Robben Ford: The Missing Link Between Jazz and Blues

December 17, 2018


Image Credit: sophie le roux via Creative Commons liscense, some rights reseverved.


Dozens of guitar players could be cited as bringing new facets of excellence to the genre of blues music. But few have made the impact on the blues that Robben Ford has.


Why? What’s different about Robben Ford? For those of you who may not be familiar with Ford, he has been called the missing link between jazz and blues (at least that’s how guitarists in the circles I ran in categorized him).


I recall first hearing Robben Ford's guitar playing way back in the mid 90's when I used to hang out in a little local guitar shop. The owner used to have guitar instructional videos produced by the now defunct company REH playing on the T.V. There I saw for the first time the Robben Ford instructional video entitled Playin’ the Blues. Ford was teaching techniques not just for using the more familiar scales and chord progressions typical of the blues, he was implementing lots of ideas from the realm of jazz. I had never heard of Robben Ford before that, but I was immediately captivated by his playing. 


Ford's playing is heavily influenced by jazz saxophone. He even plays the saxophone, but the guitar is clearly his calling. He has played with musicians like Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and the L.A. Express, George Harrison, and Michael McDonald. Gigs like this helped propel his career forward and develop his musicianship, and since the late 80’s he’s maintained a successful solo career. Guitarists everywhere study his instructional videos and dissect his recordings to learn his secrets. 


So, why do I say that Ford is the missing link between jazz and blues? Well, as you likely know, jazz is built upon the blues. But few musicians have been able to blend the two in the utterly satisfying manner that Ford has, and this his signature. This makes his playing unmistakably unique. 


Robben Ford plays music that is distinctly and truly the blues, infused with the harmonic and melodic sophistication of jazz. Check out the recording entitled “Rugged Road” off of his album Handful of Blues linked below. The guitar solos (there are two of them) sound like something reminiscent of a straight ahead bee-bop record, and yet the tune is still unmistakably rooted in the blues.  


Ford isn’t just a guitar player with fancy chops; he’s a well-rounded musician. He writes many of the songs he performs, and he’s a strong vocalist. His seemingly gentle tenor is actually surprisingly well suited to his brand of the blues. He’s not just a guitarist who can kind of sing; his voice is as much a part of his signature sound as his guitar playing is.


If you're a fan of the blues, you owe it to yourself to check out some of Ford's music. 




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