repopularized lately by the likes of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Ford’s recent musical endeavour wasn’t inspired by any one player in particular. Although he raves about Texas tonemaster Eric Johnson and tips his hat to the “boiled-down” approach of Jimmie Vaughan, Ford—who joins headliner Robert Cray and the Canadian duo of Colin James and Colin Linden at the Orpheum on Sunday (November 16)—doesn’t listen to guitarists much.
“Every now and then I’ll check in and see what somebody’s doing,” he notes, “but for the most part I find that guitar players are generally not very good songwriters, and their music doesn’t really interest me. Their talent as a guitarist may be cool, but, um…you know, I listen to a lotta Miles Davis. I would consider him my greatest and most consistent influence.”