There are more paths to country stardom than roads that lead to Rome. For singer-songwriter Colt Ford, his journey began when he was a toddler, trading words with his mother.
"She'd say a word and I'd come back with one that rhymed with it," he said in a recent phone interview from the road in Branson, Missouri. "In the car, I'd drive my parents nuts, drumming on the dash. When I was five or six, they got me some bongos. By the time I was 10, I'd graduated to a full drum set."
Ford, born Jason Farris Brown in 1970 in Athens, Georgia, can't remember a time when music wasn't a part of his life. He was surrounded by it. He surrounded himself with it. In his adolescence and teen years he began playing it in earnest, and now, at age 46, he has six albums to his credit and hundreds, if not thousands, of live performances to look back on.
He's not looking back, though. Not for a moment. He's looking forward, and on Saturday, November 11 at 8 p.m., Ford will be at Rusty Spur with his band - Tim Haines on drums, Justin David on fiddle, Cole Phillips and Spencer Bassett on electric guitars and Rob Carrington on bass.
Ford is best known now for his work as a country musician, but his professional life actually began on the links. For eight years, Ford played PGA circuit, appearing mostly in the Hogan and Nike tours. Later, he worked as a golf pro, teaching others.
It was during his time as a golf pro that he made the decision to pursue music full time, and he and his fans are glad he did. In 2008, under his Average Joes label, he released his debut, Ride Through the Country. It took a year, but the album's breakout hits, a cover of Mike Dekle's "No Trash in My Trailer" and the title track, a duet with John Michael Montgomery, began garnering radio play and climbing the Billboard charts.
He also surprised critics and fans by appearing in a rap remix of Montgomery Gentry's 2008 hit, "Roll With Me." For his part, Ford doesn't understand why people want to make a big deal out of his choice to incorporate rap into his work.
"It really ain't that unusual," he said, "and I'm not the one who really pioneered it. It's funny how I'm the one who always gets the credit for bringing rap into country, but a lot of artists were doing spoken word before I was born. Think about it. 'Hot Rod Lincoln,' 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia.' What are they if not recitation? I don't deserve the credit, and I don't want it. I just make the best songs I can."
The two qualities that define Colt Ford are humility and a love of music in all its forms. He grew up listening to old school country, but he also listened to rock and rap, and that's why his music is a diverse mix of genres and influences.
"I've always loved a lot of different sounds. My dad grew up without indoor plumbing. He picked cotton. That wasn't listening to country. That was living country. And so that influenced me as a kid. Country was how I was raised, but I also fell in love with 'Rapper's Delight' and Run DMC and AC/DC and Kiss. I will say, though, that my songs have more fiddle and steel in them than most of what comes out of Nashville these days."
Ford followed up Ride Through the Country with 2010's Chicken and Biscuits. Meanwhile, two other artists, Brantley Gilbert and Jason Aldean, released their own versions of Ford's seminal tune, "Dirt Road Anthem." Next up came 2011's Every Chance I Get which included popular singles "Country Thang" and "She Likes to Ride in Trucks." Fame crept up on him slowly, and in 2012 he scored a No. 1 on the country album charts with Declaration of Independence, propelled mainly by the red hot hit, "Back," a duet with Jake Owen.
Ford loves to collaborate with other artists, and he credits good friend and golf buddy Toby Keith with helping him navigate successfully the tricky world of Nashville.
"Toby is someone I've always admired and respected," Ford said. "It's so cool now to say he's a friend of mine. As a younger artist I wasn't afraid to ask questions of people who'd come before me. I think that's important. Don't act like, just because you have a hit song, you know everything. Be humble. Ask for help. That's my advice for up-and-comers. It worked well for me because I had people like Toby to guide me."
In May, Ford put out his sixth album, Love Hope Faith. Over the years, he has made it a goal to never grow stagnant as an artist, but to grow as a musician, producer and writer.
"With every album, I've always tried to expand a little. I had a friend once who told me that your first album should be black and white. Let people know who are. And then with every new album you can progress a little bit, add color, maybe throw in some red, then blue. Love Hope Faith is the furthest I've gone, lyrically and sonically, and I do think it's the most versatile of all my albums."
In these most divisive of times, Ford's other goal is to bring people together with fun live performances and the kind of songs that any fan, regardless of political stripe, can get behind.
"People know where I stand politically. I don't need to use the stage as a place to rant and go on tirades. There's so much we need to do in this world. The only way it's going to get done is if we do it together, and I think if there's one way people can find common ground it's in music. If mine has a way of transcending politics, that's cool with me."
Also cool with him? The opportunities music has provided for him to reach people and create new work, album by album, year after year.
"I feel so lucky to be able to play my music, to make a living doing what I love, and to have a chance to interact with my fans and make new ones. It's a privilege I don't take for granted."