Wellyn - 1977
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1977 Biscuit City, Denver, CO
Engineer: N.C. Bull
Producer: Laura Benson
Original Release: Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project (BC1314
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
Some tunes get a life of their own. Wellyn is such a tune. Little did I know in the summer of 1972 when Al and I were living in West Cornwall, CT and I wrote this, such a destiny was in store. In my musical timeline it was the transition between using two-stop chords and moving into three-stop. I was in our front yard experimenting with using full-barres across the frets. Starting in the E-minor (Aeolian) position the result was a driving, rock and roll “power chord” progression. Pretty exciting!
I rushed over to where Albert was working out tunes farther up the yard and said, “Hey, Flaco, I got a new tune!” He replied, “Me too!” I played mine; he played his. We realized each needed a bridge so we set about co-writing “B” parts for the songs. Apart from tempo and the use of two-stop versus three stop chords, both of the resulting bridges are similar. Mine later got a C part. For a title, I shortened, Llewellyn, the Welsh for my middle name, Lewis. Albert named his for the Cornwall bridge.
From the vantage of 40 years later I can look back and see the physical outline of how this “life of its own” came to be. Albert developed a complimentary full-barre style and Wellyn became a regular part of our shows right away. It was recorded on the Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project, the first dulcimer lp to receive wide-distributorship. The PacRim album had a wide audience appeal through showcasing many genres of music and the individual styles of six players. All six had a vested interest in getting their work out so exposure was multiplied by that factor since we all toured independently.
Pacific Rim Dulcimer Songbook, the first book ever published with tablature invented for the dulcimer, accompanied the album the next year. The book made it possible for players who wanted to learn a “dulcimer” song to not have to do so by ear alone. They didn't have to experiment with how the chords or melodies were formed; the book showed them how. The PacRim Songbook was independently co-published by the authors. A higher potential for direct-sales profit meant that in the “be scrappy and hustle” days of indy folk music there was an incentive for each artist to sell the album and the book.
The subjective side is... well, subjective. Wellyn appealed to people. They liked the melody. It was fun to play. They liked the athleticism of quick chord changes and its driving, exactly-timed rhythm. Being able to play Wellyn exhibited the personal mastery of a complicated piece of music. It had room for two players to play parallel parts. It was also open to interpretation. As its popularity grew and lots of people knew the tune, it became one folks could teach each other and bring out during song circles.
All these factors combined to allow Wellyn to have a life of its own. Over the years others have recorded it on their albums, from exact copies to wah-wah, electric rock and roll. It has appeared in several anthologies. Anthropologist, Robert Nichols, wrote a treatise tracing Wellyn's transition from being a self-song to a community endeavor to a societal song and back to (somebody else's) individual song. (With permission, his treatise is in the Pythagoras and Other Writing section of this website.)
Nichols uses the specialized language of anthropology. It is not a light read. But throughout is a simple, yet profound idea best illustrated when he writes, “In any community there exist songs or works of art that become important of themselves, creating an acceptance that allows the community a focus point for creation of folklore... 'a kind of bank where authenticity is safely stored'...”
After Albert died I was “off tour” for ten years. When I started again in 2000, I came across people playing the tune who had no idea where it came from. It had moved on from being my song. Wellyn now belonged to everyone who had made it their song. Al and I recorded two versions; the second one is longer because we play it through three times. Dozens of other folks' renditions exist in cyberspace.