“Never seen such joy in my life:” A Conversation with Marc Ford

You probably better know Marc Ford as the former lead guitarist of The Black Crowes — but he had his own career before his time with that band and he’s had one since, churning out six solo records including this year’s The Vulture.

Focusing on his own project has felt more productive.

“Being busy is great, if it’s productive work,” Ford said. “But if it’s not and you’re just being busy because you’re avoiding something, it’s not good. It’s easier to look busy than take care of some stuff that you’re trying not to. It’s cool. You’ve got to have balance.”

He buried himself in the work. He felt like he missed a lot of his children’s lives, so now he takes time to be more involved. He’s also been able to work on some music with his wife. On his own latest effort, he approached it by just running tape — taking a very raw effort and turning it into a record.

“Besides the fact that it sounds amazing, there’s so much more to it than I even remember,” he said of the process behind The Vulture. “Forget all of the technical stuff that the tape does. The players have to do it right, because you don’t get a guy that will cut and paste. You’ve got to know how to play it. Then you’ve got to have a guy that knows how to run the machine and knows what he’s doing with the tape and the pre-amps. I really got the sense that there was an extra band member working with us in real time. That was a extra bonus that I forgot about in working with tape. And John Vanderslice doesn’t keep more than one take. You say, ‘Let’s try that one again,’ and he says, ‘No, that one felt real good. We’ll just go with that.’ So you made decisions real fast and it was [the] best, because I didn’t second-guess myself. I just made a decision and went for it and your instincts are usually correct.”

He’ll bring his son on the road on this trip, but Elijah won’t make the Birmingham stop as he has other obligations. Now 27, he’s followed in his dad’s footsteps upon moving to Austin.

“I had him in my band when he was really young and it was the first time that we really got to spend a lot of time together,” Ford said. “He might have thought I was teaching him about band dynamics when I was really giving him bigger picture stuff. It was cool. I respect him. He’s got so much talent. And he has a new record that was just released that’s amazing. I love his songs. I love playing for him, and I love when he plays for me. And the wife jumps in and my father-in-law plays keyboards. It gets to be a big family thing.”

He never really feared for his son’s journey on the road because he felt like his son learned by watching his mistakes.

“He watched me go through my thing,” Ford said, referring to his struggles with substance abuse. “So it was cool because I knew when he did go out at night, he was with friends of mine and they’d take care of him. I’d stay at the hotel.”

His sobriety is to blame for his departure from the now-defunct Black Crowes, and it’s something that he struggled with in the early 2000s. But he navigated those challenges with grace.

“It doesn’t tempt me anymore,” he said. “I was searching like anyone else and trying to figure out who I was, exactly. And when I found out that being a rock star didn’t have anything to do with who I was — it was just something that I did. I had to go through my stuff. And unfortunately, it was a deep, dark hole that I found myself in. But that’s where I had to go to figure it out. All of the work that I did — inside and out — the obsession left. It can happen. Miracles are real. I wouldn’t advise it — people trying to get clean. I went through all of them. The programs [are] very useful. They’re useful for anybody. People try to tell you things like what you are forever. I didn’t jive with that. I’ve been working on my spiritual side of things, and the obsession just left.”

He’ll probably pay homage to some heroes on Tuesday night. “I’m usually trying to include a Neil Young song or a Bob Dylan song,” he says of the live performance. “Because I love them so much.”

But it wasn’t Dylan or Young that made him want to play guitar. Or any guitar god.

“I just saw an old man playing guitar at a swap meet once,” he said. “And he was the happiest dude that I had ever seen in my life. I had never seen [such] joy in my life and I said, ‘I want that.’ And I thought it was the guitar. It led me there. That was it. Whatever he’s doing, I’ll have it.”

Marc Ford and the Neptune Blues Club is at The Nick on Tuesday, November 15. Birmingham’s own Heath Green and the Makeshifters open. The show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the door. For more information, visit thenickrocks.com.

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