Independence Equals Success for Colt Ford

Country music has long been the genre of music that held fast to tradition and in that tradition the 'major labels' held all the cards and radio (or CMT) was the only means of promotion.  If true, how has Colt Ford become a success despinte being none of these things?

“That’s not country.” “It won’t work.”  “I don’t know if our audience will like this.”  “It doesn’t fit our demographic.”  These are just some of the things people have told Colt Ford over the past couple of years.    Like any person with a shred of self-confidence and belief in their craft, Colt Ford continued to work hard and not listen to those ‘critics.’ Through grass-roots efforts of playing from town to town and gaining word-of-mouth buzz, Colt Ford now has something that every artists dreams of having: a hit album. 

Ride Through The Country is an album that has surprised and shocked many in the country music mecca of Nashville, Tennessee.  With nearly 70,000 copies sold as of this writing, the self-released country record got to its lofty Hot 200 Albums Chart with hardly any radio or video airplay.  This, in and of itself, was enough to get the suits in Nashville’s attention. 

“All of the sudden the labels wanted to talk to me,” Colt Ford said in a recent interview from his home in Georgia, “The very same people who passed on my record before now wanted to do something.”

But Colt, even though he took the meetings, doesn’t really want to take their offers.  After all, why would you take 20% of your album’s profits from a big label when you already get 100%?  To get at the same monetary amounts that he has already achieved at 70,000 albums sold, the album would have to sell 1.4 million records.  Could this happen, sure but money isn’t everything to Colt.  “I am building a career.  I have a lot of younger fans and I want to be able to make records for them these next 10 years.” 

Colt Ford understands the value of hard work and touring,   “I have an 8-piece band,” he says, “And I will put up our show against anybody’s.” 

It is that touring that has paid off for the country artist that doesn’t sing.  When people inevitably bring up the ‘rap’ word, Colt bristles at being labeled a rapper, “I am a country artist,  I just don’t happen to sing.” 

And when people say the stupid “what do you get when you mix country and rap” joke Colt has been known to respond in a joking manner with “How cool. Did you just come up with that yourself?”  

 To this topic Colt Ford brings up a great point about country music.  The method of delivery doesn’t or shouldn’t matter.   “Bill Anderson has never sung a song in his life, yet people would not dream of saying he’s not country.” 

Just because he doesn’t sing the words he’s saying, the songs he makes are undoubtedly country.   In fact, there is more fiddle and steel guitar on his songs than on some of country music’s current hits.  And the traditional country music instruments aren’t just window dressing.  They’re actual musical elements that provide the back-drop for Colt’s clever spoken-word rhymes or, as they called them back in the day “recitations.”  Colt also reminds people that “They ran Hank Jr out of town, they ran Waylon out of town” and that both are now used as beacons for what is country.

The artists in Nashville ‘get it.’  When asked about the guests on his album Colt said, “They asked me to be on the record.” 

And while that revelation may be somewhat of a surprise, singing the chorus of a Colt Ford song also represented something of a new opportunity for the artists.  John Michael Montgomery sang the title cut, Jamey Johnson sings (and co-wrote) “Cold Beer.”   These artists want to spread their wings, try something different and Colt Ford gave them that opportunity. 

The approach to collaborations has long been an artistic endeavor and while some artists may guest as background vocalists on albums, rarely has there been the kind of approach that Colt Ford has taken for his album.  Using the hip-hop approach is new to Nashville and the industry still seems to be somewhat persnickety about it all.  

Some Nashville Labels still see collaborations on singles as threats to their own artists.  As recently as 2007 a lawyer for Sony Music sent off letters to radio stations trying to squash the airplay of Tracy Lawrence’s single “Find Out Who Your Friends Are.” While Tracy –with his own record label- got into the Top 20/15 with the song by his own accord, once his album was sent to stations his collaborative version of the song with buddies Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney got the song to the Top of the charts.  Before it hit #1 the letter was sent out, before quickly being followed-up with an apology letter the next day. 

It’s confusing to this writer as to the reasons for lawsuits like this.  Why wouldn’t a record label want their artists to get as much exposure as possible? What the labels think is of there are too many songs by -say Kenny Chesney- out at one time, radio won’t play them. 

“That’s bullshit,” Colt Ford says.  “You can’t tell me that radio stations are not going to play two new Kenny Chesney songs at the same time.” 

Colt Ford is right.  All you have to do is take a look at the pop and hip-hop charts for a minute.  There are many artists who are all over the charts. 

“Look at T-Pain.  He has had, at one time five of the top 10 hits on the chart.”  Colt continues, “There’s no way that his career or album sales have been hurt because of that.” 

With new artists crossing over from one genre to the next, music has become less about the genre and more about what’s good.  Basically, if people like it, they will buy it and that’s enough for Colt Ford, “I don’t need to have a #1 record to be successful.”

“If I can sell 200-300 thousand albums and have people coming out to my shows that is what is successful to me.”

It is the same as it has always been; while helpful to a career, radio success isn’t the main barometer for an artist to be successful. Give people what they want, something they can relate to and you can be a success.  

So what if Colt Ford can’t sing.  He’s country.  His music speaks to the country music audience, it’s unique and in a music world that is often accused of being stale, Colt Ford is anything but.