Ivy Ford: “… performing is who I am, and the music I write is my truth.”

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 15 – Spring 2021 – Electrified!

Ivy Ford is a force to be reckoned with. An old soul with a penchant for traditional blues, you can find her leading her own band or collaborating with other musicians. She has opened for Buddy Guy and Chicago Blues Hall of Famers, J.B. Ritchie and Joe Moss, sat in on high profile events, and guested on several radio shows.

We recently caught up with Ivy to learn more about this “Chicago Blues Kitten’s” career and what we can expect from her in the coming year. What inspired you to start playing music, and what made you gravitate towards the blues?

I’ve loved music as my way of expression since I was two or three years old. When I was five, I performed my first school talent show, and from then on, I always knew music was not only important to me but what I was meant to do. My mother raised my brother and me with all sorts of music, so my taste is pretty eclectic. My mom is Norwegian American, and my dad is African American, so I grew up with an eclectic array of music which was predominantly roots or “ethnic.” HOWEVER, I remember hearing Billie Holiday records at age nine and automatically feeling a connection. So, technically, that was my early introduction to blues and roots music. Moving forward, blues and roots had a natural pull for me, and as I’ve grown and developed in not only my performance of it but listening to it, my attachment grows stronger all the time. Blues is a social commentary. Music as a whole is really a language, but when it comes to blues, the genre is a much more transparent and raw type of music that is by nature more embracing and reflective of humanity.

I see you started out playing in bands at a very young age. Did you encounter a struggle dealing with people in the industry because you were so young? How did you handle it?

I believe I was maybe twelve the first time I sang with a live band and that was before I was really playing any instrument but singing. There was a healthy amount of “tough love” that would have made grown men hang it up, let alone a twelve-year-old girl. Absolutely being so young, you’re underestimated, and it’s easy to not be taken seriously. Folks think you haven’t lived enough to know anything. I’m happy to say that that kind of judgment and discrimination hasn’t given me reason to be discouraged; actually, on the contrary. If someone thinks I can’t do something, it’s extremely satisfying and necessary to prove them different. I am grateful too that I’ve had support from the right people in my personal circle when I’ve needed it the most, like my mother and my bandmates, so that eases the blow, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I’m human, so there are times that I feel a bit defeated, but really, it’s a fleeting thought. Once I get it out of my system, I’m ready to get back to work. That’s when I feel my best—keep moving onward and forward. Kind of like some types of sharks. You know they always have to keep swimming in the water to stay alive and breathing.

How do you think attitudes towards women have changed in your years in the music industry?

I think there is still some amount of underestimation of women in the industry, and I think people in “high” places tend to second guess a woman’s entertaining and professional value. I think it’s very easy for a female to be an afterthought, say with booking entertainment. Or (and I say this from my own personal experience), that when conducting business, I get mistaken for not being the one who handles all of my business affairs because I am a woman (also for me because of my young age too). I don’t lose sleep over it, but I will say it’s probably one of my biggest aggravations when I’m in that situation. It’s not all bad, though, because there is definitely a general attitude shift as well that has been very empowering for women in the industry. I think that has to do with a lot more of us fellow women entertainers SUPPORTING, COMPLIMENTING, and LOOKING out for one another as well. Shoot, don’t get me wrong, there’s still a fair share of ladies that get a little twisted if they feel some kind of threat from another woman artist. But I will say for the group of us that don’t “play that,” I think we try to shut that down right away. I think audiences and patrons also as a whole appreciate the female artist and the many facets she has both on and off stage. For example, although still NOT AS often, there’s definitely more acceptance for women to have families—to be mothers and musicians and entertainers—that I don’t think was as common before, mainstream or otherwise.

The blurb on the front page of your website describes you as an “Indigo” artist. Can you tell us more about what that means?

So the “indigo’’ was actually short for when I was under eighteen and I guess a child because the term usually comes as ‘‘indigo children.’’ Which by some definitions, include having traits of being strong-willed, free-thinking, non-conforming, and having an old soul. They also possess a certain human social connection that tends to be a bit deeper on a personal and intimate level, making them more magnetic for people.
I say this with the utmost humility, that even when I’m not performing and as a very young child, people have always kind of come to me, and actually the Indigo Child (or person, artist) term was presented to my mom and me when I was a kid before we had ever really heard of it. As a young child and even into adolescence and high school, I was always around older people, adults. I could “conform” to the social circles based on my age, but it’s never been very genuinely fulfilling or connecting for me. All of my friends, peers, and colleagues have been and are older, so that’s a point-blank example. And, saying with humor but honesty, I think if you looked up ‘strong-willed’ in a book, my picture would pop up. That’s just who I am as a person. And getting back to me realizing at five years old that music is what I’m supposed to do and also who I am, the Indigo Artist term kind of revealed itself. Because my performing is who I am, and the music I write is my truth.

Like so many people, you’ve been doing Livestream concerts as a way to connect with your fans during the pandemic. What can people expect when they tune into your Livestream, and how do you do create an interactive experience?

Technology and social media are great, and being able to be on camera in real-time makes it easier for people to comment and chime in, and I can respond right away. It’s not as good as the real thing but considering it’s a nice alternative since live shows are limited. When they are existent, the audience and performers are really at a distance.

I’m actually planning on taking a break from the live streaming. I might post one song here and there, but I’m focusing on the handful of live shows that are coming to fruition. Also, the primary reason for myself and of a lot of artists doing the live streams, is to stimulate revenue, and lately, it hasn’t been as much of a good day’s work. I know I don’t need to remind everyone, but I think it can be easy for viewers and listeners to forget that being a musician is our profession. It is our job, how we earn a “paycheck” and sustain our livelihoods. With the internet, apps, social media access to music, art, etc. comes very easily and many times “free” for the consumer. Which, I’ll let you in on a little secret, when it’s FREE to the consumer, a lot of times the artist/worker/employee sees very little to nothing for their work that they’ve clocked in. It’s kind of like, going to a restaurant, eating the complimentary breadsticks, water with lemon, and then not ordering anything or having a tab because you’ve gotten your fill on the free stuff. Or put it like this, even with a lawyer, you have to pay a retainer fee just to say you do want to hire them, and you would never get their services for free. Because our industry and profession are not conventional, it’s really easy not to think about it like that. I do want to educate not only my patrons, fans, and supporters but also other musicians so that we can all do better.

I see you’ve worked with a lot of impressive musicians and participated in many esteemed events. This can be overwhelming in any circumstance, but it can be even more challenging considering you have to perform. What do you recommend musicians do to calm their nerves so they can put on a great performance when working with ‘the greats’?

Well, first off, if something doesn’t make you a little nervous and scared but still excited, then it’s probably not worth doing. Now for me, that type of adrenaline really is something I thrive on. I don’t want to say that I don’t get nervous, but I think nervous is the wrong word; it’s more like hype to get ready to do my thing. Also, for anyone who’s second-guessing themselves, more likely than not, you would not be put in a situation to play with “the greats” if you weren’t wanted.

I see you are a multi-instrumentalist and didn’t start playing guitar until the age of twenty. What other instruments do you play, and why do you think the guitar became your ‘go-to’? Do you play any other instruments when writing and performing?

The first instrument I learned to read music and theory on was piano. I recommend anyone who wants to pick up an instrument, even if it’s just to learn the basics, that they choose piano. It makes for a great foundation to go to any other instrument. I picked up the alto saxophone in junior high and high school. I picked up the guitar at about twenty and then bass and drums, and specifically, bass guitar was out of necessity to give me more working opportunities. But I will admit I think bass guitar is my favorite when I do get to play. Grabbing the guitar was a must for me because I wanted to sing what I wanted to sing when I first started going to local open jams. Not playing guitar really kept me at the mercy of whatever everyone else wanted to sing. So, I said, ‘I want to sing what I want to sing, so I’ll play [the guitar] my d–n self.” It’s humorous but true. And I really just stuck with it, and it became second nature. Plus, let’s face it, there’s something rad about a chick who can play electric guitar.

I write a lot of my music on guitar primarily because I always have easy access to at least my acoustic. However, there are times in my writing that I hear a specific groove rather than lyrics, which I’ll punch out on the bass. I also write on piano, and a lot of those songs I stick to piano. I stick to playing guitar primarily for most of my live shows for the sheer logistics of it—I don’t feel like bringing a keyboard and another amp on the road. Sad but true, when you make a living out of this stuff, you try and work smart and not hard. So, not to tell any secrets, but the least I have to bring the better, ha, ha!

Tell us about what fans can expect from Ivy Ford in the coming year.

Ya’ll are the first to officially hear, but I am working on my fourth album. I hope to release it come summer 2021 and am very glad to showcase an array of facets that blues and roots music have with my original work. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I will say the album to come is titled HARD LOVE.

 

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