The Index – interview with John B. Ford

Index -  detail from the back cover of the first LP
Detail from the back cover of the first LP

John B. Ford – lead guitar, lead and background vocals
Gary Francis – bass (“black” album) and rhythm guitar (“red album”)
Tomm Ballew – bass (only on the “red” album)
Jim Valice – drums and backing vocals

Index -  First LP, the "black" album
First LP, the “black” album
From the Grosse Pointe suburb east of Detroit, Michigan, the Index released two of the rarest LPs of the late ’60s on their own DC Records label, the “black” and “red” albums (so named because of their black and red labels as neither had a title).1967’s “black” album is a murky recording drowned in natural reverb, but that doesn’t blunt the impact of the playing: if anything it enhances it. While one reviewer I’ve read prefers the cover songs like “Eight Miles High”, “John Riley” and “You Keep Me Hanging On”, I like the original vocals “Fire Eyes” and “Rainy Starless Night” and the incredible instrumentals: “Feedback”, “Shock Wave”, “Israeli Blues” and “Turquoise Feline”. This record has recently been issued on vinyl on DC/Valor records, I’m not positive if that’s a legitimate reissue or not.

In 1968 they made a cleaner recording for their second LP, the “red” album. In 1997 it was issued on CD with some tracks from the first LP and some 1969 recordings, titled Index Anthology 1967-68.

As Index broke up due to members going to college, Jim Valice and John Ford formed Just Us, recording another rare LP from 1969 on the Valord label, The U.S.A. from the Air. That album, more tracks from their first and a 1969 live recording were released on CD on Index Anthology II.

Lion Productions put out a comprehensive reissue of both albums and additional recordings on a 2 CD set in 2010. Lion should be reissuing both LPs on vinyl in 2015-2016.

If anyone has quality photos or scans of the second album covers or labels or either record, please get in touch.

Dan Nielsén conducted this interview with John Ford about the band:

Q. Can you give us some background information: where were you born and how did you start playing the guitar? Was there any time in your life when you thought, “Music is what I’m going to the for the rest of my life” or has it always been a hobby?

Index -  Back of first LP
Back of first LP
John Ford: I was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 25, 1949. I learned to play the guitar in 1960 from my uncle who was a skilled guitarist. He was a fan of folk music, and I learned playing the songs of the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, and The New Christy Minstrels.

Q. Was INDEX the first band that you was in? Also, how did you all meet? Was it through school, mutual friends or just by coincidence?

John Ford: I put together my first band in 1964. It was more of a Beatles type of group with vocals and guitars, but no real drummer or bass player. That band evolved into a group called TRB (“The Rubber Band”), which was more of a summer band that played up in Northern Michigan for the summers. The sounds was based heavily on Beatles, Stones, Animals, Yardbirds and the Who. The Index band was established when Gary Francis and I got together and asked one of Gary’s friends, a drummer named Jim Valice to join us. The music that influenced me most at that time was Buffalo Springfield, Yardbirds (with Jeff Beck and not Eric Clapton) and the Rolling Stones. The three of us were Index and started playing at gigs in the area in 1965. We later added the bass player, Tom Ballew, who was a great addition. On the black album I had played bass and lead guitar and sang lead vocals and backing vocals, Gary had played rhythm guitar and Jim played drums and sang backing vocals. Gary and I went to the same high school, and Jim was a friend of Gary’s. Tom was a friend of Jim’s. The four of us were on the Red Album, and after we disbanded (since we were all at different colleges), Jim and I recorded as Just Us and played all of the instruments and backing vocals ourselves.

Q. Could you tell something about the recording process, the album has a unique sound, which i think many bands have tried to re-create, but haven’t been able to, so what are the “secrets”?

Index -  1983 Voxx reissue of the first LP
1983 Voxx reissue of the first LP
John Ford: The first album was recorded in my parents’ basement where we would rehearse. The sound was created due to the stark condition of the basement with tiled floors and concrete walls. We recorded on a Sony reel-to-reel recorder that belonged to my father, and we recorded at 3 ¾ speed. It was a unique sound, and on the first album we had it engineered by a specialist at GM Records in Detroit. We had only a small number of albums pressed (150-200), and we passed them to friends as we started, but later we sold them all through the Harmony House music store in Grosse Point Woods, Michigan.

Q. What gear (guitar, pedals, and amps) were you using back in the late ’60s? What gear were you using on the albums (I haven’t heard “The Red Album” and the Just Us album)? Moreover on the first album who’s on the cover? It looks like an old picture, not like anything you’ve staged, gives an kinda feeling, but it fits in just perfectly with the music.

John Ford: I played two electrics and an electrified Martin acoustic D-45 (built in 1945 with a terrific mellow sound). The electrics were a Gibson six-string red body 1965 ES-335, and my favorite was a 1966 Gibson black Les Paul that had humbucking pickups. I used a fuzz pedal for some of the effects and a wahwah pedal for others. The amps that we used were Fender, and the microphones were Shure. Gary used a black Gretsch guitar, and Tom Ballew played a Fender bass. Jim had a great set of black Ludwig drums. The picture for the black album cover was one that Jim found in an old magazine. The red album featured a drawing of us by Jim on the cover.

Q. Do think you have any particular moment on the album? Any song that you feel strong about? My personal favorites are “Shock Wave” and “Fire Eyes”, could you give some background on them? “Shock Wave” is an instrumental, but I think you express feeling through your playing in that song.

Index - second LP "Red Album" bootleg
Unlicensed reissue of the second LP on the bootleg Sears label, 1991. Originals have a black cover with white lettering and drawing.
John Ford: “Shock Wave” was our tribute to Jimmy Hendrix, and it featured particularly my Les Paul with the fuzz pedal. These pieces came out of jam sessions that really reflected original contributions from the three of us that fit together, but Jim and I were the creative directors of the music. “Fire Eyes” reflected personal issues that I had faced, and I wrote the song.

Q. How about the live INDEX? Did you perform much or was you just and studio band? I’ve know that one of the anthology albums has some live cuts on it, but i seems to be covers mostly. Did you ever play “Shock Wave”, “Feedback” etc, on stage or was it too difficult?

John Ford: We played all of our music including our original works and the covers. We played at many high school dances and college parties and neighborhood parties throughout Detroit. We played in some of the same venues as Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels who had just released “Devil with the Blue Dress”. It was a dynamic time for music in Detroit as groups like SRC (Scot Richard Case), Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, the Underdogs, the Pleasure Seekers and Alice Cooper were all playing regularly in the area. The live sessions featured our album prominently so “Fire Eyes” and “Shockwave” were regularly performed along with “Rainy Starless Night” and “Israeli Blues” and other originals. One of the best gigs that we had was playing for the farewell party for the Detroit Piston Basketball player, Dave Debuscher who was leaving to go to the New York Knicks. We played for many of the pro athletes from the Pistons and the Detroit Lions. Mostly we were asked to play covers of Stones songs and Cream and the Who and the Beatles, but they liked our original music as well.

Q. Of the three albums; which one to you feel most is connected to you? How was the album taken? Was there many who likes it, etc. Also, how do you feel about the album selling on eBay for such big bucks now? Could you ever imagine that when you recorded it?

John Ford: We did it for the fun of it and to have a permanent record of our songs. The best album from a recording standpoint was the red album as we had the ability to use better vocal controls and we could double and triple track the guitars and voices for greater effect. Many of those songs were recorded in my parent’s den with vocal amplification and reverb, and with carpeting and drapes, the sound was cleaner and clearer. We never expected the albums to become so popular, but we have heard that they were somewhat influential for other artists that were getting started in the Detroit area after us.

Q. Was there any main reason that you guys called it quits?

John Ford: Our schedules and workloads became difficult to balance when we went to college. I was at Yale, Jim was at University of Detroit, and Tom was still in high school. We played for mixers at Yale and schools in the Detroit area, but it was hard to do other than in the summers when we were all back home again.

Q. What have you been doing are you layed the music carrer aside? Do you still have any contact with the others from the band? Do you still play?

John Ford: I still play and sing, but I am more focused on classical solo vocal work in the Norfolk, Virginia area as I have lived there since 1985 as a professor at Old Dominion University. Music is still very much a hobby with me, and I love to sing, but my guitar work has suffered a bit over the years. Jim and I were still in contact up until a few years ago, but he changed jobs, and I have not heard from him for some time. He was located in Beverly Hills, California, and he was working for a TV station there selling advertising time slots. He also was involved with a radio station, but I am not sure where he is these days.

Q. Some fun story or anecdote from the time in INDEX?

John Ford: The most ridiculous thing was me playing lead licks with gloves, which was a challenge! The album cover from the black album showed us wearing three piece suits and me playing with the gloves and wearing a ridiculous mustache, which was not what we normally looked like. I was heavily influenced by Steve Stills and Neil Young, and I wore boots and buckskin jackets often when we played. I loved the sound of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash and the intricate harmonies and tried to bring them in when I could into our music. In the beginning we wore Nehru jackets and head bands from the mid 1960s and played a lot of the Doors music. Ridiculous appearances, but right in style at the time.

5 thoughts on “The Index – interview with John B. Ford”

  1. The Valord/DC re-issue is indeed an authorized pressing. The back cover has a paragraph on the band written by Jim, the drummer, and states that the re-issue is limited to 1,000 copies. The notes mention “This reissue is taken from the original recordings. Nothing has been added and all the songs are in their original length. Over the years various bootleg copies of this album have surfaced, but this is the original work.” Also, a little more information regarding the Black Album cover: “The cover photo is of ‘Orpheus and Bacus’, founders of a singing group John joined at Yale.”

    – Matt

  2. I’m Jim Valice, the drummer from INDEX. I enjoyed reading John’s comments on the history of the band. John was the main force in the formation of INDEX. He and I collaborated on many songs. It’s great to see that INDEX has acheived international success and that the music has survived all of these years.
    The Lion production’s co-release with Valord Records is a great double CD disc set entitled INDEX YESTERDAY & TODAY(2010). It has the original Black and Red albums plus a second disc of 17 tunes that have never been released in their final masters.
    I’m working on the future re-release of the second or Red Album in vinyl and the JUST US “USA FROM THE AIR” Album John and I did after INDEX broke up.

  3. Would love a heads up on the reissues of the Red and USA From The Air (would l o v e to hear this one) LP’S if it’s still a thing. Within this discussion I guess? (page is bookmarked.) Still digging for a reasonably priced copy of the Black RE LP. Missed it at the time… CD version is tempting… Thanks!

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