During my first year in college at Santa Cruz, CA, I discovered old-time fiddle music. Some friends of mine would often get together to play tunes on the fiddle, banjo, and guitar. The music was exhiliarating and infectious, and I couldn't wait to be playing it myself. I often stayed up all night, crouched in a certain concrete stairway in my dormitory, learning those tunes with a tape recorder and any instrument I could find. During that year I taught myself how to play the mandolin, guitar, and banjo, all for the love of this music.
Whenever possible I would travel with these friends to old-time fiddlers' conventions that were held throughout California. I'll never forget the one spring day in 1974 at the California State Fiddle Contest in Madeira, when an old man who had been fiddling for over 60 years was introduced to the audience of fiddlers, families, and friends. This man was dying of cancer and was expected to live only a few more weeks. As I watched him play his tunes for the last time, I got choked up with tears, and, sobbing uncontrollably, I wandered outside into a wedding reception for two young fiddlers who had just gotten married. People were singing, dancing and laughing, and the air was filled with joy. Somehow between the old man and this wedding celebration my heart was torn open. The music and all of these people who were keeping it alive struck a very deep chord inside me. In that moment I understood that old-time music contains a part of all those who have ever played it. I realized that these tunes are in fact, alive. That old man and countless others gave me so much when they passed their music on to me, and the only way I know to thank them is to pass it on once more.
Since learning to build and play hammered dulcimers in 1976, I have played on many street corners and at many different functions. For years I had wanted to make a recording of hammered dulcimer music, but the timing was never right. While returning home after my brother's wedding in November 1982, I stopped off in Los Angeles to visit my friends J.J. Schoch and Holly Deskin. They had an 8-track recording studio in their home and I happened to have my hammered dulcimer with me. With no immediate obligations to return home, I decided on impulse to make a recording right then and there. I was full of enthusiasm and energy, and had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.
I had figured it would take around a week or so. Well, after one week I was still arranging the tunes as well as trying to figure out how all the recording equipment worked! Two weeks later we finished recording the tunes and J.J. (my indespensable engineer-musician-producer-friend) left for the holidays. I stayed on to finish the production of the tapes, thinking I'd be home in three days. Three weeks later, J.J. came back to find me still working away. I had discovered such things as mixing, editing, designing, and copying, and found that all of these take a ridiculously long time to do. (After I postponed my flight home for the sixth time, I stopped counting.) But certianly the joy of making the tape far exceeded the burden of many unexpected delays!
I wound up cancelling my trip home and began to peddle my tapes on the ocean boardwalk in Venice. Soon I had my own booth at craft fairs throughout the pacific states. At first, everybody asked; "What's that instrument?" (The hammered dulcimer, I suppose, looks as intriguing as it sounds.) But soon the most frequent question asked was; "When's your next tape coming out?" This was flattering and left me with little choice - I had to record another album. I booked J.J.'s studio, contracted the best musicians I knew, and spent the summer of 1984 making "Shakin' Down the Acorns, II".