T-Model Ford with Jim Mize
White Water Tavern, $12
9:30 p.m., Saturday, March 6
His story is ubiquitous. And for good reason. It encapsulates all the animal spirit of the blues. In a nutshell: abusive father, loving mother; unschooled and (still) unabashedly illiterate. As an 18-year old, he kills a man in self-defense; spends two years on a chain gang. Five wives, 26 children. He doesn't pick up a guitar until 58, after his wife gives it to him as a “divorce present” before leaving him.
The man's a quintessential cult blues artist, closer to Captain Beefheart than, say, Jonny Lang, but right now T-Model Ford is a guy who's not too hot with phones. Talking on a cell phone from a porch in Charleston, S.C., T mutters and is too affable to ask the person on the other line to repeat himself when he doesn't understand, so he'll respond to a question like “where are you today, T?” with “like an apple in a tree.”
Is it a sign of old age? Well, he's certainly not getting any younger. The old Taildragger suspects he's about to turn 90 and even the best kept of 90-year-old ears are still prone to faultiness.
He drinks a little, too. His passion for Jack Daniels is hardly clandestine and unlike, say, Frank Sinatra, who would have been around T's age and famously said “if I drank as much on stage as you think I do, I'd have been dead years ago,” T punishes the Lynchburg tea unabashedly during his shows and praises it between frequent gulps.
The fact that he's still touring — without any plans for stopping until “the Lord's ready for [him]” — can't help his cochleae, either. In fact, not only is he still on the road in America and the UK, he plays for hours at a time in front of a Nick Cave-styled backing band in Seattle's Gravelroad. Their drummer, Marty Reinsel, happily admits they have trouble, even as a young band, keeping up with T.
Youth is one thing, but spryness always wins out. In fact, the shortest set they've played together was a huge hour and 45 minutes. The longest? Well, they stopped keeping track and quit when T said it was time. All that wattage night after night is good for the soul, bad for the hearing.
But T-Model Ford isn't in the business of chatting with frazzled music writers and entertaining strangers over a phone. Like his catchphrase says, he's around to “remember you sorry fuckers how it's done.” Last March, he visited White Water Tavern, putting on a how-to-do-this demo not only for the lucky who made it inside, but the couple dozen or so huddled outside of the sold-out door shaking ass in the drizzle.
With other aging bluesmen taking sober, somber forays into the form, T-Model hollers with conviction lyrics just as dirty as most rappers' and plucks his Peavey Razer (an angular contraption favored by metal guitarists) with hypnotic intensity.
The man may be vulgar, but he comes across sweet, too. And he may just leave a piece of him behind in Little Rock this time around. To quote one of my lucky lady friends who made it inside last year, “he smiled, winked, howled and nearly charmed me out of my pants.” “The Ladies Man” indeed.