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Colt Ford Talks First-Ever Live DVD, Misperceptions + More

Colt Ford
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Colt Ford just might be country music’s biggest best-kept secret — that is, if you get your music from country radio.

The former pro golfer released his debut album, ‘Ride Through the Country,’ in 2008. The album featured a song titled ‘Dirt Road Anthem,’ which he co-wrote with a then-little-known singer-songwriter named Brantley Gilbert. Gilbert also included the track on his 2010 album, ‘Halfway to Heaven,’ and Jason Aldean recorded it for his own 2010 release, ‘My Kinda Party.’ Released as a single, Aldean’s version reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.

Subsequent releases like 2010’s ‘Chicken & Biscuits,’ ‘Every Chance I Get’ in 2011 and ‘Declaration of Independence’ in 2012 have helped Ford cement his unique position as an industry outsider who has managed to build a hugely successful career despite no support from radio or the mainstream country establishment. Ford’s unique amalgam of talk-rapping and hardcore country was ahead of its time, but his influence is apparent in the enormous radio success of many of today’s hottest acts.

Ford released his fifth studio album, ‘Thanks for Listening,’ in July 2014. The album features some of his most accessible work to date, blending his influences in a more cohesive whole than his past efforts and featuring collaborations with Justin Moore, Randy Houser, Jerrod Niemann, Lee Brice, Chase Rice and even Keith Urban. It debuted in the Top 10 on the all-genre Billboard Top 200 chart and at No. 2 in the Top Country Albums chart despite no radio airplay, and Ford performed much of the album on tour this year.

That has culminated in the recent release of ‘Crank It Up! Live at Wild Adventures,’ which is Ford’s first-ever concert DVD. The new release chronicles Ford’s entire career, featuring a mix of older tracks and a strong dose of his latest album.

Taste of Country caught up with Colt Ford to talk about the new DVD, his outsider status, some jaw-dropping ideas he has for future collaborations and more in the following interview.

Colt Ford Crank It Up
Eagle Rock Entertainment / Average Joes Entertainment

This is your first-ever live concert DVD. What took so long, and what made this the right time?

We’ve talked about it actually for a couple of years. It’s just finding the right place, the right time, and all of it to come together. I’ve been really busy, but I just felt like with the new record, ‘Thanks for Listening,’ and all these new songs … it’s the first time, when I put this record out, a month before this came out I was already playing nine of these songs in my shows.

That just doesn’t happen very much. You know, before a record comes out, you play the first single and maybe the next one, but not the entire … I’m playing more than half of this record live, and I was doing that a month before it came out, and it just felt like it was the right time to play from the beginning to where we’re at now, play all of those different songs. It just felt like the right time.

What prompted you to play that much of a new record live? That’s asking fans a lot.

Yeah, it is asking them a lot, but the music did, you know what I mean? I really went back to when ‘Ride Through the Country’ came out, which has been legendary for me — that’s what started all this. And I thought, ‘When I started playing, I didn’t have anything else to play. I only had these songs.’ And you fall into the routine of what’s going on with everybody else, which is you play this, you play that, you maybe play a couple off the record, you play some covers.

My fans have found me without  — they discovered me through word of mouth and different ways, and they love every song. My fans invest in the whole record. They’re not really singles buyers. They’ve been buying the whole album, and every night they say, ‘You didn’t play this, you didn’t play that.’ Man, with five records, I’d be up there for three hours. [Laughs.] And the music just tells me the songs people want to hear. I noticed right away, it didn’t take long for them to pick up on all these songs, and the choruses were so melodic and singalong right away, where you hear it one time and you can pick it up. By the time the chorus comes back around, you’re singing it, and it just felt like the thing to do.

I just wanted to try it. I saw Eric [Church], on the record before this last one, ‘Chief,’ he started playing that whole album, and I thought, ‘Well, how else are you gonna get them to learn it if you don’t play it for them?’ So I just kinda went with that concept.

"My fans invest in the whole record. They’re not really singles buyers."

Do I have this right, that a shorter version of this is going to air on TV?

Yeah, they’re gonna play it on TV. I’m not exactly sure what the dates are, but I think it’s on AXS, where they show a lot of concerts. I think that’s where it is. That’s gonna be neat, and then they play it for a whole year.

This concert is a return to your roots as far as, you performed it there in Georgia.

We looked at some places, we had talked about some different things, and actually we were kinda looking at another place, and I just wasn’t totally sold on the other place. And I just went, ‘Hey, Georgia is home, and it makes sense to me.’ There’s a theme park, so it’s all ages, and there’s a lot of kids, and that all made perfect sense to me, because I have such a wide age demographic. You watch the DVD and you’ll see five and six-year-olds singing the same song, and then you see 60-year-olds singing the same song, and that doesn’t happen much in music, no matter what genre. So that’s really cool.

Having that wide demographic, do you keep that in mind when you’re writing, that maybe you want to stay away from certain subjects because there might be kids present when you perform?

Absolutely, yeah. I’ve got three kids, so absolutely. I’m very aware of what I say, and it’s funny to me — there’s been almost like a fear for some people, and I’m like, ‘Do you listen to some of the other songs that are out there?’ I’m like rated G compared to some of this stuff! [Laughs.] I don’t know, that’s the bad connotation of the rap thing. I mean, I’m pro-America, I’m pro-family, you know — I’m God, family, friends, America, support women, respect women. I’ve got daughters. That’s who I am. Compared to some of the other stuff out there, I’m pretty dang good. [Laughs.]

It’s just an assumption from people who might not know what they’re talking about.

Right! And that’s what I have to realize. But like I said, I’m very conscious of that, because I do have a lot of kids. You know, if we go to play a honky-tonk and an 18-and-older or 21-and-up crowd, I may say a few things a little differently. I may say a few more hell yeahs or something like that. But I watch other people’s shows, and I’m like Mr. Rogers compared to some of that! [Laughs.]

When you first began, I can only imagine that the country music establishment must have thought you were insane to think that you could bring rap into country and make any kind of headway with it. Is that fair to say?

Yeah, it’s fair to say. It’s certainly fair to say, and I think there’s still people that probably feel that way. But at the end of the day, I’m a country artist. Other people claim to be country rappers and hick hop and all of that. I never said I was any of that. I just said I was a country artist, and that’s all I ever wanted to be.

Nobody said Jerry Reed was a country rapper, or Charlie Daniels was a country rapper. I just tried to make country songs the best I could, and for me, it was more recitation and talking than any other thing. That’s the best way for me to do it, so you know, people call it what they want. I make songs for people that want to hear it. I’m a country artist. That’s all I am.

"I’m like rated G compared to some of this stuff … I watch other people’s shows, and I’m like Mr. Rogers compared to some of that!"

You could just as easily argue that the tradition you’re drawing from is the talking blues, rather than contemporary rap.

Oh, absolutely. I mean, if you look at the history of it, recitation and talking records have been around long, long before — I mean, even go back in the history of country music, there was tons of that before you even heard the term “rap.” No one had even said it. Really, just know your history. If you make a legit argument with me about it, then I’ll be more than happy to listen to it.

But fans like all kinds of stuff, and recitation, talking records have been around for absolutely ever. Nobody has more respect than me for the tradition of country music, and for me it’s about the content of the song. If you listen to the content of my songs and think that I ain’t country, we’re from way different kinds of country, is all I’m telling you. [Laughs.]

I had a buddy of mine who told me, ‘If I wrote down the top 10 or 20 songs on the charts, wrote all the lyrics down, and wrote your lyrics down, and gave them to somebody that doesn’t know anything about country music and asked them to pick what’s the countriest thing on there, I think you would win nine out of 10 times.’ So that’s really the way you have to look at it. And if you think about the instrumentation that’s going on out there in country music today, go listen to any of my records and tell me how much fiddle and steel that you hear on almost every song of mine, compared to a lot of stuff that’s out there. Which, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just saying, don’t sit there and try to tell me that I’m not something, and then I cut the radio on and I’m like, ‘Really? I’m listening to a freakin’ pop song!’ It just is what it is.

You’ve made all of your success and gained recognition with virtually no support from mainstream radio. Is that something that you expect to continue, or is there some end game on your part to eventually make radio play you?

You know what, if there was a way to do it, by God I’d be doing it, believe me. I would like nothing more than to be a part of mainstream radio. I really would. I mean, I’m thankful and grateful for what I have right now, there’s no question about it. But I’d be lying to you if I told you that I didn’t want a song on the charts. I’ve never had one. I’ve never had a song on a chart. I’ve never had a song in the Top 40. I’d give anything to have that. I really would. I’d love to have it, as much for the fans who’ve supported me, and the people in my band, and the artists and musicians and songwriters who’ve been a part of helping me write songs that deserve to have a song out there.

You look at ‘Drivin’ Around Song,’ that’s Craig Wiseman, Chris Tompkins and Rodney Clawson. It’s produced by Dann Huff, it’s got Jason Aldean on it. It’s a Gold record, and it went to No. 58. It doesn’t even make any sense.

It really doesn’t. That’s almost like saying, ‘The fans are wrong, we refuse to listen to them.’

Yeah. Again, that’s frustrating to me, to go play places that I look around and say, ‘I just sold 5,000 tickets here, in a market that has never played my songs.’ I mean, what are you saying to the fans, those people that are there? You might as well come up there and flip ’em off! [Laughs.] That’s what you’re doing, you’re just going, ‘Yeah, y’all’s opinion doesn’t matter.’ And that’s wrong. The fans’ opinion does matter. None of us would be here without the fans.

I really wish I knew how to change it. I feel like — you’ve heard this new record. I feel like there’s songs on there that are plenty good enough to be heard on the radio, and there’s a couple of these songs that if another artist recorded them and you put them out there, it would just be an absolute smash. So maybe ‘Crank It Up’ — maybe that’s the new song that makes it. I don’t know. Man, I sure hope so. That’s what’s frustrating — I’m not anti-radio. I love radio. That’s what I grew up on. I’m in my 40s. I grew up listening to radio. I love it.

And to me, the thought would be, if you look at my age demographic, it may be the widest in our genre. There’s five and six-year-olds that know every word to every one of my songs, and their grandparents know them. I’ve got three generations sitting right there singing every word. To me the mindset would be, if I’ve got a 15-year-old son, he doesn’t listen to radio. He listens to what he wants to, he’s plugging his phone in to Pandora and Spotify and YouTube. But if I’ve got a kid that loves my songs and doesn’t really hear that much about country music, but he likes the way I do it, and he can hear it on 103.2 or whatever, to me I would say, ‘I want to play that, so I can make that kid a fan of my genre of music and my station. Then I can have him for a long time.’ That makes sense to me from a business perspective, but it ain’t worked so far. [Laughs.]

"I’ve never had a song on a chart. I’ve never had a song in the Top 40. I’d give anything to have that. I really would."

You’ve developed a whole parallel business model that doesn’t rely on radio, and in some ways it may actually yield more profit, because you’re not spending the huge, huge amount of money that’s required to compete at radio.

Maybe. Maybe so. We didn’t set out to do that. I just set out to make the best music that I could make, that hopefully people would dig. That’s all you ever want to do, is create something people like, and I’ve been blessed to be able to do that. But I don’t know what it takes to do all that stuff, and I’d be grateful for any chance to be heard.

What’s next for you musically? Have you written anything for another album, or do you have anything in mind? Do you plan a thing before you do it, or do you not know what it’s going to sound like until you get in there?

I kinda don’t know. If you look at my records, I kinda write where I’m at mentally and from my life. I write about real stuff.

I’ve already got some songs that I like and I want to record. I was working on some stuff yesterday that I think is a smash, and I’m definitely gonna give to some bigger artist, because it’s more their kind of thing than my kind of thing. But I’m really excited about it.

I just let the music take me. I get in moods where I really want to write, and I get in moods where I don’t want to write, but I’ve already got a few songs, and I’ll start putting together some ideas, hopefully see what songs make sense for some people I’d like to work with. I’d really like to do some songs with some female artists. I really haven’t gotten to do much of that. I’d love to do a song with Miranda [Lambert], maybe Maggie Rose. I’d like to sit down and write a song with Taylor Swift, to be honest with you. I think it would be really cool.

That would me a mind-melter for a lot of people.

See, to me, that’s what’s cool. If it’s something that people would go, ‘There’s no way that makes sense,’ then that’s exactly what I want to do. [Laughs.] Me and Miranda, that makes sense, that would work. But like I said, so many of these female artists that I dig. Maggie Rose I think is just brilliant. Kacey Musgraves, I think we would write something — I’m into writing with someone who wouldn’t be afraid to write something, you know? ‘Cause there’s some people who’ll go, ‘Oh, you can’t say that, you can’t do that.’ Sure you can. There’s not a rule book for writing music. You do whatever the music takes you to. It’s an emotion. It’s not solving a math problem. So I would really like to have a few songs on this next record with some female artists.

Is there anything else you want to say about this new DVD or whatever else you’ve got coming up?

If you’ve never seen me, I think the DVD is a really good representation. And that was the point for me, is to really capture what I do live. There’s so many people that have said, ‘I didn’t get it until I saw you live.’ It’s high-energy, it’s fun, and you can tell that we’re having fun playing for the people that are there. So I hope you’ll like the DVD, but I hope you’ll come see us live, come hang out. If you’re not sure, come to a show some time and give it a chance. If you don’t have fun, let me know and I’ll give you your money back.

You can’t do better than that, can you?

It’s a hundred percent fun guarantee.

Colt Ford Performs ‘Drivin’ Around Song’ Acoustically for Taste of Country

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