Ford Madox Ford: A New Musical Revolution
Ford Madox Ford is the next chapter of Chip Kinman’s long and brilliant music career. Along with his brother Tony, The Kinmans have presented such compelling acts as The Dils, Rank And File, Blackbird, and Cowboy Nation upon the world at large. Tony would produce The American Blues by Ford Madox Ford before his passing, cementing a grand finale within the Kinman musical partnership. Highwire Daze magazine interviewed Chip and Tony for our debut issue back in 1990. And now 28 years later, we catch up with Chip Kinman to discuss his vision of Ford Madox Ford and other topics of intrigue.
Do you remember the interview we did back in 1990, before Highwire Daze even did our first printing?
I do remember. The interview was set up, and I remember talking to Tony saying like “Is this like a hippie, pot smoking magazine? What’s this going to be?” And Tony said, “Just do it. It’s alright. Even if it is pot smoking hippies.”
And here we are today, 28 years and 120 issues later, doing our second interview. Is there any overall story or concept behind the album This American Blues?\
Nothing too overarching. They’re all really personal stories – every song on the record – even the one that I didn’t write Let’s Work Together is a bit of a personal story. The song Dark American Night specifically references America where we are right now and how fucking strange it is. The record – it is indeed my blues but it’s also talking about the country. Most of the songs are about the country we live in and how strange it is these days. It’s not what it used to be and who knows where it’s going.
That was one of my questions actually – what inspired the lyrics for that particular song Dark American Night?
Flip flopping between MSNBC and Fox News – going back and forth and going “What happened?” Between the right wing lunatics and the left wing nut jobs – what indeed happened?
There’s no middle ground…
There doesn’t seem to be. Which is fine for like the arts or a skateboarder if you need to “go for it!” But when you’re talking about our country – or for that matter our civilization – to me it seems like it’s teetering. I’m not sure how we’re going to get out of it. I assume we will – I’m not sure how…
You and your brother Tony have always worked together on projects – he even worked with you on Ford Madox Ford. What was the experience like working with him on this particular band?
It was great, because he produced it – he co-wrote some of the stuff – helped with some of the lyrics and a couple chord changes. It was great to work with him. He’s got a really, really good ear – and I’ve always trusted him over the years. He had a great memory – when Dewey Peek was playing his guitar parts and he lays out like 25 tracks of noise, Tony was good at remembering which noise bits were the best. I could never do that. But he could remember it. And he was really good at direction and producing stuff. He would say things like “Why don’t you play that like it’s the first time you’ve picked up your instrument” or “why don’t you play that like you’re in Ornette Coleman’s band?” or something like that? And luckily my band could take that direction and make that adjustment as needed. It was a pleasure to work with him. He’s always been on the other side of the board playing bass and being in a band, so it was neat having him sitting there helping us put it all together. It was great.
And that was the last thing he did?
Yeah, yeah. He didn’t know while he was doing it. He got sick shortly thereafter.
Let’s talk about Dewey. What has it been like working with your son in a band and what was the first thing you thought when you discovered he wanted to be a musician?
I’ll tell you – being in a band with him is probably easier for me than it is for him. You know – to be in a band with your dad? I can’t imagine! (Laughter) But he handles it well. He’s a real responsible kid and he’s got great instincts. And he’s fearless. It’s a pleasure – I love being in a band with him. It’s easy to be in a band with family – I’m really used to that you know. (Laughs) But I really don’t remember when he didn’t want to be a musician. On his fifth birthday – I was going to buy him a harmonica – cheap and easy to carry around – but I found a guitar for the same price as a harmonica so we bought that instead. So I bought that, I showed him a few chords, and then I backed off. I kind of steered him towards some records – “you might want to listen to this – and not that – this is why this is good and this is why this is crap.” He absorbed it really fast – so he has good instincts – he has good points of reference – and he’s a pleasure to be in a band with.
Outside of being brothers, what do you think made you and Tony work so well together in so many now legendary bands?
We both liked the same kinds of music and we both had the same sense of musical revolution – that we wanted to do something, and do something radical. There’s like if you’re not doing anything radical – if you’re not doing anything new – then you shouldn’t even bother to pick up a guitar. If you’re not bringing it, then stay home. We both had that attitude. So anything we approached – cowboy music, punk rock, noise, country music – that was our attitude. It was otherwise “let’s don’t do it.” And that’s why he was a good producer for Ford Madox Ford – because he realized what we were trying to do. We call ourselves a “blues band” but we don’t sound anything like a blues band. And to kind of quote Picasso, “the blues doesn’t sound like us now – but it will!” So we just had the same sense of punk rock revolution. And that guided us through 40 years of everything we did. And it still does.
The first time I met you and Tony, you were doing Blackbird – so I got on the Kinman ship a little late there. In retrospect, what do you think of the Blackbird project?
I think they’re great. Blackbird was such a fun band. We’re talking to some record companies about putting out a Chip and Tony box set. And one of them asked me if I had any unreleased material. I didn’t think I did – but I went back and dug through my archives, and as it turns out, I have tons of Blackbird unreleased material! We put out three Blackbird albums – we were really prolific – so many recordings and it’s really good stuff! We could do a whole other Blackbird record. I love the songs. Blackbird – like all of the bands – they’re all Chip and Tony songs. You could probably transfer those to any of our bands and it would work out just fine. But I love them – I especially loved the noise aspect of it – and I think Dewey Peek does too. I saw today (at the show) that he was down on his knees twiddling the knobs and the pedals – and that’s very Blackbird. I’ve never seen him do that before. I spent half the Blackbird shows on my knees twiddling the knobs and the pedals.
What was the experience playing the first Stagecoach Festival with Cowboy Nation?
That was great! I think at that point we had already stopped doing Cowboy Nation – and they asked us if we could do Stagecoach. We said yes – and they treated us so well. It was a great stage and I loved doing it. It felt like punk rock – because Cowboy Nation was a pretty radical band – even though it was real simple – real stripped down – in context it was very radical. And Tony was “on” that day! I mean he was like Abraham Lincoln. He was so on and sang so great – he was very compelling. Not many shows stay in my mind and live in my memory – that one does. Dewey Peek – he was a little kid at the time – and we brought him with us – and he had the best time. He was riding around in one of those little golf carts that they give the bands if you want to get from one end of the grounds to another. He was riding around in it and it was so cool.
I saw Black Book on YouTube yesterday from Rank And File’s controversial hard rock/hair metal album – and I thought I love that song – but I hated that album when it first came out. Now I love that album. What are your thoughts on that particular Rank And File album?
You know, I’m with you when I listen to it. Of course I liked it when it first came out – but I immediately didn’t like it. It was a very perverse thing to do – and it was a real career killer. Because people who like Rank And File – they wanted to hear us play country – and then we came out with that record – and everyone was like “Not into it!” So we played every empty night club in the United States after we put that record out. Yeah, it was pretty radical. But I’m with you now – I listen to it now and I really like it. Songs like Golden Age – a lot of the songs are really classic Chip and Tony songs on that record. And it’s strange – we have fans that say that’s their favorite Rank And File record. It’s really something else! Maybe it’s found it’s time and place – I don’t know…
And let’s talk about your hair in that video…
Yeah, I know. I had it long and curly – it was something else! That’s for sure! I’ll tell you something – with 40 years and all the records we’ve put out – if we’ve put out only one where people go “well I’m not so sure” – then that’s a pretty good track record.
What’s up next for Ford Madox Ford?
I’ve written a bunch of new songs – we’ve just got to put them together and put out another record. That’s it! Of course, since I’m writing the songs, who knows if it’s going to take a right turn or a left turn musically somewhere – you never know. I guess it all depends on what musical revolution I feel like committing that day…
(Interview and Photo by Ken Morton)
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