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Colt Ford, who is part of the Blue Ridge Music Festival lineup on June 1 at Salem Football Stadium, regularly sells out shows.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Colt Ford is a proven modern country music hitmaker. Two songs he co-wrote with Brantley Gilbert — Gilbert’s No. 1 “Country Must Be Country Wide” and Jason Aldean’s No. 1 “Dirt Road Anthem” — got massive radio play, in addition to sales and downloads.
Ford himself has had lots of sales and downloads through four albums and one EP. His most recent CD, “Declaration of Independence,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard country chart, and he claims 2 million in CD sales and 7 million downloads.
But he can’t get country radio to play his songs, and that has kept his singles from reaching the Billboard Top 50, he said. However, he listens to songs like Blake Shelton’s latest — “Boys ’Round Here,” a collaboration with Pistol Annies and others — not to mention “Dirt Road Anthem,” which Ford recorded before Aldean did. Both contain the country rap style that Ford has been running with.
“I know I’m different — I don’t look like Luke [Bryan] or Jake [Owen],” said the beefy, mutton-chopped Ford. “But it’s not about that. It’s about making songs that people connect with.… All these songs that are exactly what I do, why is it all right for them and not all right for me?
“I don’t have an answer for you. I wish I did. If I knew it, I would change it, because I would love to be heard on the radio.”
Not that Ford, who is part of the Blue Ridge Music Festival lineup on June 1 at Salem Football Stadium, isn’t having success. He said he regularly sells out shows . But he also realizes that there are plenty of country music fans who still rely on radio to discover what they like.
“I can deal with them saying, ‘I don’t like it,’ ” Ford said. “I understand that. I don’t like everything I hear on the radio either. But you would still like the opportunity.”
The rap on country
Ford’s approach to his own music often sounds like a country approach to a popular hip-hop formula — a vocal chorus by a guest performer with Ford usually rapping the verses (though he does sometimes sing).
But Ford, 42, eschews the label “country rapper.” He cites Tex Williams (“Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette”), C.W. McCall (“Convoy”) Jerry Reed, Johnny Cash and Charlie Daniels as performers who made what he called “recitation, talking records.”
“I never felt like I was creating anything new. I just couldn’t sing very good,” he said, laughing. “I felt like the best way I could do songs was to do ’em the way I do it. I don’t consider myself a country rap artist. I consider myself a country artist.”
Ford, born Jason Brown, grew up in the Athens, Ga., area, raised on a steady diet of Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and George Jones.
“But then all of a sudden, Run-DMC was coming out, and I loved Run-DMC, like a lot of people did,” he said. “That ’80s hip-hop was what I grew up loving, just like a lot of people did. And it wasn’t violent, and it wasn’t ugly to women. It was more just bragadocious type of stuff, and party, and fun stuff.
“The genre certainly changed a lot, and I’m not a fan of some … of the language and things that you hear. Having kids, I’m certainly not a fan of that.
“And I’ve got so many kids that like what I do, especially country kids.… I’m aware of what I’m saying. The only violent thing I talk about is huntin’, really.”
His lyrics tend more toward country themes — sentimental looks back at home town fun, with guns, hunting, God and voting Republican .
The song “Back,” from Ford’s latest album, featured Owen on choruses about missing the way things were growing up, with Colt rapping about dirt bikes, fishing holes, BB guns and the like. It didn’t make a dent at country radio.
He plans to release a new single, “Drivin’ Around Song,” featuring vocals from an auto-tuned Aldean.
“You can’t tell me that that’s not a friggin’ hit,” Ford said. “That song’s done 150,000 downloads and never even been on the radio. It isn’t even a single yet.”
But will it be a hit on country radio? Brett Sharp of Star Country (WSLC-FM, 94.5) said that no promoter is working the song at his station yet, but Star Country played the title cut to Ford’s 2010 album, “Chicken & Biscuits,” to mixed results.
“ ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ will get ’em on the [nightclub] floor every single time,” Sharp said. “And it’s good. It’s different.
“He has such a huge cult following. He absolutely packs the clubs in, and honestly that’s really the reason why we’ve even given him a shot…. We played ‘Chicken & Biscuits’ and got just an ‘eh’ response.
“But we … wouldn’t be opposed to giving him another shot, if the song works, if it’s the right song.”
While Ford would like the radio play and the chart success, he has confidence that his songs are good, regardless.
“I know it’s real, because the fans say it’s real,” he said. “When fans pull their money out of their pocket and buy a T-shirt, buy a ticket, buy a record, then that’s real. ”
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