Concert Preview: Robben Ford's Flavorful Guitar Stylings On Tap At Playhouse
RIDGEFIELD - The name Robben Ford may not instantly ring a bell for music fans, but his strong credentials include a who's who of artists who have sought out his guitar playing skills and easy-to-work-with demeanor, which became instantly evident during a call to The Newtown BeeThe Ridgefield Playhouse. ahead of a May 10 concert atÃÂ
Ford himself expressed great enthusiasm and urged concertgoers to arrive in time to catch his opening act, Iceland's own guitar phenomÃÂ BjÃÂ¶ssi Thor, who is performing with Nashville-basedÃÂ vocalist Mackenzie Wasner.
Among Ford's prestigious list of collaborators are the likes ofÃÂ Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, Miles Davis, George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Bob Dylan, John Mayall, Greg Allman, John Scofield, Susan Tedeschi, Keb' Mo', Larry Carlton, Mavis Staples, and Brad Paisley. In addition, heÃÂ is a five-time Grammy Award nomineeÃÂ with more than 35 albums under his own name and with his various bands, including Tom Scott & The L.A. Express, and the Yellowjackets.
HeÃÂ he even contributed lead guitar to Kiss's Creatures of the NightÃÂ album.
Ford'sÃÂ latest release,ÃÂ Into The Sun, came out in March 2015 and debuted at number twoÃÂ on the Billboard Blues Chart. It featuresÃÂ Warren Haynes, Keb' Mo', Robert Randolph, ZZ Ward, Sonny Landreth, and Tyler Bryant.
Ford says he also likes to give back to fledgling and experienced guitarists alike, offering musical education clinics online and in person through a growing enterprise called Robben's Guitar Dojo, and through TrueFire music courses.
Ford said he and his band have been featuring material from his new project on the current tour.
"There is a variety of things from the previous few records that we throw in there, and even a few oldies," he said. "But I always like concentrating on my latest music, not just for myself, but for the band. It's much more of a pleasure to play newer things. But there are a couple of even newer things I'm going to bring to this set at Ridgefield. I've been doing some writing recently, so I'm going to take this opportunity to bring in some material nobody has heard before."
The veteran guitarist shuns making recordings of concerts so he can self-analyze his performances.
"No, I'm one of those people who likes to go out there and play, and let it be," he said.
Anyone looking up Ford's material - especially his live sets on the web - can instantly identify aÃÂ deceivingly easy, almost effortless playing style along with hisÃÂ amazingly accessible and pleasantÃÂ vocals.
"You've really hit it on the head," he said. "I certainly try to make my music flavorful so the audience experiences a variety of things over the course of an evening - the dynamics, the sound, feeling, attitude - I like it to be a very holistic experience," he added, saying that the complexity of some of his arrangements is masked by a relaxed demeanor.
"It's a part of the whole thing to relax into what you're doing, even though what you are doing is very intense," he said.
For any guitarist trying to catch Ford's special lightning in a bottle, they can access his "Guitar Dojo," and Truefire interactive videos atÃÂ robbenford.com. And those who might like a total immersion experience can take advantage of that as well.
"We have the 'Traveling Guitar Dojo Camp,' which I do in the Catskills in late summer with two other guitarists," he said.
Touring and support mateÃÂ BjÃÂ¶ssi Thor first met Ford during a guitar festival in Iceland.
"After we played, he was taking me back to the airport and we got to talking about our futureÃÂ plans," Ford recalled. "I told him I wanted to start getting into producing records more, and he said, 'I'm going to make a record, would you like to produce it?' and I said yes. And I encouraged him to use a vocalist in the recording and we brought inÃÂ Mackenzie Wasner. The record is vocal music, which was a challenge for him because he's primarily an instrumental player. I call it an Americana record with a dose of Iceland sprinkled on top of it."
Conversation turned to a couple of the most famous musicians who tapped Ford's talents over the many years he has been active in the session field. So what is it like getting the call from Miles Davis?
"It was certainly a shock, and Miles was kind of in the air at that time for me, not just because I had listened to him devotedly my entire life, but because I had just moved to New York, I had just finished his autobiography by Quincy Troupe, and I'd run into Mike Stern at a jazz club and we ended up talking about Miles together for much of the evening," Ford recalled.
Some time later, Ford got a call from a colleague who said Miles Davis was looking for a guitar player to sit in on his recording for the album Tutu, and he couldn't say yes fast enough.
"Three days went by and every time the phone rang I was thinking it would be Miles Davis," he said, "and eventually it was."
Putting on a gravelly impersonation, Ford recalled that brief but professionally potent chat.
"He said, 'Robben, what 'cha doin' out there? You wanna play with me?' Of course I said yes. Once we got into the sessions, I quickly found out that he certainly wanted you to know the music, and he wanted you to be on your toes," Ford said. "He would cue things a lot. And rather than traditional melodies, he'd play a melody and just vamp. And then he's look over at you and you'd come back around to the melody again."
Ford said the Davis sessions demanded every ounce of concentration he could sustain.
"I mean, he'd look at you and just say 'hit it,' and you'd have to play with such a high degree of intensityÃÂ from the get go - and you were sort of playing all out at all times. It didn't seem you could build a solo naturally. The demand for intensity was very high," he said. "And Miles would let you just play and play and play, like it would never end. So you'd have to take it to a higher level, and a higher level, and then suddenly he'd just start playing again and you just stop."
Turning to his work with Joni Mitchell, Ford said his work in studio on The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and touring and recording live on Miles of Aisles, gave him an opportunity to see what an unbelievable and well-rounded talent she brought toÃÂ every facet of her artistry.
"She composed all the music, but it was taken down by Tom Scott, who I was working with in the L.A. Express. And heÃÂ would notate the tracks," Ford said. "He didn't really change Joni's work in any way. Whatever she laid down that was it. But from there Tom would bring other instruments in. And she would direct them, but he would facilitate that. That's not to say the musicians were not involved, it was very collaborative. I give them all a lot of credit."
After working with Mitchell and getting to know her abilities in that environment, he put his stampÃÂ on the Miles of Aisles tour, which became Mitchell's first live album, which also included the white hot skills ofÃÂ Scott, Russ Ferrante on keys, Larry Nash on piano, Max Bennett on bass, and John Guerin handling drums and percussion.
For tickets ($38), call the Playhouse box office at 203-438-5795 or visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a nonprofit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street.
Ticket holders are invited to visit Southwest Cafe (109 Danbury Road) forÃÂ a complimentary margarita with any entree when they show their ticket to the show.
Check out Robben Ford jammingÃÂ "Up the Line" ÃÂ with Jeff McErlain:
Robben Ford performsÃÂ "Birds Nest Bound" live at the 2016 Dallas International Guitar Show