NEW JIM FORD RELEASES
To call Jim Ford obscure is something of an understatement. He wrote a couple of songs that were hits for other artists, like Niki Hoeky (P.J. Proby) and Harry Hippy (Bobby Womack), and also wrote some amazing songs that were recorded by other artists in the Seventies like Ju Ju Man (Dave Edmunds) and 36 Inches High (Nick Lowe). But his own recording career never really got off the ground. His first album, Harlan County (1969), was something of a lost classic, an astonishing and original combination of disparate influences. Musically, Ford could be found at the junction of rock & roll, soul, country and gospel; there are similarities to, say Delaney & Bonnie, Tony Joe White and Don Nix, but in Ford’s music these influences all comes out very differently. Listening to his recordings today, one can’t help but realize that he was a monster songwriter, as well as an expressive and distinctive singer. With a few breaks and a couple of friends in the right places, Jim Ford could have had a major career as both songwriter and performer, but apparently he was his own worst enemy, burning one bridge after another.
After the commercial failure of Harlan County, Ford’s recordings went unreleased and he spent the rest of the Seventies hanging out with people like Sly Stone and Bobby Womack before developing a drug problem that lasted two decades. His unpredictable behavior certainly didn’t help his career, and after a while the music industry lost interest. Whatever opportunities created by the Edmunds and Lowe covers were squandered, even as the latter cited Ford as his biggest influence. Harlan County was reissued a couple of times, and there was renewed interest in his music, but Ford died of natural causes in 2007, just as things were getting started.
Bear Family Records, the German label who certainly know how to unearth worthy but lost music (while apparently failing to pay royalties to the recording artists), has just reissued Jim Ford’s previously unreleased second and third albums, recorded respectively for Capitol and Paramount. There seems to be some significant overlap with the two previous Ford volumes that Bear Family issued (one of which included Harlan County in its entirety), but at least we can now hear the music as it was recorded and make up our own minds if Jim Ford was a major artist or a self-destructive eccentric. In all likelihood, he was both.
The songs speak for themselves, though, and I can’t help but think that someone should record a collection of Jim Ford songs with current singers and musicians. Our friend, Peter Blackstock, did a tribute CD like this for the great Mickey Newbury a decade or so ago. Although Jim Ford is no longer here to benefit from the exposure, it would be nice to see him finally get the recognition he deserved.