Photo by SCOTT BARRETTA
SPIN: Born James Lewis Carter Ford, he grew up with an abusive father, got married six times and supposedly fathered 26 children (his current wife, Estella, was by his side when he passed). Over his nine or so decades, he’d been shot, poisoned by a woman, stabbed by a wife, saw another spouse leave him for his dad, and served two years on a chain gang for stabbing a man to death in a bar fight. He picked up the guitar at 58 when his fifth wife gave him one — on the night she left him. Ford taught himself to play, having never learned to read or write English, let alone music. After years of practicing, he toured Southern juke joints and eventually got the attention of Fat Possum founder Matthew Johnson, who put out five of Ford’s albums beginning with 1997’s Pee-Wee Get My Gun. MORE
RELATED: Ford had six wives and 26 children, Stolle said. When Ford’s fifth wife left him, she gave him a guitar as a parting gift. “He stayed up all night drinking white whiskey,” or moonshine, “and playing the guitar,” Stolle said. “He kind of went on from there.” Ford started his blues career by playing at private parties and at juke joints in Greenville. “He’d play late, then he’d spray himself with a bunch of mosquito spray and sleep in his van,” Stolle said. MORE
PHAWKER: In the soft ivory paws of whitey, the blues invariably becomes a mightily stilted thing–either an airless museum piece as alive as an insect collection under glass, or a bad beer commercial in which constipated middle-aged white guys in acid-washed jeans think they can channel the ghost of Muddy Waters if they just squinch their faces up enough while choking the guitar neck (paging Eric Clapton). Which is why the efforts of Mississippi’s Fat Possum Records — the folks who drove the legends of R.L Burnside and T-Model Ford across the Mason-Dixon line — to capture the mojo along with the legacy have been so essential to the preservation of the form.