T-Model Ford played a raw, primitive juke-joint boogie guitar with usually just a drummer for company, as he sang his songs of hard times, violence and bad women. An extremely late starter, T-Model was getting on towards 80 years old when he cut his first album, but his powerful and full-hearted renditions of classic Blues songs and his own ‘stream-of-consciousness’ compositions were always coloured in his own unique style.
James Lewis Carter Ford was born in Forest MS, some time in the early 20s into a dirt-poor family where life was a hard daily fight. Never given any schooling, James went to work in the fields and sawmills from a very early age, working as a foreman at a lumber company and then driving a truck. He was given ten years on the chain-gang for murder, and went back to his old life when he got out of jail. He reportedly has fathered 26 children and did not take up music until his fifth wife gave him a guitar as she left.
Already in his late 50s, he taught himself to play in the style of the men he admired, claiming Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as influences. Almost two decades of plugging around the juke-joints eventually got him noticed in 1997 by Fat Possum Records, who had already discovered the music of RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough in the previous few years. Although T-Model was brought up in the Delta and took some of his material from Delta players, his sound was straight out of the hill-country around Como.