I remember the first time I saw Ford Turrell.
It was a few years ago at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. There were about thirty of us there, and we’d come together, from places all over the world for the first two weeks of our Master’s program in Conflict Resolution. None of us had known each other before, and we were all at different ages and in different life spaces. I remember that it was an exciting time, getting to experience so many new and interesting people all at once. And it was intense. We spent our days hard at work in class, and the evenings sharing our stories as we got to know each other.
Ford came from Michigan. He was a writer and I think he was teaching at a community college at the time. He needed the master’s degree to help him move forward in academia, although, as it turns out like many of us, he’d chosen to get it in the field of Conflict Resolution as part of a existential quest for wisdom, and truth, and spirit. Most of us didn’t recognize that then; we only knew we needed the degree. It took awhile to understand that we were all, in one way or another, small parts of a greater cosmic equation.
The Ford I met then is pretty much the Ford you see now. Same big grin, same curly mop of brown hair. Still understated, intelligent and definitely funny. The same good guy. Of course, I didn’t know then what I delight in knowing now—the part about him being a singer and a songwriter. And not just the garden variety either, but the lyrical wordsmith variety, the “I’m blown away by the beautiful sounds flowing from his mouth” variety. It took awhile to find all that out. Ford’s kind of a humble guy; perhaps our friendship needed to evolve before I heard him perform.
Of course there were signs that his singing and songwriting was a compelling avocation. I remember sitting in class and watching Ford doodle Dylan lyrics on the napkin beside his coffee. And he spent some of his free time when we weren’t in class in the little guitar shop along the main street in Yellow Springs, lusting after a guitar he really couldn’t afford. But it wasn’t until I’d known him for a year or so, that I really understood the affinity and passion he had for songwriting.
Ford was on his way to Nashville, when I suggested that he meet a friend of mine there who is in the music business. He gave me a CD to listen to, and then to pass along to my friend; it had three songs on it that he’d recorded in his bathroom. I still remember sitting frozen on the floor beside my stereo as I first heard him sing. I had expected the reflective and introspective lyrics, but it was the intimate and honest voice that caught me completely off guard. This was my friend. This was so very cool.
Ford has since moved to Nashville, and is now prodigiously writing and performing more songs. He teaches at a community college and he’s married the love of his life. And gently prodded by his enduring quest for meaning and connection, he has once again entered a master’s program, this time in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. Now, more than ever, his music reflects this journey of unknowing. His poetically crafted lyrics and authentic, intimate voice reflect the rich descriptions of a world without epiphany or definitive answers, open to possibility, infinite explanation, and multiple truths. This is music which reflects its creator, with a question mark at the end, not a period. This is my friend, Ford.