Robben Ford on why making an instrumental record was a good excuse to play a lot more music

Robben Ford
(Image credit: Press)

In a more-than-50-year career, Robben Ford has played with everyone from Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis to George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Kiss. He’s also released more than a dozen solo albums that highlight his mastery of blues, rock and jazz.

And yet, even for an artist who has seemingly done it all on guitar, he calls his newest effort, Pure, unlike anything he’s re-corded previously. 

“When I started writing this record, I was really trying to do something different,” Ford says. What he wound up creating was something that captured “a ‘pure’ approach to music,” he continues. “It was all about allowing the music to go in any direction it wanted to go.” 

Indeed, the songs on Pure run the gamut from the “straight-up blues shuffle” of White Rock Beer… 8 cents, to the horn-assisted smooth funk of Go, the dark fusion of A Dragon’s Tail to the liquid chording of Balafon, and the “slow blues improvisation” of Blues for Lonnie Johnson to the expansive and harmonically rich title track. What’s more, it’s all fully instrumental, a path Ford hasn’t followed since 1997’s Tiger Walk.

He decided to ditch the vocals, he says, “because I’m serious about lyric writing, and it’s demanding. You spend a lot of time writing and revising. So doing an instrumental record felt like a way to just play a lot more music. I could just be a guitarist, as opposed to a singer-songwriter-slash-guitarist.” 

When it comes to being a guitarist, Ford not only plays – he also teaches. He recently launched the Robben Ford Guitar Dojo website, which he says will encompass lessons, interviews, live performances, a gear page and more.

“For me, teaching is a practice in selfless activity,” he says. “I find that there’s a tremendous joy in opening up and saying, ‘Okay, here’s what I’ve learned. This is what my experience has been.’”

As for where he’ll head after the experience of creating Pure? “It’s impossible to predict, because I’ve never made two records that are the same,” Ford says. “Musically there’s always something else that I’m moving toward, and then I move on, quickly.”

  • Pure is out now via earMUSIC.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.