Colt Ford, onstage, will rap Ludacris and The Black Eyed Peas songs when he stops the show.
“It’s a country show,” he says. “These people don’t want to hear that!”
Of course, the crowd goes crazy. It’s a myth that country fans are musically myopic. They just want to have a good time, and country artists know it. Rascal Flatts plays Boston live, Big & Rich plays Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy” – heck, even Rodney Carrington has done “Purple Rain.”
Which makes Colt Ford a natural match for this audience. He was originally groomed to be a Bubba Sparxxx – a white, Southern rapper on Jermaine Dupri’s label. Now he’s a country artist who still raps but hobnobs and writes songs with badasses like Jamey Johnson.
Looks like the execs on Music Row who said they didn’t know how to “sell” him to radio missed an opportunity. Ford tried to go country the old-fashioned way, but eventually did it on his own – he put his own band together, created his own label and now he’s pulling in crowds in the thousands.
Colt’s show isn’t a gimmick; he’s not putting on a persona and there are no flying monkeys. In his own words, “We flat-out hit the accelerator at the downbeat and it doesn’t stop till we get done.”
At one point in his shows, Colt will turn to his drummer, Rick Brothers.
“You’re always complaining about not being in the spotlight,” Ford says. “Why don’t you sing a song?”
Brothers, who used to drum for Gretchen Wilson, plays along. He says that’s fine but somebody will need to play drums for him.
Well, guess who that is. Ford – country singer, songwriter, rapper and golf pro – counts off the song. It’s KISS.
And that’s why the show is called the “Colt Ford Experience” – it’s just a fun time, and it’s the foundation for country’s newest rising star.
“Honestly, I’d put this show up against anyone,” Ford told Pollstar. “I’m not talking ’bout people who have millions of dollars in video screens, ’cause I don’t have that. But you gotta get out there and play music and flat get after it. I’ll play with anybody. I’m not scared of none of ’em.”
Ford is definitely a sum of his parts. His first foray into a musical career may not have panned out but it is an integral part of his latest music. He’s also made connections through golf, being that he used to be on the Nationwide Tour and still teaches the game.
It hasn’t been easy. Along the way he’s had differences with management companies and agencies. Radio couldn’t find him with a Geiger counter. Instead, he found Ken Madson, who can manage Nappy Roots and Josh Gracin, and a passionate agent in Kevin Neal. And, somehow, Ford got veteran musicians to buy into him – a golfing, hunting, rapping, country-singing family man.
“There were so many people, when I came to town, who thought they knew what I was or who I was,” Ford said. “A guy told me, ‘Nah, just you and a DJ. Get a goat on stage and a midget.’ I was like, ‘Dude, ya’ll crazy. I’m not doing any of that hokey shit.’ I wanted the best band I could put together. I didn’t stop until I found people who believed in what I was doing and were willing to take a chance.”
Ford spent many years doing it on his own, with the help of the Internet. In between his last agency (“I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter that can book me a door deal”) and Buddy Lee Attractions, Colt and his business partner, Shannon Houchins, were finding places to play that Nashville has yet to discover. He spoke of shows where thousands of people would show up to see him play on a makeshift stage in a field, and of nights where he’d draw 4,000 people and sell $10,000 in merch alone.
“I’ve been an agent for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like Colt Ford,” Neal told Pollstar. “It’s like ‘Field of Dreams’ – you book him and they will come.”
Neal said that as soon as he saw Ford’s show he knew how to sell it. But he didn’t mince words.
“He’s got 13 people on a bus; it’s not like he’s working for $500,” Neal said. And, of course, no radio play. “So to try and convince them that he’s doing numbers was a challenge but he did, probably last year, between 150 and 200 shows.”
Many country artists have learned to work around radio. Ford has managed to get about 40,000 plays a week on MySpace without it, and he’s the new hero of Professional Bull Riders, having written their new theme song, “Buck Em.” And, seriously, any artist that can rap alongside Bone Crusher, write music with Montgomery Gentry and tee it up with John Daly is already there.
“I think what people respond to is, they know it’s real,” Madson told Pollstar. “Take a look at Randy [Houser], at Jamey, at Colt. The rough edges haven’t been shaven off those guys.
“When it first started, it was so different that people couldn’t see outside the box,” he added. “It didn’t fit radio and what they were trying to do at the time. He’s done something completely different, and live is a main component of that.”
Ford and his band have recently recorded 34 songs, many of which will appear on Chicken & Biscuits, which drops April 20. For those who can’t get enough, Chicken & Biscuits: Second Helpings is set for the fall.