Back in 2005, I decided I’d like to judge a BBQ contest so I did a little research and discovered I’d have to take a class through either the Kansas City BBQ Society or the Memphis BBQ Network. I decided on Memphis because it was closer and I’d heard more about the Memphis in May events which included a huge BBQ festival and competition.
So, off to Memphis went I and after the training session, I decided to meander through the Delta for several days. I’d been there before but always with family and always on a schedule. I was retired now and my time was my own.
Mainly I stayed close to Clarksdale with side trips to Tutwiler, Stovall, Hopson, and Dockery Farms, the places where Muddy and so many others were born, lived and learned before seeking fame on the highway.
The two days plus I spend in Clarksdale were mostly spent sleeping in late, hanging around local blues related businesses and museums during the afternoon, and listening to whoever was playing at Ground Zero during the evening. On Saturday afternoon I got to talking with a local bluesman named Razorblade Stewart and he told me about Red’s and that I needed to go see this guy they called T-Model Ford who was playing there that night.
Admittedly I was a little hesitant to go to Red’s on my own since it isn’t all that inviting a looking place from the outside. Stewart ensured me things would be fine so I mustered up some courage around 9 pm and walked from GZ to Red’s. I was greeted at the door with welcoming smiles and once inside there was an older man sitting on a chair in the middle of the floor pounding out a steady beat on a solid body Peavy guitar. It was the man, T-Model, himself.
When the tune was over he abruptly got up, walked over to a table of young lovelies and began swigging on a bottle of Jack Daniels and enjoying the attention he was receiving from the coeds at hand.
German fans borrow Ford’s equipment and do a set.It soon became obvious that Ford wasn’t interested in his audience so a group of German blues fans gained permission to use his instruments and they began a set of their own. One taking control of the drum kit, another of Ford’s Peavy, and a third blowing his own harp. They were pretty good but they weren’t Mississippi bluesmen and the crowd was hoping T-Model would again take the floor when the Germans finished.
That didn’t happen and a Brit came forward with his own guitar and
did a set of acoustic country blues. Again, it was good but not what one drives to the Delta to experience.
I had finally tired and decided to leave. The man at the door encouraged me to stay and ensured me T-Model would be playing again. I took it as a ploy to keep me there and consuming more tall cans of Budweiser. Later I learned that T-Model did retake his chair and played late into the night. Apparently drinking heavy and playing late was his habit.
In the years following, I watched a number of YouTube videos of T-Model and became familiar with his story and his music. He had some success late in life but his way of life was rapidly taking its toll. He passed in July of 2013.
My claim to fame was getting to listen to and watching him perform 9 bars of one of his 12 bar blues numbers.
NOTE: Shortly after writing this piece I came across this story about Ford’s death and a lenghtly biography that makes for one hell of a story about the making of a bluesman. CLICK HERE!