Ford had sung since childhood. His adopted parents, Vincent and Anna Guzzo of Gretna, brought him to New York when he was five to perform on the "Ted Mack Amateur Hour." His stage name was suggested, in a nod to hot rods, by Ace Records owner Johnny Vincent, according to his biography on the hall of fame website. Shepherd said Ford was called to Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans studio in the late 1950s to cover songs by local black musicians whose records got limited airtime because of racial discrimination. Lenny Capello and Jimmy Clanton, both from Baton Rouge, were brought in at the same time, he said.
"All the music was coming from New Orleans, yet people like Pat Boone were covering people like Little Richard and Fats Domino and getting hits. It was a black-white thing," Shepherd said.
He said all three were auditioned in one day. "The producers understood the point: This is our music, this is Louisiana's music, yet we're letting them take it out of here and making a fortune with — I've got to say it — white guys," Shepherd said.
A different producer took each singer, he said. Capello had a hit with "Cotton Candy," which he previously had recorded with his own band, but this time backed with New Orleans professionals, according to his biography on the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame website. Clanton became a teen idol with "Just a Dream," ''Go Jimmy Go" and, in 1962, "Venus in Blue Jeans."
Ford's last performance was at the 2013 Gretna Heritage Festival.