From famous actors and directors who retreat to spas and inns to legendary writers and painters who own houses and ranches, the quaint town of Ojai has always seemed to draw artistic types. The critically acclaimed blues, jazz and rock guitarist Robben Ford is no exception. The Grammy-nominated musician, who has played with everyone from Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell to Kiss and who was named one of the greatest guitarists of the 20th century by Musician Magazine, is holding one of his popular guitar clinics this weekend. The VCReporter caught up with Ford to talk teaching, his take on the Grammys, the local music scene and, perhaps most importantly, the best place to get a pulled-pork sandwich in Ojai.
VCReporter: What exactly is a guitar clinic?
Robben Ford: We first started producing these events about 10 years ago here in Ojai, doing three or four a year. I took a break from them for a bit ’cause I was on the road quite a bit the past few years. Now I have some space to do it again. We max it out at 25 people, so that way I feel like I can give proper attention to anybody that needs it. We start at 10 and go till about 4 with a one-hour lunch break in there. I basically present my philosophy on music. I present fundamental music theory and a lot of emphasis on chords and chord knowledge. I have a rather informal booklet of about 115 pages of written information that I review over the course of the clinic. Occasionally I will play with someone, doesn’t always happen, depends what type of roll I’m on. I’d say that’s a pretty fair description of it.
Is it a serious class or is there a fun vibe?
People do enjoy themselves, and that to me is an important component of the whole thing. To show them it’s easier than they might think. They could actually be making music, playing songs, playing with other people, quicker than they think. I know what it’s like to lock myself up because I didn’t think I was ready to play with people who I thought were more experienced than me, but they didn’t feel that way. I really try to get people to realize that it can be an enjoyable experience. They should get out and play and have a good time with it, and at the same time I’m able to give them the fundamental tools that have taken me through my entire career. I offer everything. I don’t hold anything back.
You certainly don’t need to teach, you’re always recording and on the road, but still you hold clinics, camps, online lessons. Why do you do it? Do you just like teaching?
I do. Honestly, one of the reasons I started doing the clinic here in Ojai was to get off the road. It’s a pretty rough life whether people know it or not. It actually is a way for me to stay at home and make some income but I really do enjoy teaching. It’s something that’s become important to me. I have a lot of fans [that are musicians] and I’m ready, willing, able to pass along the things I’ve learned to them. I feel good about that.
Did you have a teacher that was a big influence on you or were you self-taught?
Very much self-taught. Then again, for me it became a strength and an asset because I know everything these people could be going through. Most guitar players are generally self-taught. Most people get into guitar learning the same way I did; they get a book or a video. I did have a book where I learned chords but I know the struggle of trying to learn on your own and get better and try to break out of habits. I know about that stuff. I’m the perfect person to talk to from that point of view because I did break out of those habits and expand my chordal and harmony knowledge. So it can be done.
The people that attend these clinics, are they generally hard-core Robben Ford fans?
To a great extent they are fans of mine but I’ve had people come from all over the world to Ojai to attend. I’ve had a guy from Japan. I’ve had a guy from Paris. They may have had some other things to do once they got here, but they included the clinic in their trip or the clinic inspired them to make that trip. A lot of fans. Lot of younger people recently too. That always makes me happy. They have fewer habits to break and their minds are generally more open.
What brought you to Ojai initially?
It was a connection to Buddhism. My wife and I are both Buddhists and one of our teachers had moved here. That was big part of it. Also I kind of needed to be in Southern California but I never liked Los Angeles. I’ve lived in and out of the city and come and gone from it many times over the years and Ojai became a solution to that, to be in Southern California near the music scene I was involved in. It was an all-around good thing to do.
Do you ever get to see much Ventura County music? Any artists you’re a fan of or aware of?
Only a little bit. I’m very well acquainted with the McEuen Brothers. Jonathan and I have performed together. We toured a little bit on the West Coast as a duet and a trio. Another fellow, Kyle Swan, he was born in Ojai, he’s 30 or 31 years old, he and I did some jamming after we met and he contributed as a writer to my new record. We’ve developed quite a relationship, he and I. That’s about the extent of it for me.
What are your favorite places to hang in Ojai?
I used to like the Hot Springs till it was closed. That’s very sad. I’m a great frequenter of the Coffee Connection, Knead Bakery and Bohemia Coffee House. The coffee shops, I go to all of them. I must say, though, I probably spend more time than any at Ojai Beverage Company. They have a great bar with draft beer and they have an incredible pulled-pork sandwich.
You’ve been nominated for a Grammy five times and have yet to win one. With everything you’ve done in your career, that’s got to piss you off a little bit.
No. I understand the whole thing. The first time that I got nominated for a Grammy, I was quite sure that it was a mistake. I was waiting for it to get cleared up. (Laughs.) But indeed it was real. In order to win a Grammy in the blues category you have to be either black or from Texas. Or you have to be Eric Clapton. That’s the other one. It became very clear to me that it’s very much a popularity contest. Doesn’t have anything to do with your work. You can’t judge your own work based on things like that, and my interest is doing good work. All of that stuff, I really could kind of care less anymore. It’s not a problem for me.
Robben Ford holds a guitar clinic this Saturday, March 28, at Ojai Woman’s Club, 441 E. Ojai Ave. at 10 a.m. Advance registration is required. Visit www.robbenford.com or email email@example.com for more information. Robben Ford’s new record, Into the Sun, will be released next month and is available for pre-order at www.robbenford.com.