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Jeff Moehlis: Robben Ford and the Yellowjackets to Play at Lobero Theatre

Brilliant guitarist will reunite with former bandmates for benefit concert

Whether as a solo artist, with the jazz fusion band Yellowjackets, or on tour with artists including Joni Mitchell, George Harrison and Miles Davis, guitarist Robben Ford has always dazzled with his fine fretwork.

Ford and most of the Yellowjackets — Russell Ferrante (keyboards), Jimmy Haslip (bass) and Will Kennedy (drums) — will be back together for a concert on Friday night at the Lobero Theatre. This will benefit The Rhythmic Arts Project (TRAP), a local organization that uses rhythm and drums to empower people with various disabilities to succeed in the world.

This event will be hosted by Doors drummer John Densmore and actor Edward James Olmos. Click here for tickets.

Ford chatted on the phone from his home in Ojai about the upcoming show.

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming concert with the Yellowjackets at the Lobero Theatre?

Robben Ford: I was with the Yellowjackets many years ago, so there’s a lot of history there. But we play together rarely anymore. In various situations I might go in and record for them, or one of them for me. Jimmy and I play together sometimes. My point being, when we do get together, it’s always a lot of fun, for lack of a better word. It’s like seeing friends you haven’t seen in a long time, getting together with people that you really like. So there’s a lot of joy in it really.

JM: As you said, you have a lot of history with these guys, going back to your solo album The Inside Story and then the first two Yellowjackets albums. Could you give a quick reflection on that early work as part of your development as a musician?

RF: Originally it was Ricky Lawson on drums, Jimmy, Russ and me. Basically, conceptually, it started with Russell and me. Once that group of four came together, all of us had the same feeling that this was something that was definitely meant to be.

It doesn’t happen that often in anyone’s musical life that they really find a group of people that just completely seem to be on the same wavelength. They want to make the same music in the same way. It’s just very rare that that happens. You’re lucky if it happens three or four times in your lifetime.

One of the reasons the group Yellowjackets has stayed together for so long is because they just like playing together, you know? And once you lose that, you’re like, wow, will that ever happen again? You don’t know. That’s another reason why it’s such a great pleasure to get together and play with these guys. Because that never seems to go away, that musical connection just never seems to go away.

(Here are Robben’s abridged reflections on his time playing with three notable artists.)

Guitarist Robben Ford and the Yellowjackets will play a benefit concert for The Rhythmic Arts Project (TRAP) at the Lobero Theatre on Friday.
Guitarist Robben Ford and the Yellowjackets will play a benefit concert for The Rhythmic Arts Project (TRAP) at the Lobero Theatre on Friday.

RF: As far as I’m concerned, (Joni Mitchell) is the greatest musical artist of the 20th century. You know, I was 22 years old, and suddenly I was playing with top-notch musicians with this incredible, beautiful artist. It was just awesome, really.

George (Harrison) was great. I stayed at his house for days on end, twice, because I was in England with Joni, and sat in the ballroom of his estate in Henley-on-Thames, and listened to Ravi Shankar and the Indian Orchestra rehearse everyday. I’d sit on a huge pillow drinking tea, listening to them rehearse the band for the tour. So that was pretty rare. He gave me a guitar at the end of the tour as kind of a parting gift. He had it made for me.

(Miles Davis) was great, but everything around him was sort of chaotic, and kind of strange. It wasn’t really comfortable. With a record to do, I split. After I played my last show with him, and went back to say goodbye, he said to me, “If you ever want to come back, just come back.” Completely open door policy. That was just an amazing thing to hear from probably the most influential musician in my life. That was a turning point for me, really, just in terms of my sense of confidence and ability to move throughout the rest of my musical career freely, without really worrying about it.

Click here for the full interview with Robben Ford, including extensive reflections on playing with Mitchell, Harrison and Davis, plus Robben’s upcoming musical plans.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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