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 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 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 small town of Ukiah, CA, he paid attention to the local radio station, KUKI, “or kooky”, as he says with a laugh.
His parents also joined an archive club, where he was subjected to Ravel’s Bolero and Dave Brubeck’s Take 5. Listening to saxophonist Paul Desmond on Take 5 made him want to play the alto. Playing the saxophone for 11 years, Robben learned to read music, but admitted that his reading skills did not transfer readily to the guitar. Teaching himself to play your guitar was an even more intuitive process, he states, and he learned by hearing the initial Paul Butterfield Blues Band album featuring Mike Bloomfield. Listening intently to Bloomfield’s playing proved to be a significant turning point, and for a while Ford reckons he sounded nearly the same as his hero.
Having become 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 necessity 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 come from a place of feeling and not simply from technique.
When asked about his practice schedule, Ford replied he practiced intensely initially. He joked he learned his initial ‘hip’ blues chord from considering the picture on the cover of the initial Paul Butterfield Blues Band album where Mike Bloomfield was holding down a dominant 9th chord. After 少女針功效 , Ford decided to bone up on his chordal knowledge. Laughing, he recalled getting 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 multitude of chord substitutions into mix.
Delving 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 simple, and how, literally, it might all be learned in a couple weeks. Emphasizing the necessity 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. Devoid of pedals when he started out, 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 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 yrs . old. Coryell described it to him because 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 found in his own playing.
Following 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 the next chord and how they may be used in soloing when going to the IV and the V chord as well.