Jim Ford “Harlan County”

Harlan County

In the liner notes to recent cd reissue Sounds of Our Time Nick Lowe describes Jim Ford: “Jim Ford’s reputation was not the best. He told a lot of terrible stories and he used to bend the truth a bit. I think deep down he was no rock star, but he noticed people provided him with money when he pretended to be one. Many people who financed his career probably got disappointed when Ford didn’t care to live up to their expectations. He took a lot of people for a ride….I’d never seen anyone use cocaine before I met Ford. Wherever he went there were also illegal substances around. Ford was unreliable and from time to time he disappeared. We were surprised to find what kind of people he seemed to know in England. One time when he got back he had stayed with the blonde bombshell Diana Dors and her gangster-type husband Alan Lake!”

Nick also added this, “When Jim walked off the plane he wore a big Stetson, rose-tinted shades and jeans with creases and round-toe cowboy boots. I’d never met anyone like him before. Ford was the real thing, he was other-worldly and very charismatic. He turned up with a $3,000 guitar, an astronomical sum for 1970, but it seemed he could barely play it, and yet it was so mean, the way he hit that thing. He was totally unimpressed by us (Brinsley Schwarz), but he was making the best out of a bad job.”

Jim Ford meant a lot of things to a lot of different people. Sly Stone claimed Ford was his best friend, Nick Lowe name checks him as a major inspiration, and British mod band the Koobas recorded an entire album of Harlan County songs (The Koobas even went as far as to change their name to Harlan County). His unique brand of country-rock-soul-funk has proven to be original and very influential.

The Harlan County LP was released by White Whale in 1969 and is evenly divided between covers and Jim Ford originals. Most people single out the title track and “I’m Gonna Make Her Love Me” as highlights, and they are great slices of hard country funk. “Harlan County,” the title track, has a nice horn arrangement, crisp, driving acoustic guitars, female backup vocalists and a great beat – it’s another lost gem. But for me Ford’s fuzz guitar arrangement of “Spoonful” is really stellar and the superb country soul ballads “Changing Colors” and “Love On My Brain” make the album what it is today – a unique record in the country-rock canon. Ford’s main strength was his songwriting ability but he’s also an underrated vocalist with real southern grit and soul. There is nothing like Harlan County, the LP is mandatory listening for fans of 60s American rock n roll and country-rock.

You wanna hear his music? The best reissue to get a hold of is Sounds of Our Time by Bear Family Records (2007). This disc has the Harlan County LP in its entirety, rare pre-lp singles, and excellent outtakes that are in more of a country-rock vein. For an example of this, check out the slow version of “Big Mouth USA” and the title track. Both tracks are outstanding pieces of Americana that sound very similar to the Band’s best songs on Music From Big Pink.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Bear Family | buy from bear | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | White Whale | search ebay ]

Also Recommended


  • hambone

    It’s Sunday morning coming down and i want to say thank the Lord for “Sounds of our time.” Seems like Ford wasn’t a saint by any stretch, but a song this deeply soulful is its own grace. really great pick.

  • Louder than Milk

    If there is a category for Best One And Only Album by an artist, I’d go for this one. A true classic. And extreme, red zone type credit for the record label who released Sounds Of… Big Mouth USA and other unreleased trax are wonderful as well and a true indicator this guy wasn’t a one off……one off.

  • Nick

    Jim Ford’s sound is undeniably tied to his association with Sly and the Family Stones and Bobby Womack. It’s deeply funk and soul infused, roots that lead toward southern gospel. And while the country may have cultivated his lyrics, the city shaped his sound. If you listened to this album without knowing who Jim Ford was (not that we really do) or where Harlan County is, then this album would undoubtedly be filed in the R&B/Soul/Funk section. It’s as far away from country as the Trump World Tower.

    But, at the same time, it’s a perfect example of ‘lost’ americana. I purchased this album (sound of our times) at the same time I purchased Link Wray’s Three Track Chicken Shack (thank you Rising Storm and Aquarium Drunkard for the recommendations) and in one swipe of the credit card, discovered two distinct sounds that I’d been scouring the record bins and the internet for years to find.

  • Hey! Have you ever heard the Koobas/Harlan County record? I’ve tried finding it to no avail.

    Jody/ When You Awake

  • Len Liechti

    If this country/soul crossover appeals, I recommend the two volumes of the compilation Country Got Soul on Casual Records, 2003 and 2004 and still in print, which take as their start point Tony Joe White (who wouldn’t?) and feature lots of other artists in a similar vein including Jim Ford, Bobbie Gentry, Townes Van Zandt, Dan Penn, Donnie Fritts, Sandra Rhodes, Bonnie Bramlett, Travis Wammack, etc. Neck-hair-raising stuff, and absolutely tops when driving alone in the wee small hours.

  • daniel

    I loved the record, gritty ,funky and at times very poetic but why on earth has Nick Lowe continued to spread the rumor(even on N.P.R radio!) about Jim Ford being the true author of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe? I”ve reseached the song, Bobbie donated her creative rough drafts to The Un. Of Mississippi forty years ago,.Its solid proof the work is hers even the places in the song ,TheTallahatche Bridge andChoctaw Ridge ,are real places from her childhood memories. It’s shameful that Bear Family Records had the audacity to print this slander in the linernotes without a shred of proof. Nick Lowe should have read his own quote about Ford”Jim Fords reputation was not the best” ” He told a lot of terrible stories and use to bend the truth a bit”

  • Joshua Bonder

    Just picked up “Sounds of our Time” this week, and what a thrilling discovery it has been! The original “Harlan County” album is a terrific slab of white soul/funk with a bit of country swagger. That said, the bonus tracks make “Sounds of our Time” the disc to purchase. Songs like Chain Gang, She Turns my Radio On, Linda Comes Running, Rising Sign and Go Through Sunday are to my ears the equal or greater than the original album itself, and are presently worming their way deep into my brain. Great songs by a sadly overlooked artist, but go for the Bear Family release if you have the chance.

Leave a Comment