Editor’s note: “Their Generation,” an ongoing series profiling longtime locals of the Roaring Fork Valley, runs every other Thursday in The Aspen Times.
Whenever Daniel Ford straps on a guitar, something special usually happens.
Ford, 78, is an Iowa native who moved to Aspen in 1969 to pursue a music career. He’s played in different bands over the years — High Country was a group that Aspenites might remember from the 1970s — but for the past few years he’s had a successful duo going with longtime local bass player Dennis Jung.
Currently, Ford and Jung are holding down the 4:30 to 7 p.m. slot on Sundays at The Red Onion. It’s mainly a country-folk act, rooted in Ford’s original compositions but sprinkled with a few cover tunes that many music lovers recognize. Their sets are tight and fluid, funny and poignant — the result of years of playing and knowing what it takes to entertain an audience.
Ford’s foray into Aspen sounds a little familiar. A lot of people move to Aspen on a lark.
“Some lady told me I needed to come and sing in Aspen, and I got up here and just fell in love with the people and the music scene,” he said. “There were so many places back then where you could play music. It was amazing.”
The downtown social scene was hopping back in the 1970s, Ford said, in a different way from how it rolls today.
“You could go almost anyplace, and everybody was educated. Everybody could talk to you about anything. There was a lot of activity, and everybody went out,” he said. “And then it just got too expensive. The (real estate prices) got to the point where the bars couldn’t afford you, and then people came in and took most bands up the mountain to play at their houses. One by one, musicians started moving out of town; some of them went downvalley.”
He said he saw an evolution of sorts. Clubs went from primarily booking bands to paying for solo acts. Then came the DJs and their prerecorded music.
“Into the ’80s and the early ’90s it started slowing down as far as live music went,” Ford said.
But Ford has persevered through the ups and downs of the Aspen entertainment world. He said he simply enjoys playing and singing because it makes him feel good.
“I like to say something that makes people go, ‘Wow.’ I do songs that talk about taking care of folks and how you appreciate your family and the people around you, musicians and your friends, and Mother Nature,” he said. “I’ve got one song that says, ‘Singing makes things go well.’ I like making people grin.”
He said his musical influences are many — Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver, to name a few — but start with his father.
“My mom and dad sang in the house, and my dad played the piano,” Ford said. “He played all the woodwinds, too. We were farmers, but every once in a while he would sit down at the piano and play, and he always had a good time singing all the old ’50s songs. Then I got into folk.”
Ford and his wife, Candy, have been married 26 years.
“I spent three years trying to get her to go out with me,” he recalled.
They have a son and a daughter. Ford also has children and grandchildren from a previous marriage.