Marc Ford’s been around the rock and roll circuit a few times.
Guitarist in the Black Crowes – the epitome of heady rock and roll – Ford has ‘seen’ rock and roll and bought the T‑shirt.
But now, after years of hedonism and epic tours, Ford’s back with his own material, a world apart from the riff-laden music of the Crowes.
His latest album, Holy Ghost, has plenty of space for Ford to demonstrate that his guitar sorcery is as powerful as ever. But it also embraces the wide open vistas of American roots music in a way that’s tender, catchy and engaging.
Holy Ghost overflows with subtle and surprising pleasures, liberal use of pedal steel, Fender Rhodes, mellotron and banjo, and the best songwriting of Ford’s career. It shows off an artist refreshed and refuelled, taking life at a slower pace at home in California these days – and it’s the next chapter in a unique Anglo-American collaboration.
But Ford’s not just a musician, he’s also a producer. Among the bands he’s worked with are Ryan Bingham and English country-soul talents Phantom Limb, whose second album – The Pines – was produced by Ford.
And it’s this connection that led to the creation of Holy Ghost. For this record, Ford turned to Phantom Limb to help him record it. And so, thousands of miles from California, Ford travelled to Wales and Bath to record his album.
“I waited for a while until the timing was right for this,” says Ford. “I knew I wasn’t supposed to act on these songs for a while, so I kind of sat on them as a batch together. Most of them are brand new, but a couple are 15 years old. I just needed to drop out for a little bit and get home back together. I had a daughter, so this is the first time I got to be at home for the first five years.”
Suddenly, Ford knew what he had to do. “I was sitting here one day and, like I said, I’d been waiting on these songs for a while. Then it just dawned on me, wait a minute, Phantom Limb is the perfect band for this.”
“So I just said ‘Stew, you allowed me to pull your baby apart and put it back together. I’ve never had a producer produce my own stuff. How about payback? You can do me now. I think I have some of the best songs I’ve ever written, and you’ve got a bitchin’ band.’ He just said ‘Get here.’”
The results are inspiring, often upbeat, always reflective. As Ford himself says, “it’s hopeful, in a dark way sometimes.” But it’s the work of an artist who’s found the inner strength to recharge, personally and professionally. “It’s a reflection of my life,” he says. “I pulled out of gigging and travelling and literally kind of stopped.”
He settled with his family in a small surf town called San Clemente. “It really is a small town feeling, a lot of acoustic guitar playing. I think all that reflects in the record.”
It’s a very different record to the material he recorded with the Black Crowes in 1992, just as they were about to record their second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. This alone earned the band a double-platinum disc for sales. “I’m proud of all the music that’s been made,” he says. “‘The Crowes was a fantastic band.”
But it was a time of excesses as well, as he alludes to. “There are a lot of factors involved when you’re in your early 20s and everything you’ve ever dreamed of happens. I got swept up in it, like many people do. There was just a point where I went ‘Wait a minute, you’ve reached the top of the mountain and the answers aren’t here, this isn’t really any kind of enlightenment I was looking for.’ Drugs and alcohol were a giant cover-up for a lack of self, and worth. So the only regrets I would have would be personal, wishing that I could have handled certain things better. But then again, I had to learn it.”
Holy Ghost is ingrained with all the things Marc Ford has learned. “Maybe people still want me to be a guitar hero and that’s it,” he says firmly. “I’m determined to change that mindset.”
Holy Ghost is out now, Marc Ford plays at The Corporation on May 27.