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Dulcimer Boomers: Bob Force (and Al d'Oscché)

I am struck as I type this how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking everything is awful after reading the news. How easy it would be to think people are terrible. That is not my experience from doing the research for David's biography. Ninety-nine percent of the people whom I interviewed for the book were complete strangers, but they took time out of their own busy lives to share stories, original sources and photos--often multiple times--with a stranger; they were kind, generous, enthusiastic supporters of the project thanks to lives rich with music and their fellow players. It was one of the unanticipated joys of the research. And Robert Force was one of those people.


Bob not only helped fill in a crucial gap in David's life story, his own story is just as extraordinary. He is a seminal figure for anyone interested in American music history through the dulcimer lens. He was a college student when he first fell in love with dulcimer music after listening to Richard and Mimi Fariña. He had a chance meeting with another young dulcimer player named Al d'Ossché at an East Coast fiddle convention back in the early seventies. ("Chance" doesn't even begin to cover how unlikely it was that the two would meet, but they did. And the rest is a whole lot of wonderful history.) I'll write more about that partnership in the future, but it's important to note here that they--with a little help from their friends at Dulcimer Players News--became critical kindling for the seventies Dulcimer Boom.


His youthful, creative partnership with Al is where we began our first interview. Bob and Al played an outsized role in the dulcimer's evolution into a modern instrument that enabled just about anyone to play thanks in great part to their books, In Search of the Wild Dulcimer, and The Pacific Rim Dulcimer Songbook. Thanks to Bob's leadership, innovative performing and writing, David went calling to learn from him; Pluck details his important influence on David's skill development.


Because I never knew David Schnaufer personally, I was only able to imagine his lifelong wonder and curiosity about the world based on stories people shared. I did get a feel for that trait first hand thanks to Bob; he has the wonder and curiosity, too. Conversations with him were delightful and rich, sometimes challenging (in a good way) and always full of his memories, subject knowledge, and profound connections that astonish in their depth and breadth.


Look at Rick's photo below through 2022 eyes: it's easy to underestimate the impact of their playing while standing; when they first started playing together, this stance was radical as was much of their music for people who only knew playing based on the Appalachian tradition.


West Coast players Albert D'Ossché and Robert Force. Important dulcimer players.
A most important partnership: Al D'Ossché and Robert Force in 1980. Photo courtesy of Rick Freimuth.

Another one of the many kind people who contributed rare primary sources was Doug Thomson, a musician and luthier in California. Enjoy brief clips from Doug's recordings, first, "Firenze" and then "Waltzing with Bears":







I lifted these clips from two of Bob and Al's performances at the Claremont, California Folk Festival; the first is from Bob's original composition, Firenze, and the second is from the funny folk song, "Waltzing with Bears". These are rare audio clips, so the sound isn't optimal; to experience them as you should, read the stories behind them and purchase them on Bob's website here and here.




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