Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 2013 Synergy, Port Townsend, WA
Engineer: Neville Pearsall
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: Did You (BSR151)
Current Release: Did You (BSR151)
I was standing on a hill with Karen Mueller overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers in August of 2002. The abundance of moisture in the basin made everything thick and humid, especially through the eyes of a Northwesterner. The wide, grey-brown rivers were flattened in the landscape off in the hazy near distance.
It was a visceral moment looking out at those rivers. Wow, the Mississippi! Up the river was Hannibal, MO, home of Mark Twain. I remembered hitchhiking through there several decades earlier just after the river had overflowed its banks and into the town. I got to stand knee-deep in history. And Huck Finn! THAT river. The one that wound around the green bends below me.
And Jim. All he had to do was get up the Illinois and he'd be free (oh yeah, the Ohio, but still...) the power of literature from the hands of a great American master. Riverboat gamblers. French trappers. Davy Crockett. Mike Fink. Andrew Jackson powdering up alligator behinds to shoot cannonballs at the British (thanks, Johnny.) And Karen Mueller standing there next to me, gazing out with her bemused, sweet sideways smile, both of us conspiratorially truant (just a little bit) from our obligations.
This tune started in my head. Just the A-part. It worked off of a riff I had adapted years before to use in Norman Blake's, Slow Train.
When we got back to the Great River Road Festival, I was still hammering out the new tune in my head. The first person I saw was Gary Gallagher out on the sidewalk in front of the conference hall with a few of his hand-built instruments. I played the bare bones A-part of the new tune and confessed I didn't know where to go with it. He suggested I take the tune from the G and into a B-minor. I gave it a try but couldn't make it stick. I left it dangling in the humid air among the fireflies.
A year or so later I was strolling up a walkway in Asheville NC at the Warren Wilson College's Swannanoa Gathering. The tune came back. I found it was a great “walking” tune. Bouncy. Many times over the ensuing years I've found myself returning to it as a piece I do when no one is listening. That dynamic A part, for me, is particularly comforting to play, addressing an inner tempo, I suppose. Ten years were to pass before this tune finally “came home.”
The key was in having a minor bridge, as Gary had suggested, but it also needed yet another part to bridge to it. I solved that by using a chord progression out of the Ballad of the Loch Ness Monster. I boldly “power drop” down into the E-minor and use that full-barre position to fill in bass lead lines, building to a succession of suspended chords. It is not quite like how Moon Void solves the need for a third part but it does remind me of the way Albert and I constructed the bridge for that space-ride tune. Elements of all three vied to become a new tune. Maybe that is why I find comfort in it.
I truly don't know if I will ever get around to tabbing this out. Perhaps I will play it on a YouTube video and let folks do it for themselves. Maybe Quintin Stephens will take a whack at it if you ask him nice. I certainly play it on the dulcimer but I don't necessarily consider it a “dulcimer” tune. It uses too many kinda normal chords that are available for any instrument. Well, maybe that third part...
It does use my “full-barre” technique to launch into the E-minor bass licks. That causes problems for some dulci-folks. As well, the darker, minor chords do push it a bit into rock and roll. What the heck. It's lively. It's fun to play. It's music. And in the end, oftentimes I still just play the catchy, bouncy A-part when I am out strolling.