You may have never heard country-soul singer-songwriter Jim Ford, but youâ€™ve likely heard his songs, and youâ€™ve certainly heard his fans. Ford co-wrote P.J. Probyâ€™s hit single â€œNiki Hoeky,â€ 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 Fordâ€™s songs with his pub rock group Brinsley Schwarz and as a solo act. This 1969 debut was the only full-length release of Fordâ€™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. Burtonâ€™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 songâ€™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 & Bonnieâ€™s â€œLong Road Ahead,â€ and his move from New Orleans to California is essayed in the autobiographical â€œWorking My Way To LA.â€
Oddly, for an album by a songwriter, half the selections are covers, including Stevie Wonderâ€™s â€œI Wanna Make Her Love Me,â€ a swamp-boogie take on Willie Dixonâ€™s â€œSpoonful,â€ and a vocally strained rendition of Alex Harveyâ€™s â€œTo Make My Life Beautiful.â€ Fordâ€™s originals include the broken hearted road metaphors of â€œUnder Construction,â€ the emotionally satisfied â€œLove on My Brainâ€ and the not-too-subtle drug references of â€œDr. Handyâ€™s Dandy Candy.â€ 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 Californiaâ€™s Mendocino County, where he passed away in 2007. Bill Dahlâ€™s liner notes tell the story of Fordâ€™s career leading up to, through and following this album, and the booklet reproduces the albumâ€™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 youâ€™re new to Ford as a performer, this 1969 debut is the place to start. [Â©2018 Hyperbolium]