Going the distance

Motor City Josh brings fans along for the ride

How's this for enterprising: Motor City Josh & the Big 3, led by guitarist/ vocalist Josh Ford, have built a substantial blues following in the northwest suburbs, performing frequently at Marietta venues such as Brewsters, Popper's, Hammer Jax and the Blue Raccoon. The band also recorded a new CD, Live in Atlanta, at the now-defunct Blue Pig in Woodstock. Ford appears regularly on the south side, particularly at the Blue Sky Tavern in McDonough, where his band performs Friday and Saturday, June 15-16. But who would drive from the north 'burbs to the distant reaches of Henry County, through a half-dozen police jurisdictions, to see a local blues band?

No problem. Ford rented a bus to take him and 46 fans — it sold out at $20 a seat — from Woodstock to McDonough to see Saturday's show. He plans to return the favor next month, busing a McDonough crowd to Popper's in Marietta for the July 21 show. He eventually plans to bus fans from several suburban destinations to a show in Atlanta.

It's just an example of the lengths to which the 29-year-old bandleader will go for his audience. It's what brought him from his native Detroit in October 1999, and what determines the venues his band chooses to play.

Ford, who plays weekly solo gigs at Brewsters (Mondays at the Marietta location, Thursdays at a new site in Kennesaw), performed in Detroit for more than a decade. He released two CDs, Living Like a King in the Ghetto (1996) and Going to the Country (1998), each of which has sold 5,000 copies or so. However, by 1999, Ford was ready for a change.

"I wanted to get in front of a bunch of new faces," Ford recalls. He considered Chicago, but "there are so many guys who have been there for years, it would be hard for a new guy to get work. I knew there were a ton of people in Atlanta, and I went on the Internet to the Atlanta Blues Society website. It looked like there was a lot going on here, so I just picked Atlanta."

Thus Ford and his trusty Fender Telecaster came South and launched a new band, which presently includes Keith Odderbeck on bass, Andrew "Mac" MacDowell on drums and Jay Maurice on keyboards. The culture shock wasn't too great — his mother is from Alabama, his father from Tennessee — and soon he was drawing new crowds with what he calls "funky blues you can't refuse."

Ford's musical fate was sealed at age 12, when his father, a guitarist, took Ford to see Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in a club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"We were sitting at a little cocktail table right in front of [Guy]," Ford recalls, "and he totally cut up and put on a show ... he took the guitar off his shoulder, laid it on our table, pulled a drumstick out of his back pocket and played the guitar with it." By the time Guy had finished his antics, Ford was hooked. "I told my father, 'That's it. That's what I'm going to do.'"

Ford typically works with his band weekends and plays solo weeknights. He says he enjoys the musical freedom of playing solo, which allows him to change tempos, vary the repertoire or stop in mid-song to tell a joke, as the moment dictates.

That independence also is apparent in Ford's recording efforts. The singer works with the Detroit indie label No Cover Productions and has no desire to connect with a major record label. Ford has an acoustic CD in progress and an all-original band CD in the queue. And then? "Maybe I'll release a CD of all fishing songs," says Ford, who enjoys fishing and hunting. "It could come with a free lure, and we could sell it in Wal-Mart."

Josh Ford performs solo at Brewsters-Marietta every Mon. and the Kennesaw location every Thurs. Show time is 7 p.m. For information, call 770-591-1291 (Marietta) or 770-426-1010 (Kennesaw). Motor City Josh & the Big 3 play Fri. and Sat., June 15-16, at the Blue Sky Tavern in McDonough. For more info, call 770-914-7787 or visit www.motorcityjosh.com.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.