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With a Little Help From His Friends

music_RobbenFordSRobben Ford assembles blues-rock super group for big licks

For those who know him, Robben Ford needs no introduction. The four-time Grammy nominee has been recording since 1972 and his formidable discography reflects the blues guitarist’s work ethic.

Raised in a music-loving family—his father and mother both sang and played various instruments—Ford says he has been in love with music ever since he can remember. He began playing piano at 7, picked up the saxophone at 10 and began teaching himself guitar at 13. He has worked with the likes of Joni Mitchell, George Harrison and Miles Davis.

In Ford’s latest endeavor he teams with three more musical greats—Michael Landau, Jimmy Haslip and Gary Novak—to release the album Trial By Fire. He has worked with Landau, Haslip and Novak in various forms over his eventful career, but heretofore the four have not been able to make the time in their busy schedules to get together in the same room and kick out the jams.

“This group of people gives me the opportunity to present songs I’ve written but generally wouldn’t have the right situation to record,” Ford says. With his band, Ford explains he likes to stick to a certain style, but that he often composes songs that veer from the norm that wouldn’t have made sense to play in his group.

The new group—which simply goes by its comprising members’ individual names—works more collaboratively than Ford is used to, and he loves the band for just that reason.

“Mike is a really great guitar player,” Ford says of Landau. “He also comes from a very different style. He plays one way and I play another.” He adds that playing with Landau is exciting, because Landau comes up with riffs Ford wouldn’t have thought to play. “Therefore there’s all the more pleasure and hearing it. It’s fresh to me and it’s exciting for that reason.”


Landau was also raised in a musical household. His grandfather played alto sax in swing-era group the Dorsey Brothers, his mother played the piano and he says there was always music surrounding him as a child. His uncle showed him his first guitar chords. “I loved it right away,” Landau remembers. His mother tells him that he used to sleep in his crib clutching 45 RPM records and that he would put his head directly in front of speakers when music was playing in his house.

“Music has always been an emotional thing for me,” Landau says. “I remember hearing The Beatles on the car radio when I was around 9 or 10 years old and knowing right then that that was what I wanted to do.”

Landau says playing and recording with this new group has been “both a rush and calming at the same time. There’s a trust there that really frees you up so you can go deep down into the music.” As for playing with Ford specifically: “I feel like I’m at my best when I play with him.”

The new collaboration incorporates elements of blues, rock, R&B and a little bit of jazz. With Ford and Landau trading licks, each track is charged with powerful blues/rock heroics. Each member contributed original songs to the album and modern slide-guitar guru Ben Harper makes a few appearances.

“We're all really gearing up to play,” Landau says. “Hopefully there'll be some crazy, juicy, beautiful sounds coming off the stage!”

“It’s very familial,” Ford adds of playing with the group. “It’s very easy for us to get together and play. What each person brings to the mix is very inspired, because everybody really loves to play. It just fits like a glove.”


Robben Ford, Michael Landau, Jimmy Haslip and Gary Novak perform at 7 and 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $23 in advance, $26 at the door. For more information, call 427-2227.

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