"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.