something happened to john Ford. In the four months since the Vancouver roots rockers tore up Ted's at NXNE 2001 -- waging an onstage tug-o'-war between their Buffalo Springfield and Crazy Horse inclinations -- they've shaken off their twangy affectations and are now roaring with a rock-and-roll vengeance. Gone are the lazy strumming and three-part harmonies of John Ford's not-so-distant past, replaced by a fabulously frenetic power-chord thrash that bowled over Joel Plaskett's unsuspecting fans and left the jaded A&R contingent awestruck, babbling superlatives.
Evidently, the label reps began swarming upon hearing how close John Ford have been coming to upstaging David Usher, the Matthew Good Band and the Tragically Hip on their West Coast dates.
In fact, teen heartthrob Usher himself could be seen at the Horseshoe bar last Friday taking notes on the off chance that he might have to contend with another ripping John Ford opening spot.
"Doing those shows with the Tragically Hip, Matthew Good and David Usher," explains guitarist Paul Kehayas during the Toronto stopover, "we learned something about performing.
"Imagine being in the band that gets to go on before the Tragically Hip at a surprise gig. The whole crowd is screaming, "Hip! Hip! Hip!' for their heroes as you walk onstage and continue when you start playing. After that happens, you wonder, "What would the Clash have done?' When you see the whites of their eyes, kill!"
"Our shows used to be more diversified, and I think everyone in the band wishes we could go back to fooling around with acoustic guitars. But we realized what we do best is rock out."
The members of John Ford also saw the danger of being pigeonholed as an alt-country act -- a tag that even the genre's archetypes have been trying to dissociate themselves from for some time.
"What alt-country brought was a return to a Depression-era fashion sense where women would wear dime-store dresses and the guys put on old hats to sit around and listen to music that sounds like it came off the Anthology Of American Folk box.
"I guess I was the first to get sick of the whole alt-country thing and I infected the others. We fired our pedal steel player, and if we ever wind up at another roots-rock-a-doodle festival, I'll fucking murder someone."
But John Ford didn't just ditch the unsightly plaid -- they've transformed themselves into one of the most exciting rock bands in Canada. In this instance, if a bidding war breaks out it will be warranted.
"I've got no problem with signing a major-label deal. We've got some songs to record, so I'd like to see what kind of dosh they have to offer. But they have some work ahead if they want to stir up interest in us or any other group with guitars. It'll be a huge task to try wiping away the general indifference they've created by marketing shit as manna from heaven. How do you build a larger-than-life Led Zeppelinesque mythology out of the Watchmen?
"Maybe that's part of the reason for all the grandiose action -- the proclamations and embarrassment -- happening onstage."