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Jim Ford: Happy Songs Sell Records, Sad Songs Sell Beer

Sly Stone called him the funkiest white man he knew. He had enough soul to pen hits for Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, and The Temptations. He romanced Bobby Gentry and eventually took up with Marlon Brando’s ex, raising 2 of Brando’s children for a decade. Legend even has it he once boarded an airplane with over a million dollars worth of cocaine strapped to his body. But for all the wild tales surrounding the man, there remains a mystery around Jim Ford.

We know that he was a Kentucky boy who ran away to the streets of New Orleans and eventually ventured west for a taste of something bigger. The layers of his tone point to each place on the map which shaped his unique sound. I can hear the blue twang of a heavy heart-string, the rough and deep soul of a bluesman, and the wild twinkle in the eye of a man hungry for a taste of rock and roll fame.

From his melodies to the stories in his songs, it’s clear that he was the ideal troubadour to lead the great sonic union between country and blue-eyed funk. He fell between Gram Parsons and Van Morrison and the world was his for the taking. He was in the right place at the right time, namely Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s, befriending all the right people. And yet, though he was larger than life, he never found the elusive level of stardom he was after.

In 1969, Ford recorded his only solo record, Harlan County, an album perfectly capturing the country funk scene and his youth in the Bluegrass State. That sound, a marriage between grassroots Americana and southern soul, rolled out perfectly from a man who truly knew both worlds. Harlan County wasn’t considered a “success” but it was still a masterpiece of earnest songwriting, a bold batch of swagger dotted with moments of reflection. Ford’s lyrical ease and talent for storytelling couldn’t be denied. But, as tracks like “Dr. Handy’s Dandy Candy” and “Spoonful” suggest, his penchant for drugs couldn’t be denied either.

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After Harlan County, he continued recording, entering deals with multiple labels only to sabotage them with his difficult demeanor and outrageous demands. He spent several years battling addictions, trying to get back on track, and losing. In the end, he was paid off, his contracts broken, and his success untapped. In 1980, he disappeared with his addiction and his unreleased songs. He holed up for a couple decades in Mendocino County, California, bags of masters littering the floor of the trailer he called home.

It’s a recycled story. A young man with talent and promise leaves home, tastes the dream, and loses a boxing match with his demons. His rise was bright and glimmering and his spiral was long and dark. But just before obscurity swallowed his story whole, someone came knocking on Jim Ford’s trailer door in 2006, someone to whom we owe a great deal. LP Anderson, a Swedish music publisher from Sonic Magazine, located the man and talked him out of hiding. Ford eventually revealed the goldmine of tracks he had just lying around and, after being approached by Bear Family Records to issue a compilation, agreed to release them. A buzz of excitement quickly grew around the rediscovery of the man, now 2 years sober and prepared to discuss additional releases. With a reunion gig in the works, one might even say there was a comeback on the table.

Unfortunately, (and once again) the rug was pulled out from under his efforts. Ford missed out on the second wave of success his music would find in a new audience. He was tragically found dead in his trailer in 2007, at the age of 66. But thanks to the unrelenting search of a few musical archivists, we have a collection of treasures from the Harlan County kid, who worked his way to LA. Like resilient creatures with a life of their own, the soulful and brilliant songs of Jim Ford finally emerged to see a day in the sun, even if the man himself never did.

The Music of 2015

Pretty sure I saw more shows in 2015 than any other year of my whole life. Between Monday nights at the Griffin, the occasional punk show in a bowling alley, and dancing the night away at Funky Sole, I stayed busy. I attended Coachella, Austin Psych Fest, and Burger Boogaloo this year, somehow all for free. I got to preview the new Snoop record at a Columbia Records listening party with the Dogg himself. I travelled to a lodge in the middle of the woods to see Father John Misty, drove out to the desert to see Black Lips under the stars, and went down to the beach to watch Ariel Pink on the pier. The list could go on but I’ll just say this year has been nothing short of magical.

Like most years, 2015  came with strong deliveries from established favorites and a couple fun new discoveries. I spent lots of time listening to familiar old music, most of which was released 30+ years ago – my 4 months at Light in the Attic Records helped with that. But I also  consumed wayyy more hip hop this year, thanks to Los Angeles radio and my required freeway fuel.

So. Here’s an honest and very self-indulgent list of 50 songs that stuck with me in 2015. I doubled and tripled up on lots of artists. I included songs from mediocre albums or even (arguably) terrible artists because they are great songs. Enjoy.

Misc 2015 Stats.

  • Artist of the year:
    Wand (They also win “Band I Saw Most Often in 2015.”)
  • Album of the Year:
    If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake
  • Song of the year:
    “Pretty Pimpin” – Kurt Vile
  • Favorite new discoveries:
    Diane Coffee, Sheer Mag, Drug Cabin
  • Most Streamed Song This Year:
    “Go Back” – Tony Allen with Damon Albarn (2014) Honestly wtf is up with this song. It is PERFECT.
  • Show of the Year:
    I already know it’s the one I’m going to see tonight. Thee Oh Sees, Fuzz, and (duh) Wand.

Til next year, dudes.

Up All Night

by Jordan Canio

Sleep deprivation. For all its downsides, there’s no doubt it can produce some interesting side effects.  Will you discover something profound about yourself? Or are you just setting yourself up for a shitty morning? Only the night will tell. Either way, at least you’ll have a better soundtrack for the experience.

Enjoy an unhealthy serving of tracks to help heighten your delirium and make your sleepless night even more beautifully deranged.

Artwork by Nick Demetros