Hard-living Mississippi bluesman T-Model Ford (born James Lewis Carter Ford) has died of a chronic respiratory illness. The Associated Press reports that Ford’s age was uncertain due to poor recordkeeping at his time of birth, but he was believed to be between 89 and 94 at his death under hospice care at his home in Greenville, Miss.
Ford lived a hard life representative of a typical bluesman. He grew under with an abusive father, was married six times, fathered 26 children and worked a litany of blue-collar jobs before embarking on a career as a blues musician. Ford even spent two years in a chain gang after killing a man in self-defense after a bar fight.
"He was known as one of the last really authentic Mississippi bluesmen," blues expert and friend Roger Stolle told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "He had a story and could back it up."
When Ford was in his 50s, his fifth wife left him and gave him a guitar in her place. Stolle said Ford spent most of that night drinking and learning how to play the guitar, which he would later turn into a successful career.
"He stayed up all night drinking white whiskey and playing the guitar," Stolle said. "He kind of went on from there."
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Ford began playing gigs around the Greenville area of the Delta soon after he picked up the guitar, and continued to tour the world up until his death, sometimes playing as many as 150 shows each year. Ford remained largely unknown outside of blues circles until he was discovered by Fat Possum records founder Matt Johnson in 1995. He released five albums with the label from 1997 to 2008.
In 2010, Ford suffered a stroke while on tour with Seattle band GravelRoad, but managed to complete the tour successfully.
Watch an interview with T-Model Ford below.