Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Robben Ford

I've always been a big fan of Robben Ford and when I heard he was back at
the Guitar Workshop Plus in Oakville I got myself "wristbanned" into the
concert portion of the evening. He just played one blues standard after
another (hideaway, bad sign), some with other faculty members, the only one
of whom I recognized was John Tilden, whom I've heard in many contexts and
he is an expert at fitting in to whatever context. What was interesting was
when Robben handed over a solo to him he sounded more like Robben than
Robben. I don't know if Robben knew that Tilden could do that, but I
thought I detected a slight double take. It happened a little later on
another tune, but Tilden also blew away the crowd with many sounds and
riffs all his own. All the guitarists got applause after their solos and
when Ford asked who in the audience played guitar, virtually every attendee
raised a hand. He had a long spot in the middle where he gave tips and
took questions.

The first batch of questions were from younger members of the audience who
asked nothing but questions like what was it like to play with..... Robben
patiently answered every question but it reached a ridiculous point when
this kid wouldn't let up asking which songs on the George Harrison album
had he played on and which leads were his. In the end he joked "actually I
don't play very much on those tracks..." Others wanted to know about his
connections with Miles Davis and other jazz types. They stuck to the blues
for the live performance though and it was obvious that the blues figured
prominently in the shaping of all these young guitarists, most of whom will
take a sharp right into rock guitar.

Robben's advice to them was "When you're playing rhythm guitsr, think of
yourself as a drum. If a drummer can spend all night doing
'boom-chick-boom-chick', there's nothing wrong with chopping out a
repetitive rhythm part for 12 bars then maybe changing it up a little" He
said he had as much fun playing rhythm as he did playing lead. But it's his
lead riffs that give him that immediately identifieable guitar sound. If I
though it was his gear that provided that sound, I was proven wrong because
he was playing a very stripped-down set up (a Les Paul guitar plugged into
a Fender Vibro King amp - borrowed from John Tilden). And that signature
sound was right there, if not off the very top of the show, but by the
second tune he had it. I had been on his web site, reading what appears to
be a blog from his guitar tech who goes into great detail about the gear -
obviously cares more about that stuff than Robben

The setting at Appleby College is very "old world" quite something,
nestled on Lake Ontario. I did a gig there a long time ago with Scott
Cushnie ("Professor Piano") who had actually lived on that campus as a
child when his father was headmaster.