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".