Our top 10 Robben Ford songs list presents the music of an American artist best known for his prolific guitar skills. The 1951-born legend has an eclectic musical taste that oozes his passion for the blues, jazz, funk, and rock. Growing up, Robben Ford had his musical taste shaped by guitar bluesmen including Eric Clapton, B. B. King, and Mike Bloomfield. Robben Ford would take some guitar lessons at age fourteen remaining active in the music scene since the late ‘60s. Over the years, Robben Ford built his legacy as an unadulterated guitar master distinguishing himself with his creative and emotive, yet awe-inspiring notes.
Robben Ford’s Life Before His Solo Career
Robben Ford took on music when he was just a teenager. Together with Patrick and Mark Ford, his brothers, Robben Ford formed the Charles Ford Blues Band. The trio went on to issue two studio albums including an eponymous LP and Discovering the Blues. In 1969, Robben Ford and his brothers had their first major outing joining Charlie Musselwhite in his performances. Robben Ford would also join the legendary blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon with whom he recorded two studio albums.
However, the tides seemed to be drifting Robben Ford to new grounds as the mid-’70s approached. While he never trashed his blues beginnings, Robben Ford would join Tom Scott’s jazz fusion ensemble L.A. Express in 1974. As part of his new band, Robben Ford joined Joni Mitchell in her albums Miles of the Isles and The Hissing of Summer Lawn. Robben Ford was also enlisted to join former The Beatles guitarist, George Harrison on his Dark Horse Tour.
Robben Ford’s Solo Career and Outstanding Album Releases
During the Dark Horse Tour, George Harrison made a statement that probably influenced Robben Ford’s next move in the music scene. Harrison went on to cite Robben Ford as a rare artist so natural to the blues and jazz! All we know happened next was Robben forming his own jazz fusion band under the moniker The Yellowjackets in 1977.
Earlier in 1976, Robben Ford had released Schizophonic, a recording issued through LA International Records. His live outing with Jimmy Witherspoon in 1977 was also a noticeable record. However, Robben Ford’s most notable recording of the ‘70s was his studio album The Inside Story, issued through Elektra Records. The Inside Story was produced by Steve Cropper, who’s best known for his collaborative work with Albert King, Otis Redding, Rod Stewart, and Carla Thomas.
Robben Ford returned to his band The Yellowjackets with whom he released two studio albums including Yellowjackets in 1981 and Mirage a Trois in 1983. However, it wasn’t until his album, Talk to Your Daughter that Robben Ford became a revered blues guitarist. Talk to Your Daughter catapulted Robben Ford to newfound fame, earning him a Grammy Awards nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Recording in 1989.
However, Robben lost the award to “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” by The Robert Cray Band. Other releases that had been nominated for the same award that year include Blues You Can Use by Bobby Bland, Seven Year Itch by Etta James, and the track “Low Commotion” by Ry Cooder. “Help the Poor,” “Talk to Your Daughter,” and “Revelation” are the best songs from Robben Ford’s album, Talk to Your Daughter. Talk to Your Daughter led to the formation of the blues band, Robben Ford and the Blue Line which was Robben Ford’s main vehicle for his solo career in the ‘90s.
Robben Ford’s next major outing was his band’s eponymous album, Robben Ford & the Blue Line. The album was a success having earned Robben Ford a nomination in the 1993 Grammy Awards ceremony in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category. However, the album lost to The Sky is Crying by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. “Start It Up,” “Life Song (One For Annie),” and “The Brother (For Jimmie & Stevie)” are the most popular songs from the album.
In 1993, Robben Ford and the Blue Line returned with Mystic Mile, one of the best blues rock albums of that year. There’s no doubt that Mystic Mile was an impressive record having it feature some of the best Robben Ford songs including “The Plunge” and “He Doesn’t Play Nothin’ But The Blues.” The album’s success was crowned by a Grammy Awards nomination in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category in 1994.
Unfortunately, Robben Ford and his band lost to Feels Like Rain by Buddy Guy. Other albums that had been nominated for the award that year include Wake Up Call by John Mayall, Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters by Paul Rodgers, and Hey, Where’s Your Brother? by Johnny Winter.
Adding to the string of Robben Ford’s tremendous albums was Handful of Blues, an album issued in 1995. Handful of Blues is home to some of the best Robben Ford songs including “Rugged Road,” “When I Leave Here,” and a cover of “Chevrolet,” a song released by Taj Mahal in 1971. Unfortunately, Handful of Blues never managed to get a nomination in the Grammy Awards following strong blues albums by Buddy Guy, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Albert King, Percy Sledge, and Robert Cray.
Tiger Walk, issued in 1997, marked yet another impressive album by Robben Ford. The album is home to some of the best Robben Ford songs including “The Champ,” “Freedom,” “In the Beginning,” and a cover of Ann Peebles’ hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” The instrumental track “In the Beginning” was nominated for the 1998 Grammy Awards’ Best Rock Instrumental Performance accolade. However, Robben Ford lost the award to “Block Rockin’ Beats” by The Chemical Brothers.
Robben Ford released other major albums in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. However, Truth, issued in 2007, is his most impressive album of the 2000s. The album is home to some of the most popular songs by Robben Ford including “How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want To Go),” “Moonchild Blues,” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
Truth earned Robben Ford his fifth Grammy Award nomination (his fourth in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category). However, he lost to The Road to Escondido, an album by J. J. Cale and Eric Clapton. Other albums nominated for the same award that year included Is It News by Doyle Bramhall, The Scene of Crime by Bettye LaVette, and Into the Blues by Joan Armatrading. Robben Ford’s most recent album is Pure, issued in 2021 through Ear Music.
Robben Ford’s Other Musical Pursuits, Accolades, and Legacy
Since his entry into the music scene in the late ‘60s, Robben Ford has retained his initial stylishness as a guitarist in the blues scene. His prolific guitar skills are among the most unparalleled in the blues scene thanks to his innovative and soulful style. However, the singer/guitarist hasn’t restricted himself to blues alone, showing us his amazing jazz, funk, and rock side.
Over the years, Robben Ford has released collaborative works with outstanding artists including Steely Dan, Kiss, Charlie Musselwhite, Tom Scott, John Mayall, Bonnie Raitt, and Bob Dylan among others. Despite winning none of his five Grammy Awards nominations, this proved how impactful Robben Ford’s career was in the blues scene. Here we present the all-time ten best Robben Ford songs.
#10 – Rugged Road
Ushering us to our ten best Robben Ford songs list is the pulsating hit “Rugged Road.” The song is among the most revered hits off the album, Handful of Blues. “Rugged Road” serves as the opening track to the album. This upbeat track is among Robben Ford’s rock-influenced hits.
We ought to give credit to his backing band The Blue Line for its impressive synchronicity with Robben Ford’s guitar riffs. A promotional music video was made for “Ragged Roads” whose release coincided with Robben Ford’s tour to the West Coast. “Rugged Roads” is without a doubt the album’s most definitive track. However, it receives quite some competition from Robben Ford’s cover of Taj Mahal’s 1971 hit “Chevrolet,” another fan-favorite hit worth listening to.
#9 – He Don’t Play Nothin’ but The Blues
“He Don’t Play Nothin’ but The Blues” is an impressive album opening track to Robben Ford’s Mystic Mile. The song’s magical groove makes it stand out from all other songs on the album, Mystic Mile. “He Don’t Play Nothin’ but The Blues,” like most of the songs on this album, crystalizes Robben Ford’s raw blues emotions.
However, don’t let this song’s title trick you! Robben Ford is more than blues having some of his songs ooze elements of rock, jazz, and funk. “He Don’t Play Nothin’ but The Blues” in itself finds Robben Ford breaking away from the restrictions of being a bluesman with some rock influences. Nevertheless, this song’s monster blues riffs bring the best of Robben Ford’s blues influences.
#8 – How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want to Go)
Coming in at number eight on our top ten Robben Ford songs list is the raving hit “How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want to Go).” The song is among the best Robben Ford songs from the Grammy Award-nominated album, Truth. “How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want to Go)” is the prototypical representation of Robben Ford’s endured top-notch musicianship.
Robben Ford himself gets even deeper into the blues on this album with his hit “Riley B. King,” a song that pays tribute to B. B. King, who Ford refers to as the ‘King of Emotions.’ It is no doubt “Riley B. King” catches the attention of many. However, Robben Ford’s crooning on “How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want to Go)” remains unparalleled by any song from this album. Backed by its impressive guitar tunes, “How Deep in the Blues (Do You Want to Go)” towered over most songs on Truth, becoming a fan favorite, almost imminently.
#7 – Start It Up
After the release impressive Grammy Award-nominated album, Talk to Your Daughter album, Robben Ford teamed up with drummer Tom Brechtlein and bassist Roscoe Beck to form Robben Ford & the Blue Line. The trio went on to issue several momentous albums, the first being an eponymous album in 1992. Thanks to standout tracks such as “Start It Up” Robben Ford & the Blue Line managed to earn Robben Ford his second Grammy Award nomination. No blues collectors would pass this hit by, owing to Robben Ford’s remarkable bluesy guitar riffs.
#6 – Up the Line
Number six on our top 10 Robben Ford songs list is the breathtaking hit “Up the Line.” The song is featured on the singer/guitarist’s album, Blue Moon. Blue Moon saw Robben Ford make a grand return to his blues roots and the result was as awe-inspiring as the efforts invested. Before we get into the unadulterated thrill of this hit, it is worthwhile that we remember Little Walter who was the first to record this hit in 1963.
Robben Ford just obliterates almost everyone else who has ever released a cover of this hit, especially on the vocal delivery and the guitar tune! “Up the Line” remains to be one of Robben Ford’s cover tracks illustrative of his impressive pure blues sound.
#5 – Freedom
Guitar-based instrumental music can be as amazing as any other release as showcased by Robben Ford’s hit “Freedom.” “Freedom” is an instrumental track featured on Robben’s album, Tiger Walk. Tiger Walk was Robben Ford’s first entirely instrumental album, with the guitarist citing to have longed for a break from penning lyrics. In his pursuits for a more ‘natural’ sounding release, Robben Ford dropped some of the best instrumental tracks including “Freedom.”
Melodiously incredible is the perfect description we have for this dazzling instrumental track. However, you also need to listen to “In the Beginning,” Robben Ford’s instrumental track from this album that somehow stole the show by earning a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Notable American guitarists who repeatedly issued reputable instrumental tracks include Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
#4 – Nothing to Nobody
“Nothing to Nobody” is one of the best Robben Ford songs from his 1999 album, Supernatural. As earlier mentioned, Robben Ford has been branded a reputable bluesman over the years. However, his music at times rises above categorization. His album Supernatural is just perfect proof of this claim. Its songs feel a little inclined to jazz/soul with traces of blues music still making their way to the record. “Nothing to Nobody,” a song co-written by Robben Ford and Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers, brings the best of Robben’s pop-soul sheen.
#3 – Cannonball Shuffle
Amazing solos, great grooves, and legendary arrangement all combine to make Robben Ford’s album Keep on Running a remarkable blues album. While the album features quite a number of reputable hits, the instrumental track “Cannonball Shuffle” stand out making it to the third pick of our ten best Robben Ford songs.
“Cannonball Shuffle” is enough proof that Robben Ford didn’t require lyrics at some times to make his music relevant. His guitar could sing for him and it does that perfectly on this track! “Cannonball Shuffle” was issued by Robben Ford as a tribute to the legendary American guitarist Freddie King. This instrumental track brings the best of Robben Ford’s blues-tinged with some jazz chops. John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers issued their version of “Cannonball Shuffle” in 2007.
#2 – Help the Poor
“Help the Poor” is by far one of the most revered hits of the late ‘80s by Robben Ford. The song was issued on the album, Talk to Your Daughter. Initially, “Help the Poor” was issued by B. B. King in 1964. Robben Ford’s cover was as massive as the original version. The singer/guitarist manages to give us a taste of his impressive guitar skills on his upbeat cover of this hit.
#1 – Talk to Your Daughter
Number one on our ten best Robben Ford songs list is the alluring hit “Talk to Your Daughter.” The song serves as the album title track to Robben Ford’s Grammy Award-nominated 1988 album. “Talk to Your Daughter” is Robben Ford’s version of the 1950s hit “Mama Talk to Your Daughter” by J.B. Lenore.
While his guitar skills are highly revered compared to his vocals, Robben Ford manages to strike a balance between the two in this hit. “Talk to Your Daughter” finds Robben Ford asserting his position as a master of sophisticated blues as evidenced by his stellar soloing. Other artists who have released a rendition of this song include Magic Slim, Robert Palmer, William Robertson, and John Lee Hooker.
Top 10 Robben Ford Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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