Singer/songwriter Frazey Ford grew up in Canada, the daughter of two American expatriates.
"My mom sang all the time," Ford recalls. "She wanted me to sing melody from a really young age so she could harmonize."
Even though her mother hailed from Nebraska, she was of Acadian extraction, and so Ford grew up surrounded by Cajun music.
"Her family plays all those instruments, like the fiddle and the accordion, and they sang in that kind of country way," Ford says.
When she was 12 years old, she was going through her parents' record collection when she made a momentous discovery.
"I came across an album I had flipped past many times. It was Otis Redding. I had never heard of him, but I never recovered from listening to that album. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard in my life."
The singer, guitarist, and keyboardist spent her 20s playing different kinds of music. She was, at one point, in an Al Green cover band, before finding success with the Be Good Tanyas, a group that combined classic country and folk influences that was bundled with the nebulous Americana genre.
"It was some old friends who would get together and play old songs," she says. "Of all of the projects I was in, that was the one that took off, kind of unexpectedly. It was funny to me, because I didn't listen to a lot of country music."
For her first solo album, 2010's Obadiah, she decided to return to the soul sounds that had gotten under her skin as a teenager. The goal was to make a record somewhere between Neil Young's Harvest and Al Green's I'm Still In Love With You. It was one of those songs that Memphis writer/director/producer Robert Gordon heard on WEVL.
"I was getting back into my car after putting air in my tire — it was such a mundane thing — when I heard the last two notes of a song. I thought, 'I don't know that Hi Record'," he recalls.
"He recognized something in it, but he didn't hear who the artist was, so he called the radio station," Ford says. "Then he looked me up on Wikipedia and found out I was influenced by Al Green and Ann Peebles, and he emailed my manager and said 'I know all these guys. I feel like this could be a good fit. Do you want to work with the Hi Rhythm Section?'
"When I got that email, my jaw hit the floor. If there's one band that I have obsessively studied and listened to, it's the Hi Rhythm Section. There's something about the way they all play together and how those albums are made. They're so groovy and so gentle and so soulful and sexy. To me, it's the pinnacle of music."
Ford's album, Indian Ocean, was recorded at Memphis' Royal Studios with Boo Mitchell engineering, Charles Hodges on keyboards, Leroy Hodges on bass, and the late Teenie Hodges on guitar, as well as additional Memphis firepower in the persons of Jim Spake, Scott Thompson, and Doug Easley.
The process of trying to forge a new sound for herself helped her appreciate the true brilliance of the Memphis crew.
"Willie Mitchell did so much of that, sculpting new sounds. I felt his presence there. They were always saying, 'This is what Willie would say, this is what Willie would do.' He was clearly a very strong leader. It was also so fun! I recorded Teenie telling stories. Being in that studio recording was just surreal," Ford says.
"I often feel like Teenie's with me, and I'm really excited to come back to Memphis and play with those guys again."
Frazey Ford at the Levitt Shell, Saturday June 18th, 7:30 p.m. Free