Tue January 28, 2014
John Ford: The Songs from Room 414
There are those who believe that - in a special place and at a special time - you can hear ghosts. Some also believe that these ghosts, under the right circumstances, can be recorded.
On October 25th, 2012, local blues singer/songwriter John Ford checked into The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. Ford specifically requested Room 414 and, in that room, he set up a simple 1958 mono "Voice of Music" reel-to-reel tape recorder and proceeded to lay down 5 tracks in the hope of catching a ghost.
Room 414 of The Gunter Hotel is precisely where, in November of 1936, blues legend Robert Johnson recorded 16 songs, destined to become the music of legend.
Ford is a veteran of the Cincinnati music scene and has played a variety of music and has been writing songs since his early teens. John explains, "Whether it be songs I’ve written or an old song from the 1930’s, I play what I fall in love with."
The Songs from Room 414 contains two tracks written by Ford, one traditional composition by Son House and a song each by Lightnin' Hopkins and, of course, Robert Johnson.
I can't confirm whether or not Ford had to sell his soul to make this recording, but he certainly may have leased at the crossroads for a weekend. He hits all the right notes and brings the right vibe to this collection.
The sound of Ford's original pieces "Southern Comfort" and "Carolina Blues" is more akin to John Prine than John Lee Hooker but his songs are effortlessly memorable, rhythmically engaging and will make you want to kick back on your front porch with a tall glass of iced tea on a summer night when the crickets are chirping and everything is just alright.
Ford's covers of Hopkins' "Penitentiary Blues" and Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen" lack the grit, strain, struggle, smoke and whiskey of the originals and come off sounding more like something from Eric Clapton's Unplugged sessions. That should not be taken as slight. By doing these songs that are so indelibly etched into the landscape of music history, Ford is all but demanding that he be held to a much higher standard [try re-creating a Picasso or Michelangelo's David]. Besides, one could do much worse then to be compared to Clapton.
However, in the recording of "John the Revelator," Ford completely nails it. His voice and guitar work are symbiotic and groaning with burdensome soul. It was in this song that Ford is at his most free and loose and is letting his spirit fly -- and that makes for the most successful track on the disc.
The Songs from Room 414 can be found at John Ford's ReverbNation page and maybe - if you listen to it in a special place and at a special time - you might just hear ghosts.