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Interviews

Robben Ford: From the Soul

By Published: September 14, 2009
AAJ: When you first started your musical career, you were known for being an instrumentalist, but lately you've shifted gears a bit and added singing and songwriting to your vernacular. Had you always wanted to focus on these aspects of your music, or did the singing and songwriting happen naturally as your career developed?

Robben FordRF: Well, I started writing lyrics about fifteen years ago—that's when I really started to get serious about it. It's always been important for me to play my own music, and when I was younger, and an instrumentalist, I was writing instrumental music. It came out of a desire to first, make vocal music, and second, to make original music. I kind of started from scratch with songwriting, particularly from a lyrical point of view.

I saw an interview with the author of a book called the Tipping Point, where he talks about having to spend ten thousand hours to properly master something, and in the interview he said that those hours worked out to about ten years of focused work for most people. So, you know, about ten years in, I found myself writing some pretty good songs [laughs].

I have a lot more confidence in that area now, and I'm not afraid to get together with people who are better known, more famous, songwriters than I am. I feel like I can hang now. I recently co-wrote a song with Brad Paisley for his new CD ["Oh Yeah, You're Gone," from American Saturday Night (Arista, 2009)], which was the first time that someone of his fame and notoriety covered one of my songs. I'm really happy and excited about that.

AAJ: Is this something that you want to do more of in the future, write songs for other artists to sing and perform?

RF: Yeah, I'm definitely [into] doing that. I've made some very nice relationships in Nashville and have spent some real time there over the last couple of years. It's great, I really enjoy it.

AAJ: Apart from your originals there are a number of covers on Soul on Ten, including the famous blues tune "Spoonful." Out of all the blues tunes out there of this caliber what was it about "Spoonful" that spoke to you and made you feel that you wanted to include it on your new album?

RF: The first thing was finding an arrangement of that song that I liked, that felt good and that felt natural to me. Then, I could actually present that song. That's the big challenge when presenting a tune like that, that has been done in the past, specifically by Howlin' Wolf
Howlin' Wolf
Howlin' Wolf
1910 - 1976
vocalist
and later by Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
b.1945
guitar
with Cream. But, I've got a lot of nerve. I'll step out on a limb when the tune is right and I'm comfortable with it. I also needed a band that could pull it off because there are very, very few musicians out there who can really play the blues, especially drummers and bass players.

AAJ: Had you planned on adding this tune to your repertoire before you got the band together? Or did it come to mind once you started jamming together and you felt the overall vibe of the group?

RF: I've never really thought about recording it and I wouldn't have, except in a live context like this. That's where it made sense and that's another reason why I went ahead and did it.

Robben Ford / YellowjacketsAAJ: On two of the album's tracks, "Supernatural" and "There'll Never be Another You," you use your wah wah pedal to great effect. It seems like the wah is something that has fallen out of favor with guitarists these days, after being so popular in the '60s, '70s and even up to the end of the '80s. What is it about the wah that keeps it in your inventory of effects pedals?

RF: I've used a wah for years. In fact, I started using it before a lot of other people did. It's a very natural thing for the guitar—the Wah-Wah and guitar go together well—and it's just a very natural fit. I first started using it back when I played with Joni Mitchell, which was when I started using pedals. I wasn't naturally drawn to it because I listen to a lot of tenor saxophone players and guys like Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
. I'm really a jazz fan at heart.

At that time I was playing more like a saxophonist, before I joined that band, the L.A. Express. Within that context, I started using pedals for the first time. Then I moved away from them for awhile. I've always kept the volume pedal around and there's a fuzz station in my amp so I don't need a pedal for that. I'm not sure when I came back to the wah, but it's just always felt like a natural extension of the guitar for me.

AAJ: Speaking of saxophone players, you yourself started playing music as a saxophonist. Recently, guitarist Sonny Landreth
Sonny Landreth
Sonny Landreth
b.1951
guitar, slide
spoke about the effect that learning trumpet had on his guitar playing, especially in regards to phrasing, and he mentioned you as someone who he felt had a unique approach to phrasing because of your sax background. Can you comment on how your background with the saxophone has influenced your guitar playing?


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