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James Thunderbird Ford, 79, self-taught blues man

His idol was B.B. King and he performed at many blues venues over four decades.

James Thunderbird Ford
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YOU RARELY SAW James Thunderbird Ford without Mary Ella.

Mary Ella was his guitar, named after his late, beloved mother. James took that guitar to the many blues venues in the Philadelphia area over four decades, playing the funky rhythms of his native South Carolina.

James Ford Jr. died Nov. 21 at age 79.

He was a self-taught musician who sang and also played the harmonica and keyboard. Over the years, James played with the Edsels, the Alternators, 3rd Degree Burn and Don Golfen's Jump Time. In later years, he formed his own group, the James Thunderbird Ford Blues Band.

He and his groups played at Gloria's Gourmet Seafood Cafe, Warmdaddy's, John's Grill, the World Cafe, the New Jersey Barbecue Cook-Off and Blues Festival, the sixth annual Americana Roots Ramble in Media and many other venues where the blues were immortalized.

James was born to Mary Ella and James Ford Sr. in Newberry, S.C. He joined the Army in 1952 during the Korean War and was discharged in 1958.

He came to Philadelphia in 1962 and met and married his wife, Thelma Ruffin. She died in 2002.

Growing up in Newberry, James learned his "down and dirty" style of the blues. His soulful vocal style reflected his heritage and his love for his great idol, B.B. King, now 88.

James was a member of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and the Performing Arts.

He is survived by his stepdaughter, Grace Kenney; granddaughters, Gwendolyn Brenda, Lorraine, Ava and Janice; and grandson, Thomas.

Services: Were Monday. Burial was in Washington Crossing National Cemetery, Newtown, Pa.