You can romanticize all you want, but the blues has been gentrified. It's been homogenized and castrated. Hell, it's for everybody now. It's practically Disney in some parts. That is unless you travel deep, deep into the Delta.
There're cats down there that never got out --- at least until the revivalists at Fat Possum Records took a stab at it. With the help of those visionaries, seminal blues musicians like Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, and star attraction T-Model Ford were afforded fresh new audiences.
Ford in particular is a cantankerous curmudgeon who plays some mighty ominous, maniacal blues. He has lived the life of which he sings. He has never stepped foot in a classroom. He's not clear on how old he actually is (rumor has him in his late 70s). He has lived, loved, and killed. T-Model Ford is a man who should have died a long time ago. T-Model Ford's a bad man.
We caught up with Ford in the studio to chat --- and shout --- over the wail and squeal of his guitar.
City:Hello, Mr. Ford?
Ford: Who the fuck is this?
City:It's Frank up in Rochester, New York. How're you doin' Mr. Ford?
Ford: Like an apple on a tree. I'm hangin'.
City:I dig your new record [Bad Man]. It sounds great. You must be pleased.
Ford: Yeah, it's hittin' on hard.
City:Is "Bad Man" all original tunes?
Ford: Yeah, I wrote that. I just thought about it, it sounded good to me and I just let 'em make an album outta me. And I love it myself. I'm a bad man.
City:Bad enough to go to jail, right?
Ford: I was on the chain gang for two years. I had 10.
Ford: I got into this mess in Humboldt, Tennessee. This black guy cut me in the back --- stabbed me. I tried to run; I couldn't. I reached in my pocket and opened my knife with my teeth and I whirled around and I cut his throat. At that time I was a real man, though. You didn't grab me if you didn't know what you's doin'.
City:I hear you still carry your knife.
Ford: Yeah. Well if you grab me now, they won't have too much trouble 'cause those trees done fell on me and I'm crippled. I don't have nothin' like that in me no more. I done settled down. I wanna be happy with everybody.
City: Your blues are pretty mean. Why do you think people like the way you do it?
Ford: Well, they probably just like my style, the way I play it, I guess.
The ladies like it. They love it. They just grab T-Model. I'm an old man now. I wish they had done that when I was comin' in my twenties.
City: So you're a bad man. Are your blues bad?
Ford: Yeah, they trouble-makin'.
Ford: Well, you can look at it yourself. You see, I play guitar. I go to these honky-tonks to play the blues. You watch the ladies --- they hoggin' at you. Some of them got them some of those mean mens and they wanna fight you after.
It's the way she act. She act likes she loves you and all of that --- them blues gettin' in her drawers. He thinks she's givin' away somethin.'
City:But sometimes they are, right?
Ford: Sometimes she is, sometimes she ain't. That's what makes the blues bad.
City:Do the blues matter today?
Ford: The blues is what's happenin'. The blues'll put you on your feet and the blues'll take you off your feet.
The blues'll make you think of things comin' down the line that you think you oughta do but you oughtn't to do. Blues is trouble-makin.'
City:Your guitar sounds like trouble. You sound like trouble.
Ford: I lost my gun but I still got my knife. I'm a bad man.