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When the Moon Fell on California   Kicking Mule Records    KM 318    

moonThere are tunes on this album that should have been AM hits. Really. Waltzing with Bears did make it into the folk mainstream, but Deep Down in my Heart should have had a go at Country, maybe Slow Train, too. And hey, the Dr. Demento Show could have used Moon Fell and Loch Ness, even Gnarled. Well, we had a good time making this album. There's always that.

For the first three years of the 80s I was producing albums at San Francisco's John Altman Studio in the Sunset District, mostly for the Kicking Mule label. Earlier, in 1979, I had produced three albums in Santa Cruz, CA at Fane Studios. That's where I met and worked with Sandy Stone for the first time.

Consummate banjo picker, George Stavis, had assembled the greatest crew of musicians and an engineer who was amazing on so many levels it is hard to articulate how many. Neal Hellman had George in on his Dulcimer Duets album that I produced. George liked my work and invited me in to produce his. Meeting and working with Sandy Stone was to shape a new direction in my life.

Sandy had over 400 major label production credits including having worked with Hendrix, Sly, Van Morrison and countable others. She is credited with having created the Crosby, Stills and Nash tight-harmony, smooth vocal sound. I learned tons from her. We formed a company, StoneForce Productions and produced dozens of albums together in Seattle, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Of course she would engineer Moon Fell. Who else?

All I can say is that the album has a rich, full presence. She nailed the dulcimer's sound and our zaniest, best-of-the-best renditions of the tunes. She helped us build them like fine castles-- rock solid but with flying buttresses and Neuschwanstein-esque turrets. Many of the cast of characters who popped in to play on a tune or two have gone on, shaping the musical world, legends themselves.

Sandy helped us to elevate both our sound and our approach to the “market end” of the dulcimer. For perhaps the first time we were not dulcimer players. We were musicians. The dulcimer was our instrument, but it didn't have to ride high in the mix if it wasn't featured. As a result, when we soloed, the dulcimer took on a voice of its own-- reflecting our own artistry-- great musical chops in context.

The album was a no-holds-barred effort; everything goes. We were being completely and genuinely ourselves. We loaded into this album most of our funny, over-the-top tunes. Audiences love to laugh and we loved to help them do so. By then we had made enough inroads into the music industry to feel like we could do --whatever-- it would be just fine. Sure, we played good music, but it was mostly our comedic, between-the-tunes commentary that kept folks coming back, if only to see what we would say or do next. Unlike our songs which we assidiously rehearsed, our stage “bits” never were.

We were going to call the album, Waltzing with Bears, because we sensed that song had legs and could take off. After “dire consequence” exchanges with Dr. Seuss' lawyers, we decided to keep the song on the lp but not flaunt it in their faces by also naming the album after the tune. Michael Rugg, who drew the geophysical-correct moon on the cover, had already made sketches of us waltzing with bears. Taken as he was with Sasquatch and cartooning, his sense of big and hairy and adorable was exquisite.

It was an album perfectly capturing us in our musical arc. Plenty of music, not just dulcimers. A well-developed sense of the absurd. Comical and topical. Every musical friend we could get into the studio. World-class engineering. Hot beef and cheese piroskis from the Russian-Chinese bakery around the corner. Mystic Mints and Nutter Butters on every flat surface. When the moon fell, we'd be ready.