Author:Robert Force & Albert d'Ossche'
Almost Lost Tunes ©2014
In the winter of 1976, Albert and I (along with Janette, Gina and Cecelia) were living in a ramshackle house just on the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon, the self-acknowledged capital of the hippie world. Ken Kesey lived across the Mackenzie River. His sister, Nancy, was starting her organic yogurt business. Eugene was the countrified epitome of all that was good in the back-to-the-land, alternative culture.
The big university, U of O, flowered with flower children. Alternative businesses and social help organizations also flowered. The social consciousness of new college graduates was being fueled by a government program, CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act). This act gave money for employment start-ups which, in Eugene, were largely directed at community programs. Folks could “make work” in the area of their bliss. Clever. Many were thus assimilated, newly hooked on salaries.
Albert decided to learn to play his Uncle Julian's pie-plate, Waldo banjo. I retaliated by “boning up” on my instrument from elementary school band-- the trombone. My wife, Janette, to this day maintains this was one of the worse times of her life (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I think!) having to listen to the both of us, day in and and day out, scritchin' and honking as we learned to play.
This certainly led Albert back to his New Orleans' roots. Over the next few months we cobbled together a Preservation Hall music style that eventually found it's way into our dulcimer stage act. As Blind Boy d'Ossche' and Back Alley Bob we would come back on during the break between our own sets as another band, sometimes with a costume change. So, of course, we needed more new material.
Fiddler and basso profundo, Ken Kepler, introduced us to the song, I Get the Blues When it Rains, a Big Bill Broonzy tune from the 20's reprised over and over throughout the years by performers from the Ink Spots to Judy Garland and even Jim Reeves. Our turn! We had such a gas with the song that it prompted us to come up with something a little more topical (though in the Northwest, songs about having the blues when it rains was singularly apropos).
Oh, Eugene did take itself so very seriously and it sure was serious business this new, conscious, social order thing. If we were nothing else, both Albert and I were at least comedians. We loved to get laughs. What better way to spoof the system-- any system-- than to laugh at ourselves and get others to laugh along? We'd gotten our share of laughs about the old America, how about spoofing this “new” America? Commune Refuge was just that-- another exercise in the “emperor has no clothes” – pointing out the obvious. In 1977 we debuted the new tune at the Woodsmen of the World (WOW) hall in Eugene. It fell dead flat. Stony faces. Oh oh.
We had just started a ten-day tour so we certainly were not going to give up the song right away. A few days later we played in Corvallis, the state university town forty miles north of Eugene. People hooped and hollered, practically falling out of their seats. Aha! Now we knew. There is a fine distinction between laughing at yourself and of thinking you are being laughed at (even though there's not a mean bone in the song.) Over the next six or eight years it was regularly slotted in our between-the-sets act, winning laughter in many places, just not in Eugene.
The chimney verse, though not exactly true, owes its origins to Albert's George Dodge truck, his “beater.” In his gypsy caravan, built by Michael Moore before Michael was the head carpenter for the Seattle Opera, Albert had a wood stove and parked freely in public places, warm, dry and at home.