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Robben Ford & The Blue Line

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In the 1960s, long before pop artists were backed by the generic, computer-based accompaniment that is commonplace today, singers often recorded with formidable house bands, including Booker T. & the MG’s and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The former band came together at Stax records in Memphis, laying down timeless grooves on hits by artists like Otis Redding, Albert King, and Carla Thomas. The latter group—based in Muscle Shoals, as well as New York and Nashville—enhanced such classic tracks as Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” and Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.”

Growing up in the ’60s, a teenaged Robben Ford spent countless hours listening to artists like Aretha and Otis, at the same time soaking in guitar blues from Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King. In his early 20s, Ford went on to join blues luminary Jimmy Witherspoon’s band. But soon, Ford experienced a diversion from the genre. In 1974, the guitarist was discovered by saxophonist Tom Scott, whose progressive fusion group, L.A. Express, then teamed up with Joni Mitchell to support her Court and Spark tour and play on two of her albums (1974’s Miles of Isles and 1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawn).

Today, possessing a résumé that includes stints with an impressively broad range of other musical personalities—Miles Davis, George Harrison, Little Feat, and the Yellowjackets, among many others—Ford has demonstrated an uncanny adaptability similar to that of the MG’s and the Muscle Shoals group.

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