A Force Of Nature Celebrates A Birthday Today!
In the summer of 2006, I went to my first dulcimer festival at Kentucky Music Week as a student, taking workshops with the likes of Stephen Seifert, Lorraine Lee Hammond, Don Pedi and Butch Ross. No-one knew who I was and it was just a joy to finally have found "my people" after playing for over 20 years in the Dulcimerist's Wilderness all alone. Well, all alone except for three cassette tapes that I bought when working at Bud and Donna Ford's dulcimer shop inside of Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, where I first discovered the dulcimer. Those three albums were David Schnaufer's "Dulcimer Player", Michael Rugg's "Celtic Collection" and Neal Hellman's "Dulcimer Airs, Ballads and Bears." These titles were the only influence on my playing while still living in California.
During his week of classes, Butch taught many things including "Wellyn" by Robert Force, a name that I was unfamiliar with at the time, but shouldn't have been. You see, if I had bought the vinyl versions of those three records, I would've seen Robert's name in the credits of Michael and Neal's albums as a producer, so his influence had been indirectly urging me in new directions since 1986. In any case, I left Bardstown, Kentucky that week with "Wellyn" in my head, inspired by my first dulcimer festival experience and hungry to charge full speed ahead into the mountain dulcimer world.
These first two videos detail what happened next:
Well, if I had been tip-toeing around the periphery of the mountain dulcimer world before 2006, I had just cannonballed smack dab into the middle of its infinity pool. Though I had just met Robert, it was immediately evident to me that where Jean Ritchie served as the instrument's grand dame, Robert was the une figure paternelle to mountain dulcimer players everywhere thanks to his trailblazing exploits with the instrument in the 1970's and glorious double dulcimer dance with his late musical partner Al d'Ossché. Through a host of records and the seminal publication "In Search Of The Wild Dulcimer", Robert displayed a passion for learning, invention and sharing the multiple fruits of the mountain dulcimer with other people through performances, instruction and collaboration.
The collaborative side of Robert Force was evident upon our first meeting as he invited me up on stage during his sets at the 24th Annual Mountain Music Festival in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It was then that the seeds were planted for a wonderful musical tree that would sprout, pardon the pun, forcefully from the soil inside of the Garden of the Gods in 2007. It was the year leading towards this that Robert assembled a group consisting of himself, me, Judy Piazza, Quintin Stephens, Dave Batti and Bud Ford III. It was at my suggestion that Mohave guitarist Roger Zimish come along for the ride as well.
As the following videos will show, the result was nothing short of amazing. The result was Manitou.
Today is Robert's 66th birthday and I know that my story of knowing and working with him may be unique, but not uncommon as many folks from around the world will no doubt wish him a Happy Birthday and thank him for being the inimitable inspiration that he has been to all of us. Over the eight years that I've known him, Robert has been a teacher, an inspiration, a collaborator, a compadre, a confidant and one of the most extraordinary people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Here's a nice rambling one-shot from November of 2013 at the Suwannee Dulcimer Retreat in White Springs, Florida, featuring Robert in typical musical joie de vivre:
It was Robert's ground-breaking YouTube series "The Robert Force Show" that inspired me to create "Dulcimerica" and I'd like to leave you with a double whammy; an episode of the show that features Robert performing probably his most endearing song; "Did You?"
Happy Birthday, dear Robert - and may you have many, many more!