GRAVELROAD News Looking back… T Model Ford’s passing

Looking back… T Model Ford’s passing

The new year is upon us.  There are so many things we are thankful for and we are amazed at our ongoing enterprise’s offerings.

2013 was an unusual year.  A very sad yet eventual event occurred in the passing of James Lewis Carter “T Model” Ford in July.  We have so much love for the man.  We feel so fortunate for have had the time and quality experiences with he and his family.

Life with T Model Ford wasn’t easy neither was it as hard as some would seem.  Life for him had this form of consistency that the average person could never fathom.  That he stayed alive for ninety plus years despite forces far beyond his control is rather stunning.

– He made it through being born poor and black (his term) in rural Mississippi in the early 1920’s.  Mississippi’s current mortality rate in the nation is the highest of the 50 states (,4569,266,291.html) with the rate for African-American being twice that of whites.

  Hell, with infant mortality rates at over 85% in 1920 – – it was amazing he was here at all.

– He survived Jim Crow era Mississippi.  T Model told amazing stories of white people coming to his home to threaten the family, headed by his seemingly ruthless father.  He told one elaborate tale of a lynch mob coming after his father for talking to a white woman.  “I never looked at no white girls growin’ up … I knew better.”

– He survived his father.  He lost a testicle in a beating as a boy.  But he lived to tell his tale.

– He survived a deadly attack in a dice game in Humboldt Tennessee. He killed a man with a knife, which led to ….

– He survived a chain gang, sentenced for killing a man.  He’d show you the scars on his ankles and sometimes go as far as to go “show and tell” on you about the other other scars as well in the morning after a gig sometimes.  I always thought this was his way of bonding.

  Of note, he was eventually “bought” off the chain gang by a former boss.  I don’t think that practice continues in the Tennessee penal system in the 21st Century.

– He survived a lot of wives and children.  He admitted he was “hard” as a young man.  He claimed 6 wives, including his widow Stella and 26 children … but I’d have long, slow conversations with him and he’d start repeating names around a dozen or so.  Now I know there were at least a couple of James’ around, but I don’t think he had more than somewhere in the teens in terms of offspring.

  I don’t think he was the most active and involved of a father. He sounded like he loved his first wife and tried in the relationship, but he didn’t sound too excited about the following ones until he settled down with Stella, and even they had their very rocky periods during the two plus decades together.  I don’t need to quote a source, just listen to some of his songs.

  Yet he could love dearly.  His love for his adopted grandchildren was well-known and constantly on display. He had a special place for his grandsons, including his musically gifted grandson Stud.

– He survived being a musical veteran, touring until our final run that ended in early August 2011. Years on the road can be excrutiatingly difficult.  He thrived under such conditions.

He was incredibly resilient to the end.  He strength finally left him after all the strokes and TIAs.  He was playing live as long as he could into his early 90’s.  I believe he went out on his own terms.  I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to make so much music and live so many experiences with the man over the years.

We will miss him.