As a young musician fronting alternative rock bands in the '80s and '90s, Cincinnati native John Ford knew he never wanted to be the aging hipster with the bald spot and the gray ponytail, still plying grunge guitar licks to lissome club-goers less than half his age.
"I always had it in the back of my mind that if I didn't do anything in rock 'n' roll by the time I turned 40, that was it," Ford says with a chuckle. "I didn't want to be the old rock 'n' roller. I'd get into the blues and do a solo thing."
So come 40 or so, Ford took a deep dive into blues, folk, and other American roots musics, and recast himself as a sort of modern-day revisionist bluesman, mixing and matching various genres, and interpreting them after his own inimitable fashion.
The result is a breezy brand of acoustic blues that also bears the imprint of any number of other early 20th-century styles, ragtime and dixieland jazz and gospel and country swing.
"What really gets them going is not any fancy stuff, it's the rhythm. I know I've succeeded when I get them tapping their toes.
"I'm influenced mainly by good songwriters," Ford says. "I love Ray Charles. I love John Price. John Hammond, Jr., is a big influence. So is Bob Dylan. And I love Keith Richards -- I love guys like that who took the blues and did something with it in their own way. Because people like Keith Richards are where I originally learned the blues from, before I went back and listened to the original artists themselves."
Though he draws from the wellspring of many musical genres, Ford considers himself a student of the blues. He's embarked on a number of sojourns to Mississippi, delving into the early Delta history of the music, even visiting country blues legend Robert Johnson's grave every time he makes the trip. He recorded his 2014 release "Songs from Room 414" at The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Tex., where Johnson logged the first of his only two recording sessions in 1936.
His education appears to be a lifelong proposition; Ford says he's only beginning to scratch the surface of various blues guitar styles and techniques, including the otherworldly bottleneck wizardry of early country blues artists like Johnson.
He says his best lesson date, however, came not from dobro woodshedding, but from a group of old-line blues fans at a Cincinnati soup kitchen. "Once a month, I go to the soup kitchen and play guitar for the people there," Ford says. "There's always a good group of older African-American gentlemen, and I feed off their vibe. These guys, you can't impress them easily.
John Ford will play Preservation Pub Monday, Oct. 16 at 9 p.m.