Mississippi Delta bluesman James Lewis Carter "T-Model" Ford passed away on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 of respiratory failure after a brief illness. Ford's age was uncertain; he claimed he was 93, his family said he was 89 years old. No matter his actual age, Ford was known for showing up early for gigs and playing longer than anybody expected, even during recent years when he suffered from heart problems.
Ford came to the blues somewhat late in life, picking up the guitar in the early 1980s when he was 58 years old. His fifth wife had left him and gave Ford a guitar as a parting gift, which he taught himself to play in a manner that sounded like his favorite bluesmen, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Living in Greenville, Mississippi, Ford came by his blues honestly - the product of an abusive childhood, Ford was an illiterate blue collar laborer, plowing fields, working at a sawmill and a logging camp, driving a truck. When he was young, Ford served on a chain gang for two years of a ten year sentence for murder.
Ford played juke-joints and clubs in the Delta region, often accompanied only by his long-time drummer "Spam" (Tommy Lee Miles), when he got a big break opening for the legendary Buddy Guy. Ford was subsequently signed by Fat Possum Records, the label releasing his debut album, Pee-Wee Get My Gun, in 1997. Ford made a total of five albums for Fat Possum between 1997 and 2008, including the critically-acclaimed 2002 disc Bad Man. In 2008, Ford hooked up with the Seattle-based blues-rock outfit GravelRoad, who backed up the Delta bluesman at that year's Deep Blues Festival. Ford continued to tour with GravelRoad, recording two albums with the band for the Alive NaturalSound Records label - 2010's The Ladies Man and 2011's Taledragger.
Ford had suffered from ill health for the past few years, and had a pacemaker inserted at the end of his 2008 tour with GravelRoad. Ford had the first of two strokes in early 2010 but, being the bad mofo that he was, completed his tour. His second stroke came last summer, which slowed him down, although he still performed at the 2012 King Biscuit Blues Festival. One of the last of the authentic Delta bluesman, T-Model Ford will be missed...
Photo courtesy Alive Naturalsound Records