The Ford Family: A New Orleans Legacy

By Vaughan Cordell

The neighborhood is totally unfamiliar, although it is only less than ten miles away from the other more popularly known Ford homestead. The two workhorse Sprinter vans that carry the family’s band gear alongside the two 400-pound wheelchairs of the Bascle brothers are nowhere to be found, depriving me of my usual landmarks. I approach what I hope is the right house. A few moments later, I am rewarded with the smiling face of Frankie Ford as he opens the door.

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Frankie leads me to the back of his home, passing through a room filled with instruments and sound gear, his harp seemingly out of place amongst the rest of the fixtures. Both the guitars are left handed, but both are placed to the right of the chairs next to them, a testament to Frankie’s unusual playing style.

“I’m right handed, but I play left handed gear upside down,” he explains. “Just like Hendrix did. He was amazing, so I figured there must’ve been something good about it.”

We continue through the house, settling into a room housing three bulky CRT televisions, each connected to a retro game system of its own. Frankie removes a fat concerned-looking cat from a chair, which jumps onto his lap immediately after he sits down.

The Ford family is well known throughout the city of New Orleans for their involvement in the entertainment industry.

“Some of my earliest memories are tons of musicians from all over the place coming in and out of our house, recording in our front room,” recalls Frankie. “It used to be a lot more organized before Katrina, but, then again, so was everything else.”

Jimmy Ford, the patriarch of the Ford family, is a native of New Orleans—born and raised in the city. Although he is sixty three years old, you wouldn’t know it just by looking at him.

“He’s deceptively old – you’d look at him and think ‘Oh, that’s one crazy looking 40-year-old,’ but he’s at least 20 years older,” Frankie explains.

“He plays the drums all the time, and he’s always doing something. He constantly jogs around the pool. It keeps him in good shape.”

Jimmy’s involvement with music has largely been in the back scenes—as a manager, producer and former bar owner. His client list, throughout the years, has been wide and varied, including acts such as the dB’s and Richard Hell.

That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t have his own long list of on-stage accomplishments. “All of his bands have this super punky sound. He’s never stopped doing that.” As a touring performer, Jimmy has played alongside many talented artists, as well as made strides in a number of his own music projects. His local band, Gnarltones, includes Dave Catching—a guitarist who has toured globally with notable acts, such as Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal—and, more recently, his own wife, Sue Ford.

Sue only got involved in music relatively recently, unlike Jimmy. “She didn’t start playing music until she was around 28,” Frankie tells me, between repeated attempts to control his cat. “But, when she started, she was damn good at it. Busking (performing in public places for money) was basically her job at one point.”

Sue also left her mark on Mardi Gras with her then-all-female band Pink Slip, the first rock band to ever perform at a Mardi Gras parade. Prior to 2000, the only bands that had ever performed at the parades were jazz and blues bands. She fought hard to diversify the scene and was rewarded when the newly formed krewe, Muses, cast a call for all-female bands outside the traditional Mardi Gras genres.

At Mardi Gras parades, she and the rest of the band play shows from a float that Sue reimagines each season—displaying, in addition to her music talents, her painting skills, which she has utilized in the film industry in the past.

“I actually get to join in this year,” Frankie says, finally admitting defeat and pulling up another chair. “I’m playing saxophone and keyboard. I actually just started teaching myself sax in the past two months, so hopefully it goes well.”

Frankie himself has his own list of accomplishments—and many more in the making. His band, Donde Wolf, has toured alongside some phenomenal groups, including his parents’ own DiNOLA and Dave Catching’s Mojave Lords. “We’ve been all over,” says Frankie as his cat, once again, climbs onto his lap. “Touring’s a good time—a great time—but it’s exhausting.”

More recently, Frankie has delved into acting, taking the lead role in an upcoming TV series. Written by Walter Williams, the creator of Saturday Night Live’s classic clay puppet Mr. Bill, Crescent City takes place in the turbulent era of the late 1950s, covering a variety of major historical events, including those involving crime, rock and roll, civil rights, the Cuban revolution, and the rise and fall of John F. Kennedy (whose assassin was, in fact, a New Orleans native)—all that took place in New Orleans and are tied together through the life of one central fictional character, Kevin.

“I had to film a sex scene the other day, and my friend’s mom prepped me. She’s coating me in glycerin and coconut oil, and we’re apologizing to each other the whole time, while the director’s shouting ‘I want him glistening!’ It was surreal.”

The pilot was shown at Prytania Theater on February 6th with Frankie and other members of the cast and crew staging a Q&A session afterward.

“I have to ride my bike over to the Tucks staging ground right after, since I’ll be playing in that parade with Pink Slip. It’s gonna be quite a day.”

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