Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hard-living bluesman T-Model Ford dies

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JACKSON, Miss. -- James Lewis Carter (T-Model) Ford, a hard-living blues singer who taught himself to play guitar when he was 58 years old and his fifth wife left him, died Tuesday at his home in Greenville, Miss.

His age was uncertain. Washington County Coroner Methel Johnson said the family told her Ford was born in 1924 and had already had his birthday this year, which would have made him 89. But a blues expert and longtime friend, Roger Stolle, said Ford didn't remember what year he was born and claimed to be 93.

Johnson told The Associated Press Ford had been under hospice care and died of respiratory failure. She said he was at home with several relatives, including his wife, Estella Ford.

Stolle, who owns a Clarksdale, Miss., store called Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art, accompanied Ford and other blues artists when they toured Europe in 2009. He also travelled with Ford to gigs in New York.

"He was known as one of the last really authentic Mississippi blues men," Stolle told AP on Tuesday. "He has a story and could back it up."

When Ford was young, he served two years of a 10-year prison sentence for killing a man in self-defence and had scars on his ankles from serving on a prison chain gang, Stolle said.

Ford had six wives and 26 children, Stolle said. When Ford's fifth wife left him, she gave him a guitar as a parting gift.

"He stayed up all night drinking white whiskey," or moonshine, "and playing the guitar," Stolle said. "He kind of went on from there."

Ford started his blues career by playing at private parties and at juke joints in Greenville.

"He'd play late, then he'd spray himself with a bunch of mosquito spray and sleep in his van," Stolle said.

Stolle said Ford recorded seven albums with three labels, including three albums with Fat Possum Records in Oxford, Miss.

Ford would show up for gigs early and often play longer than expected, even when he started experiencing heart problems in recent years, Stolle said. Often, he'd pick out a happy-looking couple in the crowd that included an attractive woman and would talk directly to the man.

"He'd say, 'You'd better put your stamp on her because if she flags my train, I'm going to let her ride,'" Stolle said. "He'd do it with a gleam in his eye and a smile. He could get away with a lot."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2013 C2

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