By Johnny Griffith
One could make the argument local musician and vocalist Jenn Ford is one of the hardest working women in the East Texas music scene. That’s not to take away from the other women who are out there busting it every day for their music and craft, but it does illustrate just how much Jenn has had going since moving back to East Texas after her service in the United States Army concluded in an Honorable Discharge in 2009.
Her roles have included lead singer in several music projects such as Bleed The Rain, and Jen & Rio, co-host of the ETX Music Awards in 2015 and 2016, and most recently co-hosting the Texas Country Music Awards while working on her first album. With a great work ethic, a voice that allows her to sing just about any genre with authority, and an onstage comfort that comes from years of experience, Jenn Ford is guaranteed to bring a quality show, gig after gig.
We recently slowed her down long enough to get some more background on her and see what’s coming up this year:
Johnny: Your bio says you’ve been “singing your entire life” so what was your earliest memory of being drawn to singing and making music?
Jenn: It’s funny you ask that, my grandma called me last week when the single dropped and she says I’ve been singing my whole life. My parents would probably say the same thing. I remember standing next to my mom in church and listening to her intently because she always harmonized. I’m glad I grew up with that and I picked that up because of her. Later on, I remember my mom, dad, brothers, and sisters always telling me to be quiet. I’m the oldest, so they never won that battle.
Johnny: When did you first get the sense that this was something you wanted to be more than just a hobby or something to do while in school?
Jenn: Well, we weren’t poor, but we had a modest life. My dad and mom wanted to keep us out of trouble, so they limited our exposure to mainstream media, but dad played Alabama, Randy Travis, John Fogerty, Boston, Foghat, and Chicago. I loved the Beatles, blues, and rock ‘n roll. My favorite song, like the one that grabbed me as a young woman was Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Mom wanted me to sing church music, but I soaked it all up. When I went to college is when I blasted Sheryl Crow, Sade, Natalie Merchant, 4 Non Blondes and Grunge Rock. I realized I wanted something more out of life, and joining the military was my chance.
Johnny: What was your first public performance?
Jenn: I think maybe when I played Cinderella (pre-fairy godmother) in kindergarten? My mom always says I acted real sassy. She swears that they made me the “ugly Cinderella” because I was too pretty. I roll my eyes at that. I was just glad to be on stage, and my mom is way sassier than I ever could be.
Johnny: You have a pretty broad spectrum of influences, and have performed in a pretty broad spectrum of projects over the years. Do you have a preference when it comes to sitting down and creating music or do you enjoy the flexibility of being more pragmatic?
Jenn: I create whatever I think my audience will connect with while using true emotions that I’ve felt. It helps to have a degree in journalism. You learn how to connect ideas in a precise way. Or maybe being a musician helped me be a writer? I don’t know but music came first definitely.
Johnny: You served in the U.S. Army and were selected to tour with several music assignments. How do you think your musical experience prior to service prepared you for those opportunities?
Jenn: One, it exposed me to the most professional and talented musicians in one organization where the sole purpose was to perform. We practiced daily, we had organization, we had people from all walks of life and cultures, so we did everything when it comes to music. Jazz, classical, country, blues, rock, pop, patriotic, you name it. I spent 4 years in Germany learning Motown and blues basically, that is what the crowds wanted, and it was either get some soul or get outta the way. I also learned to manipulate my voice from an opera singer when I was pregnant and unable to perform at all the shows. I signed up for 3 months of voice lessons from an American woman married to an Italian man, living and performing in Germany. She heard me at the first lesson and decided against teaching me classical music. She said she knew I could do it, but would never make it a career. The best advice I’ve ever gotten was from that woman; “Sing how you speak.” That helped me relax into my true voice.
Johnny: You were able to perform hundreds of shows, all over the world during your service time. What do you think you took from that experience that most prepared you to pursue your dream of a career in music?
Jenn: Well, I don’t usually get afraid. I get anxious and excited, which is different to me. I try to prepare for days in advance, and when the lights come on, I just jump out there. It’s kind of like jumping off the high dive for me. Once you get over the height, it’s all downhill, right? I also think I learned the rhythm of a show day, like how many hours I need to warm up, get dressed, and get ready to be in my best performance mode. It helps me relax too because when something goes wrong. This attitude isn’t necessarily reflected in my daily life though. I’m pretty high strung and music actually calms me down.
Johnny: Since moving back to East Texas you’ve been a busy woman, with some pretty wide-ranging projects, the latest of which is the recent release of your first single, “Baby Get Your Boots On” with Texas Country Records. How was that experience and were there any unexpected challenges in the recording process?
Jenn: It is a totally unexpected and serendipitous thing, this whole experience. When I was signed, it was 2 weeks after I co-hosted the awards with Brandon Rhyder, and was basically just as unbelievable, after it started off as just a summer internship with Texas Country Music Association. I fast tracked my graduation once they signed me because I felt like I needed to keep the momentum going. The only real obstacle is that we thought it would come out earlier, but my producer was moving into his new studio, and I didn’t want anyone else doing it. I am so glad I waited for him to move.
Johnny: Are your live shows primarily solo or do you have some with a full band?
Jenn: For the last 2 years, I’ve been a solo acoustic artist, hiring musicians and partnering with folks just to keep my name out there, while I look for the right band members. Now that we’ve narrowed the sound of the EP down, and I’m through with school, my band and I have been able to form and woodshed all the music.
Johnny: Are there any shows on the radar in May and June that are “can’t miss” events?
Jenn: Oh yeah, lots of stuff coming up. But I am the most excited about opening up for Doug Supernaw in June at The Back Porch. He’s just such a legend, and a good friend of my manager.
Johnny: What is on agenda for the rest of 2018 now that the single was released?
Jenn: Well the full EP is almost done, I’ve got probably 10 more in the back of my mind, and I’m just focused on developing the band and getting us ready to tour Texas venues. The feedback from the single has been great, so I’m hoping that’ll be on the table soon. I’m ok with being on the road and so is my family, it’s just logistics now. Like I need a touring van and stuff like that.
Johnny: If you had to pick one memory from the journey so far…what would be the most memorable?
Jenn: I think that it is every time that I get on stage – seeing people smiling and shaking their head. It makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. The most memorable thing is when I sang in front of 1000 folks last year and got a standing ovation at the Texas Country Music Awards. I felt like, “Well, if I can pull that off, maybe I can do it again.” I guess we will see.
Jenn Ford can be found at facebook.com/jennfordofficial or jennfordmusic.com.