The legendary Mississippi blues guitarist T-Model Ford died Tuesday according to AP reports; his age was uncertain. We remember him with a rollicking session from KEXP.
While in Chicago for KEXP's coverage of the Pitchfork Music Festival, we held our annual takeover of Engine Studios, where we invite local bands and artists to come in and perform. Imagine my surprise when the legendary T-Model Ford happened to be playing in Chicago the night before. His backing band, GravelRoad, came from Seattle, so we had a connection and were able to make the in-studio appearance happen.
I'd been warned that the blues master was somewhere around 80 and not predictable in the least. He might play one song and quit, talk and play for hours, or do any number of things in between. This is a man who's played the blues for many years, who's seen about all the life you could see, and who spent years on a chain gang for killing a man. Naturally, I wondered how to show the man and his band the proper respect, so the second he showed up, I told him he had free license to play what he liked, for as long as he liked; that's just what he and the band did.
Watching them play, I quickly realized that there was no plan and no set list — just T-Model Ford starting a jam and the band joining in. Before, after and during the set, he would yell, "Jack Daniel time!" and back it up with a swig or two from his flask.
It was striking just how much joy he and his band derived from playing. Here they were with little sleep, having performed for hours the night before, and playing their hearts out in a recording studio the next afternoon. It was a true joy to be witness to a stripe of blues music that's nearly gone, knowing that the words he sung were the words he lived. It was one of the greatest highlights of my radio life to sit there and take it all in — just T-Model Ford in the studio, bringing his blues to the people. It was a refreshing and raw session.
Originally recorded July 17, 2008. Engineered by Kevin Suggs.