Jim Ford: Harlan County

Your favorite’s favorite country-soul singer-songwriter

You may have never heard country-soul singer-songwriter Jim Ford, but you’ve likely heard his songs, and you’ve certainly heard his fans. Ford co-wrote P.J. Proby’s hit single “Niki Hoeky,” an album for the Temptations, and songs recorded by Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Bobbie Gentry, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. The latter named Ford as his biggest musical influence, and recorded Ford’s songs with his pub rock group Brinsley Schwarz and as a solo act. This 1969 debut was the only full-length release of Ford’s lifetime, which also included singles, unreleased albums for Capitol and Paramount, and a wealth of session tracks that slowly found their way out of the tape vault.

Recorded in Los Angeles with support from James Burton, Dr. John, Jim Keltner and Pat and Lolly Vegas, Ford laid down an unusual mix of funk, soul, country and swamp pop. Burton’s guitar figures combine with soulful backing vocals, horns and strings, to create an album that sounds as if it could have just as easily been recorded in Memphis as in Southern California. The title track looks back at the poverty and back breaking work from which Ford ran away as a teenager. The song’s breakdowns into hymn contrast with full throated pleas for relief, as Ford recounts the sort of living that wears a man down by his early twenties. His early years inform his recording of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Long Road Ahead,” and his move from New Orleans to California is essayed in the autobiographical “Working My Way To LA.”

Oddly, for an album by a songwriter, half the selections are covers, including Stevie Wonder’s “I Wanna Make Her Love Me,” a swamp-boogie take on Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” and a vocally strained rendition of Alex Harvey’s “To Make My Life Beautiful.” Ford’s originals include the broken hearted road metaphors of “Under Construction,” the emotionally satisfied “Love on My Brain” and the not-too-subtle drug references of “Dr. Handy’s Dandy Candy.” None of this made an impression on radio programmers or record buyers, and the album quickly disappeared. Ford eventually made his way to England where sessions with Brinsley Schwarz and the Grease Band failed to generate releases, and additional masters recorded for Paramount were shelved.

Ford drifted into partying and out of the music industry, eventually ending up in Northern California’s Mendocino County, where he passed away in 2007. Bill Dahl’s liner notes tell the story of Ford’s career leading up to, through and following this album, and the booklet reproduces the album’s front and back cover art. The original ten tracks have been reissued several times on vinyl and CD, including a 2014 release by Varese, and an expanded 2013 edition by Bear Family. Additional volumes [1 2 3 4] of previously unreleased material have also been issued, but if you’re new to Ford as a performer, this 1969 debut is the place to start. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.