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The First Longhair In Town (Patrick Ford, Part 1)

If you’re an old timer around these parts, you know the Ford family, and the four Ford boys, Steve, Patrick, Robben, and Mark. The brothers are locals and have played music around Mendocino County and then around the world, during and after their high school days, under the names The Charles Ford Band and The Ford Brothers Blues Band. Robben has also played and recorded with his own bands and with many of the great musicians in the world. They will be playing again in their hometown Ukiah at this year's Sundays In The Park.

Patrick Ford
Patrick Ford

When he’s not touring, Patrick runs his record company Blue Rock’It Records near the home he shares with his wife, Sharon, in Redwood Valley. Robben’s website is here.

My interviews with Pat are in four chapters which will appear here in The AVA over the next four weeks:

Chapter 1 - The First Longhair In Town

Chapter 2 - Playing The Blues

Chapter 3 - Fighting Fire With Fire

Chapter 4 - Preaching The Truth

— Dave Smith

* * *

During World War II, Mom was working at the phone company, in the evenings when she got out of school, one of those girls plugging in the cords just to help with the cause… and there was this move to “write letters to the soldiers overseas.” … and they were given names of soldiers to write. She wrote a letter to my Dad who was stationed in Alaska, and he wrote her back, and they started writing back and forth until he wrote that he was going to get some leave and was going to come down to see her… and they were soon married.

My dad came from a really tough childhood growing up in Indiana during the depression. His mom and dad split up when he was 7 or 8. He had an older brother and younger sister, and they were dropped off by his mom at an orphanage. It was supposed to be only temporary until she got settled and back on her feet, and she did, in fact, come back and see them on a couple of occasions. She came once, picked Dad up, bought him a new suit, went to a movie, brought him back, told him she would be back, and he never saw her again. He was taken to live on an uncle’s farm where he was physically (not sexually) abused, kind of a work slave. A tough life.

My mom came from a strong, tight, religious family in the San Joaquin Valley, Church of Christ attendance three times a week… my dad just loved her family. I, too, idolized my mom’s parents growing up. They were the best of people. Eventually our family moved up here to Ukiah when my dad found work in the lumber mills. I was three years old at the time.

We grew up in a house in Empire Gardens on Elm street just as that neighborhood was being built. The only homes built when we moved in were on one side of Arlington and Elm streets. All the other blocks were just empty fields. We would gradually lose the fields we could walk across and fly our kites in as houses were built and more families arrived. I remember gathering wild flowers in those fields for my “May Basket” and hanging it on the front door, knocking on it, running to hide, and my mom opening the door and exclaiming “Oh, who brought me these beautiful flowers?” The butterflies were just thick back in those days. Millions of them. Dragonflies, frogs, praying mantis’, salamanders… all those critters you just don’t see anymore.

We were always referred to as “those four Ford boys”… I heard that all my life. My oldest brother, Steve, was always proper, held himself very erect. He got a job at Roscoe’s Five and Ten here in town. He always had a job. There was a show on TV then called Bat Masterson. Bat wore a three-piece suit, round hat and cane, and my brother Steve saved and saved and bought this jacket and pants and this white vest with all this golden stuff all over it, and the round hat and cane with a silver knob on it. He was a freshman in high school and everyone was looking at him and saying “what in the world?” and he was stylin’! He was always like that.

I was actually the first long-hair in town… first it was combed to the side like the surfers. Then in the early sixties when the Beatles got popular I went into the barber shop and said “I want a Beatle cut” and the barber said “What the heck is a Beatle cut?” I said it was kind of like that guy in the Three Stooges and I went to school the next day and was just ridiculed, and the track coach kicked me in my rear end and said “Get your hair cut.” I took all kinds of abuse for that.

Beatle, Stooge
Beatle, Stooge

Since I was a little kid, my visual hero was Wild Bill Hickok. I had a picture of him hanging on my bedroom wall. He had the big long curls, and the buckskin coat, and this mustache and little goatee… that was the coolest looking guy there ever was. I always wanted to look like that. Even in elementary school they said my hair was getting too long and I would whine “I want to look like….” and they’d say no, no, no… and my Dad would just clip it, but even then I wanted it longer. Then in high school this whole hippie movement started and I just let my hair grow and started getting in trouble all the time… this ongoing saga. My mom would visit the Superintendent who would say “He’s a good boy, but…” and I really was a good boy, got good grades, didn’t cause my teachers much trouble. When I had a surfer look, they’d just say “get your hair cut” but when the hippie movement got going, people had a name they could call me. I just kept letting it grow, and the school kept giving me a fight about it, and the football coach would grab it coming out of my helmet and pull me down… it was just awful, the abuse I got from those people. And that was when drugs started coming noticeably into town, and many adults were sure it was I who was bringing it into town… because I was the first long-hair.

Hickok, Ford
Hickok, Ford

I would give my band mate Mike Osborn a ride home, and I would have to drop him off a block away so his parents wouldn’t see him riding with me. No matter how many times he told them “Pat doesn’t do drugs!” they would not believe him. I was, after all, “that long haired boy.” The funny thing is, I never did do any drugs, and I’ve never been a drinker either. When I was young, I had several friends whose parents would get into verbal fights and there was always drinking involved. I saw the fathers slap their kids and cuss like it was the only language. I knew then I never wanted to be like that. I never wanted to be out of control. But then I was also lucky to have two wonderful parents who were always in our corner.

I met my wife Sharon in Junior High, and when she came into high school as a Freshman, and I was a Sophomore, we started dating and have been together ever since. We went together 6 years and have been married 43. I don’t know how she’s managed to put up with me this long, but I’m sure glad she has: she’s my partner.

I thought growing up in this valley was pretty spectacular. We could get to the ocean, get to the city, go to the mountains, and we took advantage of it on many different levels.

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