T-Model Ford, a Mississippi singer and guitarist who took up the blues later in life, died yesterday of respiratory failure at home in Greenville. Ford claimed to be 93, though The Associated Press reports that he didn’t recall what year he was born and may have been 89.
Ford took up the guitar when he was 58, after his fifth wife left him, and began playing blues at private parties around Greenville in western Mississippi. “He’d play late, then he’d spray himself with a bunch of mosquito spray and sleep in his van,” said longtime friend Roger Stolle.
During his career as a blues artist, Ford recorded seven albums, and was known for his rough-hewn sound and whiskey-fueled live performances. Ford could be playful on stage, and often interacted with attractive couples in the crowd.
“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.
Born James Lewis Carter Ford, it’s not clear how he ended up with the nickname “T-Model.” According to a record label bio, Ford was plowing fields behind a mule by the time he was 11. He also worked at a saw mill, as a truck driver and in a logging camp, and was said to have been sentenced to 10 years on a chain gang for murder when he was a young man. He released his first album, Pee-Wee Get My Gun, on Fat Possum in 1997.
“His music would take you right back to the heart and soul of the Delta, back in the day,” said Bill Luckett who co-owns Greenville’s Ground Zero Blues Club. He called Ford “a master of old school blues.”
Ford was married six times, and is said to have fathered 26 children.