James Lewis Carter "T-Model" Ford, who died on 16 July at the age of around 90, was a hard-living blues singer who taught himself to play guitar when he was 58 and his fifth wife had left him. "He was known as one of the last really authentic Mississippi blues men," said Roger Stolle, the blues expert and a long-standing friend of Ford's. "He has a story and could back it up."
When Ford was a young man he served two years of a 10-year prison sentence for killing a man in self-defence, and he had scars on his ankles from serving on a prison chain gang. He started his blues career by playing at private parties and at juke joints in Greenville, Mississippi. "He'd play late, then he'd spray himself with a bunch of mosquito spray and sleep in his van," Stolle said.
Ford had six wives and 26 children. When his fifth wife left him, she gave him a guitar as a parting gift. "He stayed up all night drinking white whiskey [moonshine] and playing the guitar," Stolle said. "He kind of went on from there."
Ford went on to record seven albums with three labels, including three albums with Fat Possum Records in Oxford, Mississippi, and in 2009 he toured Europe with other blues artists. "He would show up for gigs early and often play longer than expected, even when he started experiencing heart problems in recent years," Stolle said. Ford would swig Jack Daniels on stage and chat with the audience. Often, he would pick out a happy-looking couple that included an attractive woman and 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."
Ford, who had been under hospice care, died of respiratory failure.