Concert Review – Robben Ford

Some of you will know Ford’s work, for some this may serve as an introduction. I had been planning to write about him and lo and behold he showed up at a couple of venues in the area. He has a long history of playing, much of it as a sideman. I’ll give you some history first then talk about the show…

Robben Ford is an ace guitarist from California who hit the scene back in the late ’60’s playing with his and his brothers’ band, the Charles Ford band. (Named for their father.) They were hired to play for blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite but it’s not clear whether or not they recorded together.

While Robben didn’t play a lot of straight Chicago-style blues the night I saw him, if you’re a blues lover you just gotta hear this jumpin’ tune from the early ’70’s by him and his brothers. It’s called “Gibson Street Shuffle.” That’s his brother Mark blowin’ the harp. The walking bass is guy named Stan Poplin who near as I can tell is still doing it on the West Coast.

Spotify link

Even though his first guitar hero was Mike Bloomfield, Robben is by no means only a bluesman. In fact, in the early ’70’s when fusion was king, he joined Tom Scott and the LA Express, replacing virtuoso guitarist Larry Carlton. That version of the band played on Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns and her live Miles of Aisles.

Just to give you some idea of Ford’s versatility, in 1982 he played his heaviest metal on a Kiss album called Creatures of the Night and then in 1986, he was recommended to play with Miles Davis. He was scared shitless. If you have five or so minutes, his Miles story is pretty entertaining to hear.

And just for fun here’s Robben playing with Miles’ band in, I think, Europe. Robben kicks in at around 2:50 and it’s smokin’ hot.

I saw Robben at a New Hampshire club called Tupelo Music Hall, same place where I recently saw Stanley Clarke and Al di Meola. This was a last-minute thing for me because I found out maybe one or two nights prior. I wound up sitting at a table with a bunch of Ford fanatics who were having a hell of a time. They apologized for their rowdiness (mild) but I thought they were pretty funny.

Interestingly. Robben didn’t do too much blues. His sound was jazzier and he actually does a fair amount of singing. I think he and the band stretched out on two long instrumentals and his style is very reminiscent of the type of playing on Steely Dan’s later albums. (As it happens, he never played on any of the Dan’s albums and his – and a lot of other players’ – solo didn’t make the cut on “Peg.”)

His playing is terrific – fluid, melodic and creative. I didn’t record anything that night so I’m digging stuff up on the Internet. This version of the band will have an album out in August. So we’ll go with this blues called “Good Times.”

Anyway, excellent show and if I have any (minor) complaint it could have been a little longer. I think they played for 75 minutes or so plus a couple songs for the encore. Andfor me, a little less singing and a little more playing.

The band is Robben Ford, Guitar & Vocals, Ryan Madora, Bass, Derrek Phillips, Drums, Casey Wasner, Guitar.

Robben Ford has received five Grammy Award nominations and was named one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of the 20th Century” by Musician magazine. (Musician was a great magazine that was no bullshit, all music. A much better Rolling Stone than Rolling Stone has become. Bill Flanagan who does reviews for CBS’ Sunday Morning show was an editor there for ten years.)




12 thoughts on “Concert Review – Robben Ford

  1. I’ve heard of Robben Ford, but that’s about it. If he replaced Larry Carlton in L.A. Express, he’s gotta be good.

    Agree about “Musician” magazine. I jumped there in the early ’80s after getting disgusted with “RS.” I still have some old copies down in the basement. I still remember a great interview they did with John Cipollina (Quicksilver) just before he died.


    1. Yeah, plus you don’t get to play for Miles if you suck. “Musician” was great. Read it faithfully. Probably still have a few copies somewhere.

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  2. Wow, I had never heard of Robben Ford in spite of what looks like a pretty long and impressive career. I understand he’s yet another self-taught guitarist. Oftentimes, I find these are the most intriguing players.


    1. I’m always amazed on the blogosphere about people I’ve never heard of who are great. I’ve known OF Robben for a while but that was the first time I’ve seen him. I find, too, that the “self-taught” guys and gals, while maybe they didn’t go to school, had unofficial teachers and/or books. Jazz ain’t easy to learn on your own.

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  3. Another good night of live music for you. What I like about the interview is it puts a human face on Davis. Other than his name popping up on various other peoples stuff, I haven’t heard a lot of his playing. Will check more out. Thanks.


    1. Yeah, that interview is a hoot. Totally stumbled on it. Everybody was scared of Miles. Robben acquitted himself pretty well. I think he is very comfortable not being a household name. But he is a guitarist’s guitarist.

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    2. BTW, the better half and I are going to see a Steely Dan tribute band next month. I’ve seen the Dan, these guys are cheaper. We’ll see how that goes.

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      1. I’m going to try and get my lazy ass to Ry Cooder this summer. he’s at an outdoor festival up Island. You are so open minded with music Doc. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tribute band. Generally how are they? My brother is going to see Wishbone Ash. He’s still digging all that stuff he turned me onto way back.


        1. Ry traveled this way but my music funds were running low. I bet that’ll be a good one. As to tribute bands, it really does depend. The better ones get the letter right, if not exactly the spirit. I’ve seen two or three top-notch Beatles tribute bands for example but they always miss some key thing, usually vocal harmonies. But I really dug the Cream one even they don’t have – as Pete says – the majesty. But get this – Kofi Baker has his own band but now he’s going out on the road with Jack Bruce’s son and Eric Clapton’s nephew. I’m there too but mostly to carry stuff for them, get new strings, etc. Wishbone Ash were and I guess are, excellent.

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