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Robben Ford

Robben Ford is one of today's leading electric guitarists, particularly known for his "playing blues" as well as his ability to be comfortable in various musical contexts. Four Grammy nominations, he has played with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, Miles Davis, George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Bonnie Raitt, Claus Ogerman, Michael McDonald, and many, many others.

Born in 1951 in Ukiah, California, Robben is the third of four siblings in a musical family. His father, Charles, was a country & western singer and guitarist before joining the armed forces and marrying Kathryn, a pianist and singer with a lovely voice. Robben's first instrument was the saxophone, which he began playing at the age of ten and continued until the early twenties, while at the same time beginning to learn to play the guitar as a self-taught at the age of thirteen after listening to two guitarists of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. In the late sixties, Ford frequented the Fillmore and Winterland Auditorium in San Francisco to see Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Albert King, B.B. King and all the other fathers of the blues. "It was an incredible time for the electric guitar," Ford recalls.

Regarding his interest in jazz, Ford says " I fell in love with the sax by listening how Paul Desmond and the Dave Brubeck Quartet used to play it, and soon after I discovered Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Yusaf Lateef, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and of course Miles Davis." These influences were instrumental in creating Ford's unique mix of jazz and blues that defined him as a guitarist and allowed him to play in a wide variety of situations.

After high school, Robben and his brothers Patrick (blues drummer) and Mark (blues harmonica player) formed the Charles Ford Blues Band (named after their father) and recorded for the "Arhoolie" label. Robben (sax and guitar) and Patrick toured the States with the harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite from Chicago, also recording for "Arhoolie".

Robben's first attempt to form a jazz quartet happened when he was chosen by the legendary blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, who took Robben to Los Angeles. Ford toured the States and Europe with Witherspoon and was noticed by Tom Scott and the other members of L.A. Express, who were about to begin a promotional tour with Joni Mitchell for her album "Court and Spark". Ford was invited to play guitar on the tour and played on two albums with Mitchell and L.A. Express. "The two years I spent with Joni were the most formative of my musical life. Joni was just amazing and very accessible at the time, and the members of L.A. Express became my good friends and teachers at the same time. It was great."

the former member of The Beatles, George Harrison, invited Robben to join his tour in support of the album "Dark Horse" in the United States and Canada, concretizing even more Ford's musical profile. Shortly after the end of the two-month tour with Harrison, Ford moved to Colorado to take a well-deserved rest from music and to study with Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa. In 1977 he was approached by "Elektra" label to record for them, producing his first solo album, "The Inside Story", with a group of musicians who would later become the Yellowjackets.

"Elektra" ceased its business activities in the early eighties, leaving Robben in a gap of uncertainty. He decided to move to San Francisco to be close to his family and the roots of his musical history. Soon his career took on new developments, recording and touring with Michael McDonald, securing a record deal with Warner Brothers, and meeting his future wife, actress Anne Kerry. After moving to New York with Anne, he was called to play with music icon Miles Davis. "Producer Tommy Lipuma talked to Miles about my work with the Yellowjackets, he played it for him, and three days later Miles personally called to ask me to be part of his band. Shocking!" Ford regretted having to leave Miles only after six months because of his record commitments with Warner Brothers, but Miles told him that if he ever wanted to return, he simply had to do it.

Robben's 1988 album for the Warner Brothers, "Talk to Your Daughter", brought him his first Grammy nomination (Best Contemporary Blues Recording), beginning to tour the world as a soloist. Also based in New York, Ford played for the David Sanborn's band on the musical television show "Nite Music", where Sanborn hosted several bands. Ford toured with Sanborn in 1990, returning shortly thereafter to Southern California to be closer to his band.

After leaving Warner Brothers, Robben signed with Stretch/GRP Records, where he finally found a real home for his creativity, recording three CDs for them with his band "The Blue Line" (Tom Brechtlein on drums and Roscoe Beck on bass). After eight fruitful years, Robben disbanded the group and recorded two more albums for the label, which in the meantime had become Stretch/Blue Thumb: "Tiger Walk" (an instrumental album recorded in New York with the rhythm section of Keith Richards) and "Supernatural", Ford's most important compositional work until then.

After his contract with Stretch/Blue Thumb ended, Robben signed with Concord Records, the largest independent label. In 2002 he released "Blue Moon", and in 2003 "Keep on Runnin'", an album full of the blues/R&B feeling of the sixties with which he grew up.

Ford's third album for Concord is titled "Truth". "I think this is the best work I've ever done as a soloist. It's the work where I feel most accomplished as a songwriter, and I think I've reached new levels as a guitarist. "Truth" represents today's blues; some songs are sociopolitical in their essence, with a touch of humor and fresh sounds".

Robben currently lives in Ojai, California, with his wife Anne, with whom he collaborates on several musical projects including his recent CD "Weill", which Robben produced for their label: "Illyria".

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