Good Songs Have Come and Gone
The Story of Jimmy Ford
Jimmy Ford is not exactly a well-known name in the rockabilly and rock'n'roll community but his name appears on several reissues and original copies of his records sell for good money nowadays. Relatively less has been known about Ford himself, a fact that motivated researcher Volker Houghton and myself enough to unearth the story of this Arkansas rock'n'roller.
Although Ford's musical career took place primarily in Arkansas, he originally hailed from the state of Alabama, where he was born James F. Ford on February 15, 1937. His parents, Henry and Frances Herring Ford, were residing in Russell County, Alabama, where he grew up on a farm. An obituary mentions that Ford joined the US Air Force and served during the Korean War, which meant he was still a teenager while enlisting, as the Korean War took place from 1950 until 1953.
Influenced by the likes of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, Ford had founded a rock'n'roll group called the Sunliners by the late 1950s. Following his military service, he had moved to Conway, Arkansas, and enrolled at Arkansas State Teachers College, where he met fellow musician J.T. Rhodes, who started playing bass with the Sunliners. In the spring of 1959, Ford and his band managed to record for a local label, Foster Johnson's Stylo label in Little Rock. Johnson also operated the Dub International label, which was most famous for releasing the original version of "Lama Rama Ding Dong" by the Edsels. Ford recorded "Don't Hang Around My Anymore" and "You're Gonna Be Sorry", two self-penned rock'n'roll outings that later saw re-release on various compilations. If the Sunliners were involved in these cuts or if Ford was accompanied by session musicians, is not known. Foster Johnson put out both songs on record (Stylo #ST-2102) around March or April 1959. It is reported that an agent from London Records wanted to lease the masters for wider distribution but the tapes were held back by Johnson.
|Billboard Pop review April 6, 1959|
Not long after Ford's debut release had hit the market, he was invited back to cut a follow up. For his next disc, Ford recorded two songs that were done in a contemporary, commercial teen sound. Ford's second record appeared in form of "We Belong (Together)" b/w "Be Mine Forever" (Stylo #2105), once again both composed by Ford. The record was released in May or June 1959 and this record seems to have sold decently as promotion copies of it can be found. Also, shortly after its release, it was also issued in Canada by Ampex Records.
During this time frame, Ford and Foster Johnson, who seems to have acted like his manager, traveled the mid-south and east coast, promoting the records and appearing at different venues as well as radio and TV stations. Ford and the Sunliners opened for Jerry Lee Lewis in Little Rock, for Johnny Cash in Birminingham, and became acquainted with James Harvey "Mouse" Hockersmith, who later worked with Charlie Rich and the Pacers. In addition, they regularly played at local clubs and shows, such as the Silver Moon club, the Club 70, and Steve's Show (probably Steve Stephens' TV show) in Little Rock.
|Billboard Pop review June 1, 1959|
It seems that Ford remained active as a musician but we couldn't find any hint of activity. It is probable, however, that he earned his doctorate in linguistics at Ohio State University during the early to mid 1960s. He returned to Arkansas, settling in Fayetteville, where he became a professor of foreign language at the University of Arkansas.
There was a record on the Denver, Colorado, based Esther label, by a certain Jimmy Ford, which seems to be out of place location-wise. Release date information escapes us sadly but the publishing rights on this disc also belonged to J & W Music, the same company that also published Ford's Stylo songs. In addition, his son was living in Denver at the time of Ford's passing, which suggests that the Ford family once lived there. However, an anonymous reader denied this was the same Jimmy Ford.
In 1967, Ford revived his recording career and recorded two of his self-written songs with a band called the Luzers, "Deathhouse Lament" and "Good Times Have Come and Gone", that saw release on MY Records (MY #2914) early that year. By then, Bob Dylan had become a major influence on Ford. The A side was a haunting, folkish song with harmonica, percussion, and acoustic guitar accompaniment. MY was also located in Little Rock and was owned by Earl Fox. The label, along with its sister label E&M, were known during the decade for its garage and psychedelic rock records.
The obituary mentions that Ford "was an accomplished songwriter and musician and had written and performed for many years throughout the country" but further knowledge on his music activities escape us, unfortunately. His brother T.Y. Ford was a drummer and performed in the Prescott, Arkansas, area for years. Be aware that there were several other artists known as Jim Ford or Jimmy Ford, none of them were associated with our Jimmy Ford or at least we do not know of any connection. Ford served as the chairman of the university's linguistics department for ten years before retiring in 1998.
Ford and his wife Mary had one son and three daughters. Jimmy Ford passed away on November 27, 2008, in Fayetteville at the age of 71 years. One of his daughters once said that "You're Gonna Be Sorry" was one of his favorite songs. Recently, Volker Houghton corresponded with relatives of Ford and it seemed that we were getting closer to unearth his complete story. However, we have not received an answer from the Ford family yet.
Stylo 2102: Jimmy Ford - Don't Hang Around My Anymore / You're Gonna Be Sorry (1959)
Stylo 2105: Jimmy Ford - We Belong (Together) / Be Mine Forever (1959)
Apex (CAN) 9-76525: Jimmy Ford - We Belong (Together) / Be Mine Forever (1959)
MY 2914: Jimmy Ford and the Luzers - Deathhouse Lament / Good Times Have Come and Gone (1967)
Esther 101: Jimmy Ford - What Love Can Do / Gotta Gal
• Find a Grave entry
• Rockin' Country Style entry
• 45cat entry
• Comment on this post by an anonymous reader
• Marvin Schwartz: "We Wanna Boogie: The Rockabilly Roots of Sonny Burgess and the Pacers" (Butler Center Books), 2014, pages 129-130
Jimmy’s played during the time of James Harvey (Mouse) Hockersmith and Charlie Rich. They all were very close friends. Mouse was the cousin to Charlie’s wife. Jimmy also had the lead on band for Johnny Cash in Birmingham and for Jerry Lee Lewis in Little Rock. London records wanted to buy the rights to You’re Gonna be Sorry but Fox would not release the rights. Jimmy spoke to the agent from London Records and was told if he didn’t think he could 250000 the next day, he would not have bothered to try for tge record. His songs were not blanketed across the country but played in large cities where they were normally considered number one hits. He never played in Denver and that is not one of his songs. He wrote many songs and was enamored by Jimmy Rogers (#1), Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and many more genres. He realized that he loved teaching at the college level so pursued his doctorate after receiving two Master’s degrees.
Thank you very much for your additions. Did you know Jimmy Ford personally or are you related to you him? I'll try to add the info you provided to the post during the next days.
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