Jet-lagged and appearing a little surprised at the unusually vociferous welcome at his sold-out guitar clinic, Robben Ford strapped on his black Sakashta and plugged directly into a Fender Super Reverb amp.
And for another hour . 5, he proved once and for all that tone comes from the top, heart and hands. The person exudes soul. Describing his style as ‘freeform but with a method’, Robben began by discussing his early years studying the saxophone. Growing up in the tiny town of Ukiah, CA, he paid attention to the neighborhood radio station, KUKI, “or kooky”, as he says with a laugh.
His parents also joined an archive club, where he was exposed to Ravel’s Bolero and Dave Brubeck’s Take 5. Listening to saxophonist Paul Desmond on Take 5 made him desire to play the alto. Playing the saxophone for 11 years, Robben learned to learn music, but admitted that his reading skills did not transfer readily to the guitar. Teaching himself to play the guitar was a far more intuitive process, he states, and he learned by hearing the first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album featuring Mike Bloomfield. Listening intently to Bloomfield’s playing became a significant turning point, and for some time Ford reckons he sounded a lot like his hero.
Having turn into a household name himself, and a guitar hero to numerous, Ford non-chalantly described his style as a combination of folk-blues and jazz., a musical fusion which has served him well. Elaborating further, Ford emphasized the need to experiment and make mistakes to be able to develop a personal style. Likening his method of being nearly the same as fingerpainting on the guitar, he was emphatic that music should result from a place of feeling and not just from technique.
When asked about his practice schedule, Ford replied he practiced intensely initially. He joked that he learned his initial ‘hip’ blues chord from considering the picture on the cover of the first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album where Mike Bloomfield was holding down a dominant 9th chord. After that early epiphany, Ford decided to bone up on his chordal knowledge. Laughing, he recalled obtaining a hold of Mel Bay’s Jazz Chords Vol. 1 book and began to utilize the jazzier chord voicings he learned when he began using Charlie Musselwhite. To demonstrate, Ford then launched into a more elaborate jazz-blues progression throwing in a variety of chord substitutions into mix.
Delving into his improvisational approach, Ford described how he learned a few scales and some standard bebop licks, and boiling everything right down to ii-V progressions. Ford assured his audience that the language of music was actually very easy, and how, literally, it could all be learned in a couple weeks. Emphasizing 嬰兒潤膚乳 for simplicity and the significance of finding one’s own voice, Ford proferred that although musicians dilligently transcribed and learned Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane licks, it rarely evolved into finding their own voice. Doing it his own way, he says, has kept him unique.
Asked about his current amplification setup for tours, Robben expressed his preference for Fender Super Reverbs, explaining that his setup when he was with Jimmy Witherspoon’s group consisted of a Gibson L5 archtop right into a Super Reverb amp. With good speakers and matched tubes, the Super Reverb, he says, is his favorite. When asked about pedals and effects, Ford was emphatic they hindered one from finding one’s own sound. Devoid of pedals when he began, he states, enabled him to work on his tone and he encouraged every guitarist in the audience to accomplish away with pedals, for at the very least a while.
Delving into his sophisticated soloing style, he spoke about his fondness for the diminished scale, which he learned from jazz guitarist Larry Coryell when Ford was19 years old. Coryell described it to him because the half-tone/whole-tone scale and Ford started practicing it immediately and creating a few of his own licks. He says he could instantly hear that the b9 on the dominant 7th chord reminded him of ideas jazz trumpeter Miles Davis found in his own playing.
After a tasty demonstration of some lines that outlined the changes to a blues progression perfectly, Robben explained how the diminished scale acted as a transition to the IV chord in a blues. Elaborating further, he discussed finding the common tones in the diminished scale that moved seamlessly to another chord and how they could be used in soloing when going to the IV and the V chord as well.