Jet-lagged and appearing just a little surprised at the unusually vociferous welcome at his sold-out guitar clinic, Robben Ford strapped on his black Sakashta and plugged straight into a Fender Super Reverb amp.
And for the next hour and a half, he proved once and for all that tone comes from the head, heart and hands. The man 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 listened 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. Hearing saxophonist Paul Desmond on Take 5 made him want to play the alto. Playing the saxophone for 11 years, Robben learned to learn music, but admitted that his reading skills didn’t transfer readily to your guitar. Teaching himself to play the guitar was a far more intuitive process, he states, and he learned by listening to the initial Paul Butterfield Blues Band album featuring Mike Bloomfield. Listening intently to Bloomfield’s playing proved to be a major turning point, and for a while Ford reckons he sounded a lot like his hero.
Having become a household name himself, and a guitar hero to many, Ford non-chalantly described his style as a variety of folk-blues and jazz., a musical fusion that has served him well. Elaborating further, Ford emphasized the need to experiment and make mistakes as a way to develop a personal style. Likening his approach to being nearly the same as fingerpainting on your 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 that he practiced intensely initially. He joked he learned his very first ‘hip’ blues chord from looking at the picture on the cover of the first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album where Mike Bloomfield was holding down a dominant 9th chord. From then on early epiphany, Ford decided to bone through to his chordal knowledge. Laughing, he recalled obtaining a your hands on 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 show, Ford then launched into an elaborate jazz-blues progression throwing in a multitude of chord substitutions into mix.
脫面毛 into his improvisational approach, Ford described how he learned several scales plus 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 might all be learned in a few weeks. Emphasizing the need 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 their 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 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. Not having pedals when he began, he states, enabled him to focus on his tone and he encouraged every guitar player in the audience to do 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 as the half-tone/whole-tone scale and Ford started practicing it immediately and making up a few of their own licks. He says he could instantly hear that the b9 on the dominant 7th chord reminded him of ideas jazz trumpeter Miles Davis used 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 talked about locating the common tones in the diminished scale that moved seamlessly to another chord and how they may be used in soloing when going to the IV and the V chord as well.