An Interview with drummer/producer Patrick Ford: I think growing up in the 60’s was the best of all options

"When you travel you meet people with different customs and ideas and if you have an open mind you soon find that the differences only make the world more fun and interesting."

Patrick Ford: San Francisco's Blues Gentleman

It was 1969 when Patrick Ford first came onto the San Francisco blues scene with brother Robben Ford. During the 70's he spent time working with his brothers Robben and Mark in the Charles Ford Band and then on the road with Charlie Musselwhite. This was also when he first had the pleasure of working and hanging with many of the blues greats like Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, and Jimmy Witherspoon.

In the 80's Patrick started his own modern blues label, Blue Rock'lt Records, with great releases by the likes of Charlie Musselwhite, Brownie McGhee, the Charles Ford Band, and Chris Cain. It was 1988 when Patrick decided it was time to break away from the position of being a side man for others and try out his skills as a band leader. He decided to put together a band that would recognize and respect its individual members talents and at the same time become a conduit for his own ideas and arrangements. It was definitely going to be his band.

The first version of the Ford Blues Band featured his brother Mark Ford on harp and vocals and Garth Webber on Guitar and vocals. On bass was Ronnie Gurewitz. They went directly into the studio and recorded enough of Patricks ideas for a CD. The results were the first FBB release and the band's first tour of Europe. Though Mark was not able to make the tour he was replaced by Andy Just who has remained with the band ever since. The release and the tour served notice that this was not just another blues band coming on the scene. This band was new and it was different and it made no apologies for its non traditional approach to the blues idiom.

Throughout the 90's the band has continued to record and tour around the world. Though the guitar and bass positions have been filled by several different players during that time the identity of the band has remained constant. Every version of the Ford Blues Band features exceptional players performing very original and very powerful modern blues. They are journeymen who have honed their craft studying and performing with the masters. If you compiled a list of all the blues greats that the various members of the band have performed with it would look like a Who's Who list of the Blues and would include the likes of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Fenton Robinson, Brownie McGhee, Lowell Fulson, and on and on. There is no lack of respect for the roots here. At the same time however, the band remains open to any other influences that might make their music even more vibrant and alive.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

Pat, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues? What does BLUES mean to you?

Though we had been listening to lots of blues tunes done by bands like the Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, etc. it was not until I heard that first Paul Butterfield Blues Band LP that I was hooked. One play of that record changed me and my brothers’ lives. Blues is heartfelt music based on the format created by the originators. No one can do blues better than fellas like Muddy, Wolf, Little Walter, BB, and so on, but it can be played, and it can be played well, and it can be played creatively.

 

"I think growing up in the 60’s was the best of all options. It was a time when people were open to exploring new things and that impacted the music world as well. I could go to the Fillmore and see Richie Havens, Don Ellis Big Band, and Albert King all on the same bill." (Photo by Tano Ro,  Pat at Magic Blues Festival, Switzerland July 2007)

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I do not like to think about the negative moments but I would put my interaction with Al Kooper at the SF Blues Fest at the top of my list, no doubt. As for best moments, there have been so many. One that rates up there near the top would be playing the material from the Ford Blues Band “In Memory of Michael Bloomfield” CD at the San Francisco Blues Festival.  Performing “Groovin Is Easy” had me in tears. Nick Gravenites was singing, along with my band we had my brother Robben and Chris Cain playing guitars, there were two keyboard players, a complete horn section, and three lady singers. Nick was really giving it up and it was as good as it gets. Complete joy! Muddy Waters coming up on stage to set in with the Charles Ford Band was not bad either. Four kids from Ukiah playing with Muddy.  Great!

 

Is there any similarity between the blues today and the blues of the ‘70s?

The big difference I hear is the lack of creativity. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s there were a lot of blues artists and it still amazes me just how different many of them sounded. Just listen to the differences between bands like Butterfield, The Electric Flag, The Elvin Bishop Group, Siegel-Schwall, Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Canned Heat, The Charles Ford Band, and on and on. It was the best of times.

 

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

I can only say it got much better then it got much worse. I have seen the best of times and now, it seems the worst of times.

 

Is there any similarity and difference between Ford Blues Band & Charles Ford Band, What characterize the philosophy of band?

I like to think that the FBB is a continuation of the same approach to playing blues music, without fear of trying new things. It also remains the same four piece format which I love.

 

"Blues is heartfelt music based on the format created by the originators. No one can do blues better than fellas like Muddy, Wolf, Little Walter, BB, and so on, but it can be played, and it can be played well, and it can be played creatively." (Photo: Andy Just, Pat, Steve Czarnecki, Mike Osborn, Mark Ford, Bob Boehm, Ken Baker, and Robben Ford, Ukiah CA, late 70s)

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about the story of Blue Rock ‘It

I started Blue Rock’It back in the day when many great blues artists could not get recorded, especially white artists. It started with a Charles Ford Band recording we did in memory of our Dad (Charles Ford) who had passed away. I followed that up with well known blues men like Charlie Musselwhite and Brownie McGhee and other SF Bay Area blues artists like Chris Cain and Mike Osborn.

We had a good run and made some recordings I am very proud of but it is almost impossible to make it pay any more. I have not had a new release in two years and I am very nervous about the market and losing money.

 

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician? What turns you on?

I think growing up in the 60’s was the best of all options. It was a time when people were open to exploring new things and that impacted the music world as well. I could go to the Fillmore and see Richie Havens, Don Ellis Big Band, and Albert King all on the same bill. One night I saw Cream, James Cotton, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Jeremy Stieg on the same bill. You would go to see someone you knew and liked and get exposed to acts you knew little to nothing about and it was all great.

 

Did you help many artist in the meantime did you found any gratitude from them?

I would like to think I have been of help to other artists. I know my record label; Blue Rock’It Records was very important factor in helping artists like Charlie Musselwhite, Chris Cain, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Brownie McGhee.

 

"I could tell story after to story about many of the great blues men. Many of them were great fun and some were down right mean. All in all I feel blessed to have lived the life I have." (Photo: Patrick and Robben Ford)

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the blues music

Honestly I hope you are right. When we travel I am seeing older and smaller crowds. I rarely see the young crowds that were so much a part of the blues revival of the 60’s and 70’s.

 

You have traveling all around the world. What are your conclusions?

I think this is a wonderful world. Too many people never get the chance to get out and see it. When you travel you meet people with different customs and ideas and if you have an open mind you soon find that the differences only make the world more fun and interesting. The narrow minded religious insanity that is causing so much grief around the world right now is very sad and I hope it settles sooner than later.

 

What is the “Feel” you miss most nowadays of the late 60s SF Blues era?

The fact that there was a vibrant blues scene. It was a great time. On any given night you could hear the likes of John Lee Hooker (solo), the Elvin Bishop Group, The Electric Flag or Bloomfield and Friends, the Carlos Santana Blues Band, Charlie Musselwhite, Steve Miller Band, Luther Tucker, Francis Clay, Nick Gravenites and so on and that’s just the local scene.  We had all the major blues artists coming through as well. This lasted well into the 70’s. I remember playing clubs with the Charles Ford Band or Charlie Musselwhite and seeing in the house other musicians like Bloomfield, or Elvin Bishop, or Luther Tucker, Fenton Robinson, or Francis Clay, etc. There was a real blues “scene.” I also miss all the venues that no longer exist.

 

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

I once asked Fenton Robinson, who I knew would be honest with me, “Can a white boy play the blues?”

His reply was, “Of course they can Pat.  You know how much respect I have for you and your brothers.  People who talk like that are color blind.”

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life?

It’s all been good

 

How was your recording time with Luther Tucker?

That was a wonderful time. I loved Tucker and always thought he should have a solo release out there. So we did it pretty live with as few overdubs as possible. The guys in my band were jazzed to be recording with Luther and he always had a good opinion of all the Ford bands so it was easy.

Sadly, we never finished Luther’s overdubs. I had taken him to Germany to do a festival with the FBB and after the show my wife and I stayed to vacation for two weeks. When I got home I learned that Luther had passed away a few days before. Luckily for me I was able to get ahold of the live recording of the German festival and added a few live tracks to finish out the CD. I also had Andy sing the vocal on one of the finished studio tracks that Luther had not put a vocal on.  In the end I was able to release what I think is a good sample of Luther at that time in his life and I am proud of it.

 

Are there any memories of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, which you’d like to share with us?

These were all very important men in my life. They all treated me kindly and with respect.

When John Lee was at the top with his hit CD which included Santana, he recorded a couple of tracks with Michael Osborn for a Blue Rock’It release and even agreed to have his picture on the cover with Mike. His management did not want him to do it but he did it anyhow. When the Charles Ford Band was trying to break into the scene we opened for Muddy at a club in San Francisco. Half way through our second set Muddy walked up on stage during a slow blues and started singing. It was great!  He then invited each of us to set in with his band during his set. What a memorable night for four young white boys from Ukiah. When he returned to Chicago he told Chess he wanted to record with us. Sadly that was when my brother Mark quit and the band broke up. I still have a photo of Muddy standing between Robben and me on stage, performing that slow blues and it hangs on my office wall.

 

...and any stories with Fenton Robinson and Brownie McGhee?

Fenton and I spent some wonderful times on the road together.  He was not only a great guitar player and vocalist, he was a wonderful man. He sang a track on my FBB - Ford And Friends CD for me. I flew to Chicago to record him. I could tell he was having troubles but did not know what the problem was. When I left him I was worried about him. I called to see how he was doing a few weeks later only to find out he had just passed away. He had a brain tumor or something and did not know it. I miss his beautiful voice and wonderful smile.

After my fourth Blue Rock’It release I was having trouble getting past the black/white blues thing. My first four releases had been by white blues artists. So I went to Brownie and said to him straight up, “Brownie, would you record an LP for my label? I need you to get me some respect.” I told him of my idea to record him with a band (me, Robben, Mark, Mark Hummell, Clay Cotton, and Steve Ehrman) and he said he would love to do it. It was a great time and it opened some doors for Blue Rock’It. He knew there was little money in it for him but he wanted to do it. I still remember my eight year old daughter setting next to him on the couch reading a book as he and I worked on which songs to record.

 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Lowell Fulson?

As for Lowell, we did quite a few dates together over the years. Near the end of his life he did a few trips to Europe with the FBB and he was still giving it up. It was around this time I was making the “Fords and Friends” CD and asked him if he would sing this song I had written called Happy Anniversary Baby. I had written it for my wife for our 25th Anniversary. He was happy to do it, so I flew to LA where we overdubbed his vocal. I confess to writing a lot of words with funny phrasings and they gave him a bit of trouble. He was wonderful, working at it until we were both satisfied. He told me, “Pat we’ve got to get this right. This is for Sharon.”

I could tell story after to story about many of the great blues men. Many of them were great fun and some were down right mean. All in all I feel blessed to have lived the life I have.

 

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet?

Easy. Little Walter and Otis Spann. I know Walter may not have been a nice guy but I would love to have had the opportunity to get to know him. And, as for Otis, I would love to have just hung with him. To listen to him tell stories and hopefully play and sing with that special realness that his performances had.

 

Blue Rock'It - Official website

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