Ford and Epiphone pave new roads

Robben Ford: The Epiphone Interview

Robben Ford is one of the premier electric guitarists of our times. A five time GRAMMY™ nominee, he's been feted and featured by legends from every genre of American popular music including George Harrison, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Mavis Staples. Over the last few years, all of us at Epiphone have been pleased and intrigued that his recent albums Bringing It Back Home and his new release, A Day In Nashville, have both featured his vintage Epiphone Riviera. Ford has also been using his Epi in concert and for his latest series of instructional videos sponsored by True Fire. A Day In Nashville was recorded live in a marathon session in front of a small audience--a nervy throwdown to both veteran and new artists alike. During a whirlwind stopover in Nashville to premier the album (live, naturally), stole a few minutes with Mr. Ford who's career is suddenly back in the news full-force and best of all, with his Riviera front and center.

What was the inspiration behind A Day In Nashville?

We recorded a few live shows in Germany last April with the idea of doing a live album. But we weren't happy with the results after listening to it. We had intended to mix the best of the three nights together. We weren't happy with the results so we decided to bring the band into the studio to cut something in the spirit of a live record--invite an audience in and play everything all at once as you would in a show. It was a more protected, more together environment but it would still have the feeling of a live show.

Was Nashville your first choice?

It wasn't a matter of first, second, or third. It was completely practical. Rick Wheeler, my co-producer lives here, my rhythm section lives here, a great trombone player--Barry Green--lives here, Audley Freed--a great guitarist. So it was just me and Ricky Peterson (keyboards) who had to come in. It was really just practical.

Robben Ford: The Epiphone InterviewDid recording that live--with no chance at overdubs--change your approach?

You know, you approach every situation in a professional way. You're always the same guy no matter where you are. You get an little extra juice out of an audience so that can beef things up just in terms of the intensity of things. But you're always doing your best no matter where you are.

Do you enjoy making records?

Yeah I do. For me it's like painting. A record for me--perhaps more than an immediate live performance--you have the chance to make adjustments as you go. In this case, we had very little of that opportunity because we were treating it as a live album and cutting 9 tracks or so in a single day. Everyone enjoys having the time to be able to nudge and adjust and lighten or darken things here or there.

Tell us about the vintage Epiphone Riviera you've been playing on the new album and your last album, Bringing It Back Home.

Well, it's a 1966. I had been calling it a '63. Norm Harris at Norm's Rare Guitars, he looked at the serial number and corrected me. I've had it for many years. I bought it thinking that it potentially might be more of a jazz instrument for me. My plan was to put heavy gauge strings--like flatwounds--on it and really just treat it in that way. But I don't really play that kind of music. It never really evolved that way. So, the guitar sat under the piano for a long time. I would take it out and use it for little rhythm parts here and there on records but not live. And then, when I conceived the record Bringing It Back Home, I knew that the Epiphone was the perfect instrument for what I wanted to do there and indeed it was. And I've just been playing the heck out of this guitar for the last couple of years.

How has the Riviera inspired your playing?

Most guitars bring out something in you. The way they feel, the way they sound, brings out a different quality in you and that's why I choose the instruments I play because of the way they affect me. And this instrument has this kind of a bleed of elements of jazz and elements of blues. I use it in kind of a funky way. My conception for Bringing It Back Home was to play in the style of Lonnie Johnson or B.B. King where you have one sound--it doesn't really change. You're always on the same pickup for the most part. Still playing in a bluesy way and yet there's some attention to harmonics or a slightly more sophisticated harmony than just a straight-up blues sound. So that's what that guitar does for me. I just really have been enjoying it tremendously.

We've enjoyed seeing you play your Riviera for your instructional videos. You seem to really enjoy teaching.

Yeah, I enjoy teaching. I've been doing it now for many years and I'm happy to have found a way to focus on that with my Guitar Dojo on my website and my relationship with True Fire. The whole thing kind of has a platform now for presenting whatever I might have to give. Now there's a home for it as opposed to the odd clinic here and there. So I'm really enjoying that--I like having that kind of opportunity. Teaching is a joy for me especially with young people. But I'm happy to pass along whatever I have to give to anyone. And I think it's a very positive thing.

Did you have formal training yourself?

I never had any teachers. I'm self-taught.

You seem so at ease for those sessions.

Well, thank you. I've been doing it for a very long time and after a while, you start to relax and find your style and see what it is that you have to offer. It becomes second nature.

Making a record in one day is an intense venture. Would you do it again?

I really always work live but to do a lot of live tracks in one day was a unique experience. I don't think I'd do it again. It just worked out that way to fulfill a live record obligation to the record company. It just evolved that we wound up doing it in a controlled environment. I... well, of course anybody--everybody--likes having time (laughs). But we just didn't have that luxury but fortunately it turned out really well.

Well we hope you'll come back to Nashville to record again.

You never know. I'll be on the road a lot this year but I'll be writing a lot, too. I could be back in the studio before the end of the year.

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