Ballad of the Loch Ness Monster
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1984 Altman, San Francisco, CA
Engineer: Sandy Stone
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: When the Moon Fell on California (KM318)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
The original liner notes say, “Space beast loose in local lake. Details at eleven.” One ofAlbert's funny bits was as an Englishman-- a stuffy sort with more than a touch of Monty Python. In this character he would spin off often coming to rest on the “very proper” serious, English music hall style of music-- hands clasped in front, pursed lips. All done straight-face but spoofing something or the other.
“Let's write a tune!” What better subject than “Nessy” and having her be some orphaned space creature pining for home. (This was before adorable space creatures like E.T.) It's on our 4th album, When the Moon Fell on California. You can tell from the LP title that by that time we were scribbling all over the map and just having fun, throwing in all of the odd tunes that never seem to fit into the other releases.
Sandy Stone was our engineer at John Altman studio down in the sunset district of San Francisco. She and I as StoneForce Productions had been producing a lot of albums together. One of the previous groups in that month had been Chris Caswell and Danny Carnahan making their Borderlands LP. When Nessy needed a Scots touch, what better than using one of Chris' bagpipe riffs?
Trouble was bagpipes aren't in G where the song is pitched. Also, since the end of the “riff” had to be specific, where and how to start it? This was back in the day when recording machines were manual using 2-inch tape over magnetic heads. This particular machine had earlier belonged to the Grateful Dead and was the one they used on tour to capture many of their live shows. She was a dinosaur even then.
Sandy Stone (look her up!) was a genius. She had engineered over 400 major label LPs including Hendrix, Sly, Van Morrison and is credited with creating the Crosby, Stills, Nash blended vocal sound. She duplicated one of the bagpipe passages from the Caswell/Carnahan album and spun it off onto ¼ inch tape. Then she added it to our track by winding the 2” tape backwards over the heads and recording so that it started at the end of the break where Nessy blasts into space. Keen! Oh yes, and she speeded up the tape so that the pitch change took the nominally tuned B-flat bagpipe up to G. A bit frenetic, but so is the song!
I can't end this without a salute to the two biggest fans of this tune, Quintin Stephens' sons, Caleb and Wyatt. Once at their house I sang it to them using a Donald Duck voice. Big hit. On the recording Rob Wasserman's bowed bass and Greg Schneeman's ethereal bowed psaltry give it, as we intended, an otherworlds feel. Karolyn Flynn sings one high note at the end. Actually she sang throughout but her trained, operatic voice didn't mesh with Albert's and my folky ones, but we had to use that beautiful sound somewhere!
Baila Dworsky sang backup throughout. Mike Newson played piano. Steve Einhorn was on guitar. We even got Alex deGrassi in to play glockenspiel. Albert and I were on dulcimers, of course, and singing with those wonderful English music hall put on airs, big and bombastic.