Published on July 18th, 2013 | by TLV News0
Blues Legend James “T-Model” Ford Passes Away
“Can’t you hear me cryin’?”
by Rebecca Long
From The Local Voice #184
Oxford, Miss. (TLV) – July 16 of this year was a sad day—James “T-Model” Ford passed away at his home in Greenville, Mississippi.
He was born James Lewis Carter Ford in Forrest, Mississippi, between 1921 and 1925, making him around 90 when he passed. He told Tyler Keith a few years ago, “My mama had me on a ditch bank, and that’s where I was born” (hence the song title “I Was Born In A Swamp”).
T-Model was one-of-a-kind, real-deal Blues legend who played from his heart, played what he knew. He played and sang and won hearts regularly around the Delta, elsewhere in Mississippi, and even internationally.
The first time I saw T-Model he pretended to hit me with his cane. I had just come back to Mississippi to live in my hometown of Greenwood, and there happened to be a Blues festival in the park that weekend. When I saw T-Model walk to the edge of the stage to peer at the audience while another band, his presence struck me and I knew I had to have a picture of him. So I crept closer to the stage with my camera and he pretended to bop me on the head; people in the audience chuckled.
A few months later, I was dating a Blues musician who lived in Leland, and he had a weekly gig at Walnut Street Blues Bar in Greenville. I ended up coming to town and watching him play most weeks; when he and I would take a “set break” together, T-Model usually asked if he could sit in for a little while. Turns out, once you told T-Model to play it was hard to get him off the stage; besides, nobody actually wanted him off the stage. I remember hearing him yell into the mic, “It’s Jack Daniels time!” more times than I can count. I remember the first time he told me to fetch him his moonshine from his car (which, by the way, wasn’t even a Ford), and told me, “Take a pull for yourself, now, baby.” He always called me baby.
He always called every pretty woman “baby.” Or “sugar,” or some such sweet word. He was “The Ladies’ Man,” after all. But he loved his wife, Miss Stella, dearly. And he was “The Tale Dragger”—his guitar even had black and gold stickers on it telling us so, right below his name. I’m not sure how he got the moniker “Tale Dragger,” but I remember hearing some ridiculous stories (and some of the damnedest phrases) come out of his mouth, so that probably had something to do with it. When Tyler interviewed him a few years ago he said the name “T-Model” came from a boss he had when he was working at a logging job in Forrest.
James T-Model Ford lived a full life—maybe not the happiest, but full. He worked in the fields and in a sawmill and as a truck driver when he was much younger. He was then sentenced to ten years on a chain-gang for murder (though he said he only served two). About that stint Ford later said, “I could really stomp some ass back then, stomp it good. I was a-sure-enough-dangerous man.” He was apparently still dangerous in 2010 when he named a song on The Ladies Man “I’m Coming To Kick Yer Asses.”
His third wife bought him a guitar and an amp for fifty dollars one day on a whim (before she left him). He couldn’t read music or tabs, but he taught himself how to play guitar well, imitating Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf at first but developing his own unmistakable sound after a while.
T-Model had a pacemaker installed in 2008, then suffered his first stroke in 2010. He continued to play as long as he could, but his second stroke (in 2012) debilitated him even further and he only played a handful of gigs after that.
He passed away peacefully at his home on a Tuesday morning. Unfortunately it seems that none of us lives forever, not even the greats. It’s still “Jack Daniels time” in our hearts and in heaven, T-Model. And we’ll remember that even though you aren’t with us anymore, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
This article was originally published in The Local Voice #184, on July 18, 2013. No part of this article may be retransmitted or copied without the express written permission of the Publisher (email TLV here).