“The road, reputation of romance. It’s damn hard work for the chance,” Sallie Ford says, quoting her own song as we stand next to Bessie, her maroon, 10-seater Chevy Express van—the same one she just spent more than five hours in driving back from Spokane on little sleep, arriving less than a half hour before her sister was set to take the stage at Mississippi Studios on a Sunday afternoon.
Friday—two days prior—saw her perform with her all-female band at The Bing and Doug Fir lounges—the latter a sold-out affair to celebrate the release of Slap Back—before heading north and east for Saturday night, returning in time to take part in welcoming her father’s puppet show to Portland. The following Tuesday would be a Music Millennium appearance in honor of Slap Back’s street date, her third record, yet the first with a new band and an altered sound.
The lyrics of “Lucky To Miss”—a song about the realities of the music industry (life on the road is a grind, people don’t buy records anymore, and “It’s hard to leave your home behind,” as Ford sings)—might peg the joy of home to a certain love in her life (or possibly loves if you include feline family members Seven Tuna Milford and Kramer Ocho Milford—who have their own Instagram account so they’re easier to keep tabs on while she’s on tour) and how she’s privileged to have that because “you should feel lucky that you miss someone” and someone misses you, she explains.
Finding sweetness in the sorrow, Ford may also miss her former bandmates, the boys of The Sound Outside—the guys who she cut her teeth with and who, until last year, she spent almost the entirety of her time here in Portland with, as well as the last four years on the road including multiple trips to Europe.
“I went through so much with those guys and I was proud to share the stage with them all those years,” Ford recalls, yet she’s more than eager to fulfill the next stage of her musical career, especially considering that Ford didn’t even start writing her own music until she’d moved to Portland in 2006.
Now performing under her own name—simply Sallie Ford—the dream of assembling a badass crew of female rockers was realized and the ladies—Cristina Cano on keys, Amanda Spring on drums and Anita Lee Elliott on bass—made a divergent record with producer Chris Funk (The Decemberists)—who dubbed Ford “a fuzz queen”—which sees the new lineup exploring fresh sounds, from surfy psych to synthed up jams as Ford sheds preassigned labels and preconceived notions with Slap Back.
And even with all of the uncertainty that comes with releasing a new record with a new lineup and unveiling a new sound, Ford has never been more at home than right now, especially when sharing the stage with sister Louisa—the tap-dancing, guitar-strumming and somewhat-of-a-belter (like her older sis) leader of the two-piece Orpheum Circus—to dedicate a Skeeter Davis tune to mom Sue—a music teacher and marimba master—before their father, the accoladed puppeteer Hobey Ford (who’s been handcrafting and performing puppetry for longer than the girls have been alive), played to a darkened room of crisscross applesauce kids and their lounging parents. (See more of Hobey's handiwork in the video for "Cage" below.)
In 1978, Hobey says he almost settled in Portland but flipped a coin and ended up in Asheville, N.C., instead. But with two daughters now rooted in Stumptown, the Ford parents have plenty of reason to make Portland a second home.
“This is where I love living,” Ford says. “It is nice to get to leave and come back to it and appreciate it.”
Ford may sometimes lament life on the road, but after quoting the hardships mentioned in her own song, she practically interrupts herself, the candid thought still hanging in the air as she blurts out: “I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing.” The opening lines of “Lucky To Miss” may rattle off a few less than enthusiastic notions but, as is Ford’s bubbly demeanor and outlook on life (one that the entire family obviously shares alongside a creative spirit), she doesn’t dwell on them. Instead, she takes ahold of the moment, singing: “When it’s good, it’s damn good. Feels like I’m doing what I should.”