Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"She Turns My Radio On" / Jim Ford

Jim Ford? you're asking. Well, I don't suppose I would have known who Jim Ford was either, if it hadn't been for Nick Lowe. Nick and his Brinsley Schwarz buddies worshipped Ford and recorded a couple of his songs -- "Nikki Hoeky," Juju Man," "36 Inches High" -- which are about the only Jim Ford songs I really knew. That's if you don't count "Ode to Billie Joe," which Ford apparently wrote but let his then-girlfriend Bobbie Gentry take the credit for.

Thanks to Nick's recommendation, I did eventually buy The Sounds of Our Time, a Jim Ford compilation that includes his one studio album -- 1969's Harlan County, named after the Kentucky region where Jim was born -- plus a number of other tasty rarities. "She Turns My Radio On" is a demo Jim made in preparation for a second album that never was completed; someone much later happened to find the tape cassette in a box and saved it. That's the sort of thing Jim Ford's legend is made of. Moody, brilliant, careless, generous, unpredictable, a notorious hell-raiser -- by all accounts he was a law unto himself, and a world-class squanderer of his own enormous talent.

Swamp rock, country soul, roots funk -- there isn't really one phrase that could sum up the Jim Ford sound. Suffice it to say that this is what the Band and Creedence Clearwater were trying to sound like, if they could only have gotten grittier and more authentic. Jim Ford, though, he makes me want to set on my porch steps and drink something home-brewed out of a Mason jar.

A lazy, kicked-back guitar lick leads off this song; then comes Ford's croaky vocal, as he commences to sing: "Every morning 'bout dawn / Sun shines through my window and a new day's begun /Every evening, 'bout sundown / My whole world changes, Lord, when she comes around." That's mostly what this song is about, being satisfied by his woman -- and it's utterly convincing. The chorus puts it thusly: "She comes and turns my radio on / Gives me all day music, I got an all night song / I'm gonna sing till the cows come home / I'm really glad you turned my radio on."

Sexual metaphor? Well, shoot, what do you think? Of course it is, but he doesn't feel he has to get clever with it. "Turn the dial with a smile" he urges her at one point; he mumbles something else about writing a song with harmony, melody, rhapsody. But the guy sounds so contented, he can't be bothered to push it any further. And anyway, it IS also about how music makes him happy, and that's cool too.

Jim Ford died last Sunday, broke and obscure. Maybe that's how he wanted it. But I've got to think he'd be glad to know that people were still listening to his music, and grooving to it.


Anonymous said...

Nice tribute to this mysterious character. I've also been enjoying "Sounds Of Our Time" since it's release earlier this year. It does stand up to some of th best music made in that time period. I'm interested to know more about the guy. The CD liner notes seemed to imply he was doing alright out in California living with his lady friend?

Oh well. "Turns My Radio On" is a great tune along with many others on that cd. Lot's of people are still listening, Mr. Ford.


Merrily said...

To know more about my extraordinary friend, Jimmy the Mendocino Beacon, for his obituary notice on the 6th. I used some of LP Anderssons' musings and added more personal data here and there.

I have not heard anyone refer to him as brilliant yet. For anyone who personally really knew him, they would all attest to his quick mind and wit...not to mention his talent. All the world was a stage to Jimmy. He was a gourmet chef by hobby. When he was cooking in the kitchen, he'd be entertaining at the same time!

His next cd is coming out in February. Alas, the sad thing is that he had about two hundred songs going around in his brain that he hadn't written down yet that were even better than what you have now. However, we do have these next few cd's and, hopefully, people will discover this unique man and enjoy his work as much as I did these last 15 years. I can see, that when people hear these recordings, they're going to want to be recording and rerecording his works for decades.

Holly A Hughes said...

Wow, Merrily, I'm honored you stopped by. Such good news about the next CDs!

I've read what an important friend you were to Jim Ford in recent years -- thanks for keeping watch over his legacy, and my condolences for having lost your close friend.

Holly A Hughes said...

The Jim Ford CD Merrily mentioned is now available for pre-order on Amazon (thanks for the tip, Spencer) -- here's the link:

Anonymous said...

Jimmy was a friend of mine. Beautiful, always singing, new stuff from the front of his head.
He cooked us great food. We laughed a lot. Raged more. Chemistry on fire.
I remember him slamming the door coming out of his gal’s house. He said, ‘This’ll make a good song.’
Now, gone, I’m heartbroken.

 We got on so damned well, laughed hard. Always a big hug, usually three, and a smile.
Just tried to find him. 
Now he's gone, all those thoughts and words frozen in time, unspoken.
Jimmy (the car), the beautiful and kind gentle monster.
As if this isn't a hard enough time.

I'm heartbroken. That was a gentle & fierce man of soul.

A moment of silence for someone that'd bring us all forward.