In recent years, the Fat Possum label has made a cottage industry of "discovering" southern blues musicians, recording them at their rawest and promoting them as exemplars of an unsullied tradition. In the process they've tended to sensationalize their charges' lives: any man with knife scars or a prison record finds his travails paraded as badges of authenticity. James "T-Model" Ford, who was born about 78 years ago in Forrest, Mississippi, and now makes his home in Greenville, is perfect fodder for Fat Possum's mythology machine. A lifelong manual laborer who by his own account "can't read, can't write, never been to school," he's spent most of his days in crushing poverty and served time on a chain gang for murder. But all hype aside, he delivers the goods: Ford wraps his barbed-wire leads around primal rhythms bashed out by his longtime drummer, Tommy Lee Miles (aka Spam), and he sings in a gritty but flexible baritone that can ascend into an agonized scream, as on the harrowing "Black Nanny" (from Bad Man, his current Fat Possum disc). His repertoire and style borrow heavily from midcentury Chicagoans--Howlin' Wolf is a favorite. But even when he's running standard 12-bar changes there's an insistent modal-sounding drone to his chording that evokes his country roots, and he muddles and truncates the phrases of his songs--both lyrically and musically, he swirls in and out of coherence like a possessed shaman. Johnny Winter headlines. Friday, November 1, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.