A good chunk of the words traveling from T. Model Ford's mouth are absolutely indecipherable. It's not the cell phone; it's the Mississippi accent, the advanced age and the muttering tendencies. He doesn't converse about pedestrian things. The only thing that comes out of Ford's mouth loud and clear is:
"I love the ladies. Wooeee, do I love the ladies! Yes I do."
Apparently a high-heeled looker is passing through the hotel lobby.
"Even the white ones," he adds.
James Louis Carter Ford-most commonly known as T. Model Ford in musical and familial circles-says he ain't worried 'bout making no livin' from music. He's just out here to live the musician's life, live his life, live the only life that an 82-year-old man has left.
Screw the bullshit in between-it's the ladies he's worried about.
Ford is an old black bluesman from the middle of Mudflapippi. That's four music-industry counts against a guy that doesn't need any more counts against him. He has 26 children with infinite women. He's been to jail and he tells a mighty story of the 1950s chain gangs. He cannot read. He cannot write. It's no wonder that American teens aren't hopping all over his johnson for an autograph.
But Fat Possum Records scoops up guys like Ford as a habit. Fat Possum audiences embrace the impurity of Ford and the rest of the label's jivers as a bonus, and label founder Matthew Johnson would say it's because folks are looking for an antidote to the sterile faces of mainstream blues and the refined rules of old-timer purists.
The Fat Possum Juke Joint Caravan tour sounds heavenly in the rawest, basest sort of way. Only at Fat Possum would the label's chief performers, Ford and R.L. Burnside, both be well past retirement age-and convicted killers.
Fat Possum, recently recovering from a dissolved distribution deal with L.A. punk label Epitaph, still carries the little-man mentality of a business out of Oxford, Miss. that makes the old- black-dude blues that young white guys groove to. They take their little-man-that-could morality far-they'll say, "Old times here are not forgotten," or "Return your records within 30 days if you are not completely satisfied and we will refund you in full, no questions asked"-and they're back on their feet and punchin' their timecards again this summer. In the West, where T. Model says he don't remember ever visitin'.
"I ain't never been to California," he drawls. "Where we right now? Ayes, Boulder, in-a Colorado that is. Yes."
He ain't worried about no traveling. It's the ladies he's worried about. Which may explain why he's visiting Pacific Beach with his Fat Possum label mates instead of the well-trodden confines of 4th & B or The Casbah or any other local haunt that would offer the security that God knows a bluesman needs.
But the teeny-weeny Blind Melons it is. The same stage that wrangles karaoke participants and boasts local newbies the other six days of the week. It's not flashy. It's not huge. It's a sensible stage with a genuine crowd. Just like Ford and his kindred touring spirits.
"I din't learn to play that gee-tar till I was done past 58 years old. Now I ain't read o' write, but damn if I can't play gee-tar," Ford says. "My late wife, she's, uh, passed on, she, uh, bought me a gee-tar and an amplifier for my birthday and she done says, she yells to me when I's gets home, "You seen yo present?!'
"And I says, "What present?' And she show me in the corner a box and I say, "What you spending my money on that fo'?! I don' know how to play no damn gee-tar!'"
He learned and ended up in the company of Junior Kimbrough, Solomon Burke and the Black Keys at Fat Possum where the for-real, dirt-bucket blues make everyday life seem so very trivial. They're not writing tunes about heroin hookups or suicidal tendencies or their phat ride pimpin' in their $4 million garage. These guys write jump-jive, boogie groove hill-country blues about workin' in the fields, downin' a 12-pack or losin' their woman.
It's a simple, refreshing, visceral vibe that goes down a lot easier for their cult-frenzied fans than a pop song about a roller-rink love affair. And for these boys, playing the blues comes as natural as driving a pickup or going to work.
So Johnson sent out the Juke Joint Caravan to help package his bluesman brand-with Cedric Burnside, Kenny Brown, Paul "Wine" Jones, Spam and Ford-before his bluesmen punt the pail or go back to jail.
"I do like this touring and makin' music," Ford says. "But don' you start thinkin' that it be important to me, ya hear? It ain't.
"The womens. That's what important. You write that down."©
T. Model Ford and the Fat Possum Juke Joint Caravan play the blues and look for womens at Blind Melons on May 27. 858-483-7844