“It’s Jack Dan-yulzz time!” He would always exclaim with his signature T-Model grin, his lips waxing from ear to ear showing off an exquisite pair of what had to be dentures, a 90-year-old gleam in his eye that still shined with the joy and mischief of a young boy. T-Model Ford had a smile like no other and it lit up the room, for good or for ill. Lightnin’ Malcolm once told me you ain’t gotta worry about T-Model when he’s scowling, even if he’s holding a knife… it’s only when he’s holding that knife and peels back that grin, then you better run for your life. But when he’s holding a shot of brown liquor and showing off those “teeth” of his, you’re all good. At least that’s what I always found. I’m tired of tossing around nouns ike “legend”, “hero”, “blues man”, “legacy” and so on every time one of those rare and beautiful specimens that has touched my soul with their personality, wisdom, and art passes on. Adjectives like “epic”, “authentic”, “real-deal” and what have you, have been spoken many times over since this man recently left our mortal coil. T-Model Ford was all these things and so much more, but most of all he was a part of history, a piece of this nation’s culture that will never be replicated. Maybe just a footnote in the encyclopedia, but to all of those lucky enough to experience his true persona, hear him play his music, and listen to his records, T-Model Ford truly was the glorified protagonist in the last chapter of one of America’s greatest tales. The lore of the blues and its purveyors stretches long and deep through the canals of American history and T-Model was connected to all of it. Not necessarily even because of his music, which was a direct outlet of what he felt, but for the life he lived and the way he lived it. Experts can pick apart T-Model’s music all day, but they never will have seen, heard or felt what that man did. His ankles bore scars from the chain gang, his hands were calloused from a lifetime of work, starting in the fields, shops and dirt roads, then on to the juke joints, bars, clubs and festivals all over the world. Nobody ever did it like him and no one else should even try. He was the sweetest, kindest, happiest, meanest, nastiest, craziest, drunkest and most adorable old man you ever met. People quote old clichés like “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” but when it comes to T-Model, Goddamn! He was beyond one-of-a-kind. Those of us who met him will never ever have an experience like that ever again, because history and time just won’t allow it. That part of America’s past has been gone for years, T-Model was just too goddamn tough to be outlived by his counterparts, so he shared his beautifully frightening universe with us for far longer than anyone expected him to. His sound resembled the great blues men of MS and Chicago being reincarnated into a piece of rusty wire and dragged across gravel somehow screeching in perfect harmony with itself.
I first started Djing on-air at WWOZ-FM April 27th, 2006, my first ever on-air interview was not long after that. I got a call on the way to the station from Dwayne Breshears, our fearless and dedicated Program Director, that T-Model Ford might be stopping by… I was ecstatic but didn’t want to get my hopes up… You never know if or when a blues man will actually show up… T-Model Ford rolled up with Lightnin Malcolm, who escorted him the way a first knight would their king, and I for one felt like I was in the presence of royalty. I warmed T-Model up with a few questions before showtime and told him to go easy on the profanity for whatever that was worth, and he was on his best behavior until I turned the microphones on… He got a little crude and vulgar, and dropped some words that the FCC is not too fond of. I knew I should stop him, but I just couldn’t. I was under his spell. I had my hand right above the “off” button on his mic’s channel on our soundboard but every time I went to mash it my hand would freeze a centimeter from its action, right before he’d let out one of his classic “Mutha-fuckahzz!” Something in me wouldn’t let him be silenced, the world just needed to hear T-Model Ford drop an F-bomb and it was a beautiful thing. I can’t lie and say I wasn’t a bit nervous… I feared that that may have been my first and last interview on WWOZ, but I had no choice, I was merely a victim of T-Model’s voodoo, and who could blame me? Dwayne, my dear friend and program director gave me just enough reprimand to know that I shouldn’t let it happen again, but kindly insinuated that it still was a stand-out interview. In the following days, many of my WWOZ colleagues came up to me and patted me on the back telling me that it was one of the most memorable interviews they’d ever heard. Turned out I wasn’t banned from our sacred airwaves, I was now in the family, more than ever. It made me feel like I’d just won the Super Bowl in double-overtime. Since then, every interview I’ve done on ‘OZ, for the most part, I’ve kept clean and FCC sanctioned, because nobody will ever cuss as eloquently as T-Model Ford. Nobody will ever do anything quite like T-Model again, especially making music. His songs were the result of smiling through a lifetime of hardships and suffrage, mixed in with some late nights and hot days of purging the heavy burden that comes from growing up as an impoverished black man in the 20th century. He was from another time, one that has passed, and probably for the best. But thank goodness it left us T-Model Ford for as long as we had him here. “Can’t read, can’t write, can’t spell nothing… Can play this goddamn gui-tar though!” That was him in a nutshell. I personally am not a Jack Daniel’s drinker, however I may have to imbibe a little of it in honor of the great T-Model Ford, the Taledragger, from Greenville, Mississippi. Rest Peacefully, old friend.
“If she flags my train, I’ma let her ride.” –T-Model Ford
-Stuart Raper AKA Soul Stu