Q&A with Chicago-based indigo artist Ivy Ford, an experience of music to soothe your soul & fill your heart

"So for me blues music and the people I've met in it make myself keep a sense of humility first off. Because at the end of the day, we're all people. Don't matter what race, creed color your are. We're human, we're people. So it teaches me to stay humble, grateful and I try to stay kind."

Ivy Ford: Kismet Blues in the Windy City

Known as The Blues Kitten, serving an experience of music to soothe your soul & fill your heart. Ivy Ford, singer, musician, entertainer. Waukegan born and raised, at 29 she is quite the up and coming artist of the Chicago blues and live music scene. Ivy Ford started performing live with Kenosha based band The Real Deal, managed by Steve Rainey at 13 and since then continues to nurture her niche and calling to the music. She plays piano, alto saxophone, drums, bass guitar and guitar which are primarily self-taught. In late 2012, Ford joined a local blues band which in time evolved into Ivy Ford and The Cadillacs and gained fair amounts of popularity. Fast forward two years and Ivy Ford has managed to take the Chicago scene by storm. In January, 2015 Ivy Ford opened for the legend, Buddy Guy at his club in Chicago and continues to share the stage with Chicago blues hall of famers, J.B. Ritchie, Joe Moss, Toronzo Cannon and Tom Holland. She fronts her very own band and besides obtaining the title of "Chicago's Blues Kitten," performs song selections from not just the blues genres but RnB and soul.

(Ivy Ford, 52nd Chicago Blues Festival, 2022 / Photo by Evelyne Balliner)

Aside from performing every weekend at both private and public event, clubs and venues, she is in the process of recording an unplugged album including originals. She's been apart of Buddy Guys Legends, Artist series and traveled to Minneapolis, MN to perform at Artspace's 2013 Celebration at the Cowle Theater. Ivy Ford has been featured in Buddy Guy's Blues and Music News, Lake County Magazine and Blues Guitar Expert's online forum. She's one of the leading "youngbloods" of blues and brings a refreshing yet classic face to the music. She formerly handled her cherry red, Epiphone-339 with as much confidence as any of the bluesmen today and can belt out notes to fill a room and serenade a phrase sweeter than sugar in ways that make anyone and everyone tune in to what she has to say. With her latest "Buddy Guy," polka dot stratocaster Ivy Ford, always respects the history and tradition of roots and blues music, while presenting it in a fresh, young and trendy way. In 'Harvesting My Roots' (2019), Ford's stories and songs are weaved from her real life trials, tribulations, achievements, fears and courage. She's always been proud of her work but this specific album is the first to truly hold a deep place in her heart, soul and being. Her latest album "Club 27" (2020) came from a place of necessity for Ivy Ford. The young musician, released this album on her very own 27th birthday and although magnifying this bittersweet trend of artists that have shaped our musical playlists even today leaving us too soon, Ford intends on breaking this cycle and closing that chapter of the club.  

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Afro-American music and what does the blues mean to you?

Being African American, I feel gives me an intrinsic and natural connection to blues music. It's innately apart of who I am and my family history which should be important to anyone. Knowing where you come from for me, is an important factor on where I find myself going in life and what I want to do. So, blues music is part of my DNA, really. I do enjoy performing, listening to and learning from a diverse collection of genres of music, but honestly I find majority if not all of it rooted or can be traced to blues and roots music.

How has the Blues music (and people of) influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Any genre of music is should tell a story, I think. Blues music is usually stories of real life that our full of real life problems and situations that everyday people can relate to example you have Little Walters, "Last night, I lost the best friend I ever had."

I mean I think we've all been there, losing love or companionship or friendship. So for me blues music and the people I've met in it make myself keep a sense of humility first off. Because at the end of the day, we're all people. Don't matter what race, creed color your are. We're human, we're people. So it teaches me to stay humble, grateful and I try to stay kind.

"Blues itself in it's current state and future state has young fans that genuinely appreciate and enjoy it. In my opinion, I think the biggest threat or disadvantage it has right now would be the "older generation," which mind you were young kids once too, imply that "todays kids," don't dig the blues. I say this lovingly, "Young folks do indeed enjoy blues." (Ivy Ford / Photo by Juergen Achten)

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

I think I have a lot of depth to both the actual sound of my voice, but also the figuratively a depth in my songwriting. I've always had a passion and 'kismet' with all music from being very very young, but I didn't start in purely blues and roots music. I'd listen to top 40 pop music of the times but then I remember hearing Billie Holiday sing "my man", I think I was 9 years old and then my mom raised me on Prince and Luther Vandross so that diversity naturally makes me approach and deliver blues music with many facets. And I am 29 now, a start performing blues very young so therefore I think I have a fresh yet still respectful relationship with blues. I'm very kindred to old delta blues and the Ma Rainey, Charlie Patton, Memphis Minnie and so on and so forth but strive for an electricity and mojo of like Muddy Waters, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Sugar Pie DeSanto so you throw all that into one frying pan, you're bound to come out with a stellar dish of music that not only satisfies you but is good for your insides too.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?

The biggest growth is experience and the knowledge and "know-how," that it brings. I've always had confidence and drive since day one and that's yet to change. I done most of my learning of musicianship and "chops," through playing, gigging and watching and learning from other musicians that I get the privilege to play with and be around. As time goes on I think I've found more liberty in not trying to fit inside a "box," of what people think I should do as well. The more I work and perform, it can't help but continue to be second nature to me.

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? How do you want the music to affect people?

I know musician's that are very savvy and skilled in strict techniques and musical theory and dedicate themselves to be able to execute even the slight nuances of music on paper. However when it comes to playing an original idea or improvising, they are not comfortable at all. On the opposite side of things, I know musicians and performers that can play but one note or two or three that strikes such emotion in a listener and that said musician may not know how to read one note of music. Both have their individual places and values, but when you can bring the two factors together in music I think is when you really can make some magic. It's not the only way, but definitely has an impact. Music should evoke emotion, much like any creative outlet. It should resonate with it's audience to make them feel something: good, bad or indifferent. When I perform and when people listen to my music, I want them to know WHO I am, how I made them feel and remember that about me. My favorite songs that I listen to are timeless because regardless of when they were recorded or perform or when I first heard them; listening to them even now, can take me to a certain place, time and memory of a moment or moments. That is how I was my music to affect people.

"I myself am multi-racial. My mom is Norwegian and Italian. My father is African-American. Contrary to some ignorant people’s thoughts, I feel exceptionally fortunate to be raised in so much diversity in my life. And with that being said I know if MY own music I've taken upon myself so represent the importance of equality for people." (Ivy Ford / Photo by PhotoJenic Photography)

What touched you from the "Club 27" (Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, "Pigpen", and many more artists)? What do you think is key to a life well lived?

The most iconic artists from the infamous "27 Club," inspired me. Again, I listen to all types of music and in turn I find that they can all relate to blues, roots etc. So, each artist spoke to me. I don't know all the answers to living the best life but for me key components are to first be lucky enough to know what makes you happy and brings you inner joy. Inner joy isn't something that you really to get from other people or situations all the time but it's what "makes you tick." What, at the end of each day is "yours," that no one can take away. Not necessarily music for everyone, but knowing that is the first step, I think. Everything after that I think, one should try and nurture that inner joy. Life is too short to be unhappy and not at least TRY and do what you love. It's not always easy, and I know personally it has it's ups and downs as cliché as that is, but it's true. So, try and surround yourself with what makes you happy. Don't let other people tear you down for what you love and care about, and if they do then "they gotta go."

My song "Time to Shine," has a line saying "Don't let no one do you dim, you can be your worst enemy but you can be your best friend." I truly mean that, if you find something in life that makes you smile even and it doesn't hurt anyone else, do not let someone take that away from you. And it's natural for us to be our own worst critic; I know all too well. But try to remember that we are allowed to love ourselves and be our own cheerleaders. We are allowed to be confident about ourselves.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I got my first experiences with live music at about 12 years old, my mom would take me to see this band in Kenosha, Wisconsin called, "Real Deal." The drummer and band leader, Steve 'Rainman' Rainey was and will always be my biggest influence in this business. He would let me sit in and sing a few songs from time to time (again I was only 12 or 13years old) and as time went on, he would "hire" me as a feature singer to do a few numbers. It was then that he gave me the most monumental advice for a band leader. You see at 12 years old, naturally I was a kid taught to respect your elders, so there was no way I was going to be "telling," the band "what to do." And that type of attitude did not get anyone very far, so one time at a rehearsal Steve stopped us and looked at me and said assertively but very constructively, "Ivy, you gotta' know what you're doing so you can let us know what we're (the band) is suppose to do. You are in the driver seat so know what you want and make sure you let us know." Still to this day, everytime I'm fronting a band whether it's my regular line up of musicians or with folks I've never played with in my life, I always think about what Steve told me at that rehearsal. PLUS I get a lot of compliments from my musical peers that praise me on how clear I am with leading band. They appreciate me being so direct on stage. If you're doing it right, as a bandleader, you're NOT being bossy, and there is a difference, you're doing your job.

And then naturally when I became 21 I started going down to Chicago every now and then to see music in which I met "important" folks that gave me opportunities which led me to my first ever show in Chicago at Buddy Guys Legends opening for Buddy Guy.

"Being African American, I feel gives me an intrinsic and natural connection to blues music. It's innately apart of who I am and my family history which should be important to anyone. Knowing where you come from for me, is an important factor on where I find myself going in life and what I want to do. So, blues music is part of my DNA, really. I do enjoy performing, listening to and learning from a diverse collection of genres of music, but honestly I find majority if not all of it rooted or can be traced to blues and roots music." (Ivy Ford / Photo by Jean-Michel Rock 'n' Blues)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?  

Oh boy, there's many experiences that I don't even know where to begin. However, there was one earlier this year; I had a show at Legends and Buddy was off the road for a while so naturally he had come to the club for a visit. He ended up joining my band and myself on stage and sat in with us. I'm proud to say this had become a regular occurrence when he is in town. However this night when we went on break I was standing a the bar chatting it up when all of a sudden I felt someone wrap their arm 'round my waste, and you know I'm used to being out in public a lot so I thought maybe it was just a new fan from the night that felt an impulse to be extra friendly but then I turned around. It was "Buddy Guy," grinning from ear to ear and he said to me "Girl, they all wanted me to get up on stage with ya but it took me a while because, I was scared. I can't do all that dancing and mule kicking like you do."

I think it's safe to say, I was on cloud 9. It's one thing to even get a few moments to talk to a legend like that but then to be appreciated, complimented and then some? by THE Buddy Guy? ...no words.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don't know if it's just blues but I do feel like "open jams," these days have lost their value a bit. Nowadays it seems there's an open jam EVERYwhere OR venues think that having an open jam, which is much cheaper to pay for than an actual professional band, is just as good and therefore can make it harder for rehearsed, truly skilled at their craft and professional musician to get work and be paid their respectable wage.

Also, open jams used to be more exclusive meaning that as a musician you were not ENTITLED to get a chance to play on stage and jam. You best know someone in the venue that knows you or of you can vouch that you have enough chops to at least hang in a 3-4 song jam set. Today, from my experience, open jams run on the list system and anyone that walks in with an instrument and gets their name on the list automatically plays no matter what, which well to put it nicely CAN be a train wreck and sure is NOT enjoyable for the patrons of the establishment and the other jammers to listen to. When I first was going to jams, you were held to a much higher standard I think which I'm grateful for because it forced me to always raise my personal performance bar very high 24/7.

"I think I have a lot of depth to both the actual sound of my voice, but also the figuratively a depth in my songwriting. I've always had a passion and 'kismet' with all music from being very very young, but I didn't start in purely blues and roots music." (Ivy Ford / Photo by Paul Jahasse)

If you could change one thing in the Blues world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

There have been a lot of renowned blues performers and I think most of the time they don't get their proper credit and respect until they can no longer perform before BECAUSE of old age, ailments or death and they're not with us anymore. I think that a lot of blues performers get more praise and fandom because it's like, "can you believe how old they are and their still 'kickin'?" or after an unforeseen circumstance  like a stroke or accident happens and then that artist is "put out of commission," then all of a sudden their noticed. Go support and buy the CD's, concert tickets etc. out of the demand to appreciate their work as a fabulous musician and performer and not just out of pity or you feel it would make you feel better to "send flowers to the funeral."

What would you say characterizes Chicago Blues in comparison to other local blues scenes?

I know even using the term "Chicago Blues," is debatable in its "correctness," HOWEVER I do feel there's a certain magic "pulse" that musicians from the Chicago circuit have. I think it's a showmanship and niche to entertain in all facets and not just play a song well. And when I personally refer to Chicago Blues, THAT'S what I mean. Some call it "cut-throat," but really, it's a high-standard and high expectations the Chicago-Blues community holds and I personally think that's healthy. If you don't have the drive and hunger to be exceptional, I think you might want to re-think some things.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Honestly, I don't know if there's been a whole lot of those themes in today blues so I don't know if I have too many comments on that. I don't want to sound like I'm completely deaf to it because I know it does exist but more so, that thing about how I said I think Blues music is a strong reminder to folks that we are all people. And are very similar in a lot of ways than we are different. At least that's how I like to think of it.

I myself am multi-racial. My mom is Norwegian and Italian. My father is African-American. Contrary to some ignorant people’s thoughts, I feel exceptionally fortunate to be raised in so much diversity in my life. And with that being said I know if MY own music I've taken upon myself so represent the importance of equality for people. My song "When Does It All End," from "Harvesting My Roots," album is an example of that.

"Any genre of music is should tell a story, I think. Blues music is usually stories of real life that our full of real life problems and situations that everyday people can relate to example you have Little Walters, "Last night, I lost the best friend I ever had." (Ivy Ford & John Primer / Photo by Christophe Mourot)

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

I get asked this all the time and yes, it's true this industry is very men driven. But then again when was that something new? Don't get me wrong they're are plenty of women in the business that strive and thrive and do very well. I consider myself one of them actually. Maybe I have a different perspective on things or really have made myself oblivious to obvious discrimination but I've yet to be in too many dyer situations where I was not taken seriously or respected because I'm a woman. And it's one thing to be a singer and frontwoman but when you add on not only playing an instrument but in my case and others as well the lead guitarist; yeah, some men can get their britches a little twisted. And actually, I just remembered there was a time a man tried to shaft me, and really it was not only because of my gender but age too. I was about 18 years old and I was hired in a band to be a backup singer and keyboard player. Long story short, I had gotten an electric guitar for my birthday, now that doesn't mean I really knew how to play it but I did teach myself a few simple chords and the band and I had a gig coming up where I wanted to try and play some rhythm guitar for a song or two. Well needless to say that lead guitar at the time did NOT like that too much and had no reservations letting me know his opinions on the matter after that gig.

I was very lucky at the time the rest of the bandmates did not share his same views and they voted him out and me in and that was when my first own band came about, "Ivy Ford and the Cadillacs." So yeah the discrimination happens I've had my own share but honestly, I just don't let it get to me.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

You promote what you permit. If you always say "yes," to everything even if it's subpar, from what you deserve, then you perpetuate that mindset and probably will not propel forward. With that being said, it's very important to "know what you want." Whether that be, how much you want to be paid for your talents, what direction you want to move in your career if so and/or what's your big goal in life. Because if you don't know, then it leaves opportunity for "others," to try to convince and tell you "what you want," which could lead to a slippery slope of doubts and regrets. It's okay to say, "no," to things. Don't be afraid to stand your ground, and that's with anything. I have found from experience; I've never had second thoughts whenever I'm implemented these practices.

How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

I consider myself through and through that same person I am "on and off stage." So, I can't I have an exact process of preparation for performances per se. Naturally when recording new music, there are rehearsals involved to learn material and what not, however when it comes to live performances, I feel very lucky that the "magic," and "new tricks," present themselves so organically in the moment. Of course, it helps a great amount that I perform with very talented musicians and supportive rhythm sections that allow me to "stretch out," a bit. But the spiritual side of things, I don't think I ever "turn off," because music and of course my original music is so personal to me, it is who I am. I don't have an on and off switch for that.

"I myself am multi-racial. My mom is Norwegian and Italian. My father is African-American. Contrary to some ignorant people’s thoughts, I feel exceptionally fortunate to be raised in so much diversity in my life. And with that being said I know if MY own music I've taken upon myself so represent the importance of equality for people. My song "When Does It All End," from "Harvesting My Roots," album is an example of that." (Ivy Ford / Photo by Guillaume Guerin)

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

Music to me is an outlet. It's a social outlet from one person to another that should describer or express life and it's trials tribulations. Music celebrates love, hope happy experiences and can coddle hardships and heartbreak. It's an intimate entity that comes from one human being to another which forms a relationship: whether it be just for the duration of say a 90-minute concert or the duration of a lifetime of a fan. And it can be subjective thus one listener and perceive a song lyric or meaning differently from another but it's still an experience. It's a life experience that may or may not differ from others around you, but it still exists and in that, human connection exists...life exists.

Do you think there is an audience for blurs music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Absolutely. Contrary to the belief of blues music’s more "mature," audiences, young people have a deep respect for blues music. And I'm talking about from Robert Johnson, to Muddy Waters, to Buddy Guy, to Mama Thornton and Junior Wells, so on and so forth. Honestly, I have a growing resentment when people imply that blues lovers are just, "old people." I myself start PERFORMING blues and jazz and roots when I was 11, 12, 13 years old. I am 30 years old now and I meet not only fans younger than me but other musicians half my age now that show so much enthusiasm and promise about blues music, it's history and traditions.

Blues itself in it's current state and future state has young fans that genuinely appreciate and enjoy it. In my opinion, I think the biggest threat or disadvantage it has right now would be the "older generation," which mind you were young kids once too, imply that "todays kids," don't dig the blues. I say this lovingly, "Young folks do indeed enjoy blues."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day? 

I've yet to travel down to the delta and spend time where I could really submerge myself in the community, culture and essence of it. I've always been very kindred to old blues and jazz and the delta so I feel it would really be a personally enriching experience for myself. I think it would nourish my soul and spirit with things I probably didn't even know I needed which in turn would enrich my craft, my music, my writing. I have a lot of things on my bucket list I'm sure, so hopefully I will make the desire to go down to the delta a reality sooner than later.

Ivy Ford - Home

(Ivy Ford / Photo by Howard Greenblatt)

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