T-Model Ford and GravelRoad – Taledragger

January 01, 1970

(Alive Records)




If anything can throw some shade at ageist trends, this is
it: at approximately (he’s not sure) 90 years of age, T-Model (a/k/a “The
Taildragger,” nee James Lewis Carter) Ford bursts out of the box on his second
Alive Records outing like a banty rooster anxious to shake his tail-feathers
all over anyone crazy enough to block his path. As the rough-hewn Mississippian
once counseled some side players, “T-Model Ford is going to remember you sorry
fuckers how it’s done.”


Rather like his former labelmate R.L. Burnside (both
recorded for Fat Possum), Ford has grit ‘n’ gravel to spare. Also like Burnside,
especially when electrified, Ford plays the kind of mid-tempo, butane-soaked
boogie that could hypnotize a snake: this is the stuff from which a poor man
can concoct a few hours of nirvana.


‘Lest this continue with overly general hosannas and “Whoo-hoos,” here are some specifics. The
first thing likely to turn the head of anyone who responds to down ‘n’ dirty,
hip-shakin’ rhythms is Ford and GravelRoad’s grind into  “Same Old Train,” which sounds a lot like
“Mystery Train,” the song penned by Sam Phillips with Junior Parker, which
Parker performed with more of a Jump-tilted shuffle, and which is often associated
with Elvis’s more minimal rendition. (It’s said that at least some of its
lyrics/storyline are seeded in The Carter Family’s 1930 hit, “Worried Man Blues.”)


Ford does “Same Old Train” like it’s a virgin and he’s the
first successful suitor; the only one who can really tell the story. The
lyric’s transmitted as if Ford needs to get the message to someone over miles
of windy terrain. The three members of GravelRoad meet his urgency with an apt
combination of casual, unhurried relish and alacrity. Ford’s guitar solo is
almost breathtaking in its confident simplicity: again, there’s a story to be
told – no need for bows or wrapping – his grit-framed guitar peels tell us plenty.


If you’re still wondering how Taledragger feels, here’s this: After blasting “Smokestack
Lightnin'” five times in a row on your way from the bar to home, from home to
the bar; down the ribbon of any dark road, when you’re searching for something
(other than R.L. Burnside) that could meet The Wolf’s intensity, well, there’s T-Model
Ford. As from an unfettered, thoroughly feckless heart, Ford growls, moans,
howls, and murmurs his way through the set’s eight tracks.


Echoes and delays come into more prominent play on several
songs, including Ford’s looking-back-at-hell shamble through “How Many More
Years.” You might say “Big Legged Woman” gets a little too messy for its own
good. “Little Red Rooster” is delivered at its traditional, plodding pace. The
particular slowness of this version makes sense, leaving lots of room for
picking bits of corn and straw from the teeth.


Really, it’s this simple: For anyone who craves the kernel at
the core of blues-with-a-beat; a kernel at the heart of much great rock ‘n’
roll, Taledragger is essential. Those
with Bad Man and You Better Keep Still in their collections already know this. If
you don’t believe them, or me, it’s time to quote Sam Phillips (on Howlin’ Wolf):
“This is where the soul of man never dies.'”


Old Train,” “I’m Coming Home,” “Someone’s Knocking on My Door,” “I Worn My Body
for So Long,” “Little Red Rooster” MARY



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