Who was/is Jim Ford ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
'In Order To Get To It, You Got To Go Through It'
He is Sly Stone's best friend and Nick Lowe's biggest musical influence. Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack and the Temptations have all recorded his songs. But after one mythical album, 'Harlan County,' in 1969, he disappeared. Many tried to find Jim Ford without any success, until I tracked him down in the middle of nowhere, California.
Let's rewind to Los Angeles in the spring 1971. The party inside the big house on 783 Bel Air Road had been going for more than four days. Nobody knew what time of day it was because Sly Stone, who rented the house from John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & Papas, didn't allow clocks inside the building. On the living room table there were long lines of white powder, and Ike Turner along with his friend Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, partook. On a sofa Bobby Womack was getting intimate with a young lady who seemed to have traded both school and parents for a more exciting lifestyle in California. Sly Stone placed guards with machine guns and dogs by the entrance just to make sure nothing interfered with his freaked out life. The fifth Beatle, keyboardist Billy Preston, wore a hat that would make the most flamboyant character from 'Shaft' green with envy while Miles Davis mingled among the crowd. It was rock 'n' roll Babylon. Sly Stone was calm, sitting on a sofa listening to a bearded white guy dressed in overalls who spoke with a down home southern drawl. His name was Jim Ford.
In 1969 Jim Ford released his first and only album, 'Harlan County.' Musically, it inhabited the same territory as 'From Elvis In Memphis' or Dan Penn's 'Nobody's Fool,' but Ford's record was every bit their equal. Hot country guitars blended with New Orleans styled piano laid over a bedrock rhythm section of hard-driving, sweat-drenched funk and soul. Jim Ford's vocal style recalls the colourful medicine show acts that toured rural Kentucky at the beginning of last century. Ballads like Love On My Brain and Changing Colors are enduringly beautiful. Even now, it only seems a matter of time before someone samples the grooves of danceable tracks like I'm Gonna Make Her Love Me or Under Construction.
'Harlan County' didn't make big waves back then, but the number of admirers has grown every year…and this in itself is surprising considering how hard it was to find the LP. Many tried to find out what happened to Ford without much success. But then, when English pub rock legend Nick Lowe was in Los Angeles to produce an album with the Blasters in 1981, Jim Ford stepped into the studio with a bag of demo cassettes. Lowe was excited to see his hero and asked what he had been up to. Ford whipped the cassettes back into the bag and left. Since then, few have seen him.
After two years of advanced detective work, a good amount of old-fashioned luck, and some lo-fi transatlantic phone calls, I found myself at a car rental desk in San Francisco airport with the idea of driving all day up the incomparably beautiful Highway 1 to the place where Jim Ford lives.
On California's northern coast, I checked into a motel where most of the other guests seemed to be conservationists working to preserve the surrounding redwood forests. In the tourist brochure, the area is described as 'The Place To Go When You Want To Get Away From It All' and the roof of the local post office had a sign saying 'Edge Of The Earth'. The bartender at the local honky-tonk said that it's almost impossible to use a cell phone around there: it's permanently out of range.
Excerpt from BCD16777 - Jim Ford The Sounds Of Our Time (Harlan County...plus)
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