When the Moon Fell on California
Author: R. Force, A. d'Ossché, Baila Dworsky, John Griffin
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)
“Blind Boy” d'Ossché and “Back Alley” Bob would often appear between the sets of Force/d'Ossché shows. The dulcimers would be set aside and we'd come back on, Al with his Uncle Julian's gun metal, 14” pie-plate resonator, Waldo tenor banjo and me with a silver Abbott trombone that had been played in the 1914 Harvard marching band. We adopted characters from New Orleans' early Dixieland jazz era and played “send offs” with titles like Commune Refuge and When the Moon Fell on California.
Al would don dark sunglasses and lapse totally into the street scenes of his youth, drawling in the inimitable accent and patois of New Orleans. As “Bone Bob” aka “Back Alley” I got my moniker from the fact that I'd invariably drive by the entrance to whatever gig we were supposed to play and find my way back to the front by doubling through an alley.
We were staying at the Rockaway Beach, OR home of Baila Dworsky, rehearsing for a 10-gig swing through the Pacific Northwest. John Griffin was there with a sound system he had designed to take on tour with us to record the shows. During a previous tour Albert had come down with hepatitis. Baila graciously offered her wind-swept hideaway for his recovery which took many weeks.
Baila was a central figure in Al's and my lives since KG2. A music teacher in the Portland schools, she was a multi-instrumentalist and trained vocalist. Her expertise helped create the tablature system for the seminal, Pacific Rim Dulcimer Songbook. She read and wrote music and could verify the tab fingerings. She was the producer of our Art of Dulcimer album and transcriber, musical editor/author of the Wild Dulcimer Songbook. As Baila Ruffo, her vocals are on three of our recorded songs.
John was an early computer genius and I don't use the word lightly. He worked with Marvin Minsky, Noam Chomsky and others of the late 50's, early 60s who made the world what it is today. He had double PhDs in mathematics and information theory from MIT. John first showed up in our lives, a resident of Alexander's by the Sea during KG1, as “Ian the Magician” with his long, white beard, prominent nose, twinkling eyes, juggling skills and love of the Sufi tales of the Mullah Nasruddin.
He had left the recording equipment running during a break in our rehearsal. All of the mikes were live. A remarkable hour in time was captured on tape which Ian/John labeled as, The Song Machine. Albert is heard saying, “Hey, we ought to play When the Stars Fell on Alabama.” There is a pause.
“But I don't know any of the words.” A pause. “Or the tune.” I chip in, “How about we do When the Moon Fell on California?” “Yeah!” we all chorused. Albert grabbed his banjo and launched into a simple Dixieland C-F-G chord progression.
What followed was a hilarious session, each of us throwing out ideas and vying to make rhyming and lyrical sense, talking over each other, shouting out alternatives. Albert was infatuated by the then-in-the-news, giant radioactive sponges growing in the seabed off San Francisco but that verse never made it into the final song. John, not unsurprisingly, came up with, “the brains at Cal Tech didn't predict it.” Everyone eventually had more than just a finger in the pie. In an hour it was done and written down. The tape ends with Albert playing “stride” piano, all of us laughing and singing the new song.
Michael Rugg did an amazing, geophysical-accurate drawing of the moon impacting on Hollywood. Albert and I are flying off of the earth, he banjo in hand, me with dulcimer. The title is in Superman-type 3D graphics. I had a trombone track on the cut but Al wanted more of a high-end and hired Ernie Mansfield and his really cooking clarinet. Perfect. Al played both banjo and piano. Baila, he and I sang. Sandy Stone engineered, coming up with a to-the-groove-wall BOOM that is still remarkable.