In early August 2008, it was announced (via his record label) that Ford’s new record would be available online and in stores on September 23, 2008. Entitled Marc Ford And The Neptune Blues Club the record features entirely new material performed by the newest incarnation of Ford’s band (himself on guitars and vocals, Mike Malone on keyboards and vocals, Anthony Arvisu on drums, Bill Barrett on harmonica and John Bazz on upright bass).
Most recently Marc Ford has been playing lead guitar at the Vineyard Community Church in Laguna Niguel, California for Chris Lizotte, worship pastor and accomplished Christian recording artist. He is currently in post production of a Vineyard Music album.
As a musician, learning when to lay back always came naturally for Ford; his deliberate touch with a guitar is a trademark. His muted demeanor and detached gaze belie his tenacity, however, and Ford’s searing licks and soul-jarring solos are often compared to those of Hendrix, Clapton, Allman, and Page. Few guitarists radiate such composure and dexterity on stage as Ford, and presumably it was that combination that caught the attention of Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes when Ford’s former band, Burning Tree, opened for them in 1990.
“All I knew was, they made a big, loud sound, they were on the move, and the singer was badass!” Ford says. Soon Robinson was inviting Ford out to jam during the Crowes’ sets. “Looking back, it was just a long courting,” Ford remembers. “We were fans of each other’s records.” He recalls his first time hearing $hake Your Money Maker. “When I first put that CD in, I was driving, and I actually stopped the car! I was like, ‘Oh my God, listen to that guy sing! He sings like I play guitar!’” Ford says. It wasn’t long before he was asked to join the band, and the impact was immediate.
Ford and the Crowes would go on to tour the globe and sell millions of albums as arguably the most potent and relevant rock n roll band of the last two decades with such landmark releases as The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, Amorica, and Three Snakes and One Charm. Ford was heralded by fans and critics alike as a catalyst for the Crowes’ emergence on the jamband scene of the mid 90’s, a scene that garnered the band, and Ford, a cult-like following that still exists to this day.
Inevitably, the atmospheric highs of rock n roll stardom began to give way to a haze of indifference during his last couple of years in the band. “I wasn’t there anymore spiritually or mentally,” Ford says. “It had to be pretty obvious that I just didn’t care. I didn’t even feel like playing guitar anymore.” Immediately after headlining the Furthur Festival in 1997, Ford left the Black Crowes after six years in a split that seemed irrevocable.
He emerged less than two years later with a new project in hand called Federale, but their deal with Interscope fell through after the label downsized. “We were the last band without a contract,” Ford recalls. “They said, ‘Great songs, guys, but we need a new Limp Bizkit!’” As Ford puts it, “That was the end of that.”
In 2000, Ford formed Blue Floyd with the late Allen Woody of Gov’t Mule, a project that initially started as a way for two friends to get together and play music. “In ‘96 we [the Crowes] did a tour with Gov’t Mule, and Woody and I became pretty tight,” Ford says. “He always wanted to play guitar with me, so we thought we’d come up with some Pink Floyd songs and put ‘em in a blues situation. That was the whole reason we put that band together.”
What started out as an excuse to jam escalated quickly with the addition of drummer Matt Abts, keyboardist Johnny Neel, and bassist Berry Oakley, Jr. Blue Floyd’s shows became notorious for their spontaneity, epic length and psychedelic jams, often melting minds with gigs well in excess of three hours. After nearly two years and the death of Allen Woody, however, Blue Floyd had run its course. “It was a cover band,” Ford admits, “but it ended up being some pretty heavy cats. Allen Woody was such a great guy.”
In the five years since leaving the Crowes, Ford wrote the songs that would eventually become his first solo album, 2002’s It’s About Time. It found him somewhat at a crossroads, however, as Ford made an attempt to downplay his celebrated guitarist persona for the first time ever in his career. “At that time, I figured everybody knew who I was and that I could play the guitar,” he says. “I had done that for six years [in the Crowes], so after I left I had these songs I was working on, and all I really wanted to do was focus on them.”
The result was a spirited but still grounded effort that showcased Ford’s surprising depth and diversity as an organic songwriter, allowing influences such as country-rock pioneers Neil Young and The Band to shine through. The album included guest spots by many of Ford’s friends, including Allen Woody and Matt Abts of Gov’t Mule, Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, Lenny Kravitz’s guitarist Craig Ross, and Ben Harper, among others.
Harper would prove to be an important friendship, and Ford decided to shelve his touring band, the Sinners, in order to accept an offer as lead guitarist in Harper’s band, the Innocent Criminals, for their worldwide tour in 2003. The tour was an overwhelming success, as documented on the DVD Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and Ford soon found himself collaborating in the studio with Ben Harper and the Five Blind Boys Of Alabama on the gospel-blues project There Will Be a Light. The album won a Grammy in 2005 for “Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album,” as well as an NAACP award, an irony not lost on Ford. “Not too many white folks have one of those!” he chuckles proudly.
What happened next shocked both Ford and his fans. “It was the last thing, the very last thing on my mind,” Ford says of the call he got to rejoin the Black Crowes, who had been on indefinite hiatus. “We had a meeting, all the right things were said, apologies were made,” he offers. “The music was always fantastic, so I figured why not? If it’s no good, then it’s no good, but if it’s great, then it’s GREAT!” And with that, the Black Crowes were back.
Ford and the Crowes connected on stage as if in a dream, immediately embarking on the ‘All Join Hands’ tour in the spring of 2005. The shows were universally regarded as a triumphant return to form, and five electrifying nights at the Fillmore in San Francisco were recorded that summer and released as the Crowes’ first live concert DVD Freak ‘n’ Roll… Into the Fog. As the band toured almost continuously for the next year, Ford realized his newly found sobriety, an issue for the guitarist his entire career, was slowly being jeopardized by the incessant touring. And, just like a dream, one must eventually wake up, and Ford played his last show with the Crowes at awe-inspiring Red Rocks Amphiteater in the summer of 2006.
With clean mind and body intact, Ford recruited former Burning Tree bandmates Mark “Muddy” Dutton and Doni Gray to begin work on Weary and Wired, his long overdue follow-up to 2002’s It’s About Time. While his first release focused more on his emergence as a songwriter, Weary and Wired solidifies Ford’s status as one of rock n roll’s premier guitarists, in case anyone had forgotten. “It swings a little like the Crowes,” he says, but the ragged and jagged riffs that pepper the album like a shotgun blast are signature Marc Ford. The country nuances of It’s About Time are nowhere to be found, and Ford certainly sounds more wired than he does weary. “It definitely has a spirit to it,” he admits. “It feels like a band playing live in a room,” which is exactly how most of the album was recorded, he points out.
“I’ve been sober for a while now and playing my ass off, totally focused, and stronger than ever,” Ford reveals. “I came to the realization not too long ago that every bit of my identity was wrapped up in being a guitar player, so my identity went up and down with the gigs that I got,” Ford notes. “Finally I realized, I don’t even have to play guitar if I don’t want to, because then that way, it’s not trapping me and I’m not a slave to it - it’s just something I do. I can take that energy I put into music and put it anywhere I want to!”
Part of that energy went into producing, another talent for which he is quickly becoming known. Ford recently produced albums for the Pawnshop Kings and Ryan Bingham, and has generated quite a waiting list if he decides to devote more time behind the board. Fortunately for his fans, though, Weary and Wired is where his energy is focused these days.
Ford returns to a definitive theme in our conversations. “I don’t play rock music. It’s rock and roll,” he clarifies. “The roll is where the blues is at, the gospel, the swing. It’s the feel.”
Call it what you will, it’s distinctly Marc Ford.
Edited by eelco_maaike on 22 Nov 2008, 13:11
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