Mail Order Mountain Music
It was comforting, familiar music for a group of people far from the green rolling hillsides that had been their home for generations. Bluegrass also provided a common bond for people who had left small rural communities to find themselves crammed into the unfamiliar surroundings of tenement builds, overcrowded slums, and the dark, dirty factories that provided the better paying jobs they left home in search of.
It wasn’t long before other inhabitants of the city heard the banjo, mandolin, and fiddle of their new neighbors being played at picnics and weekend dances. At first the hillbilly music of these rural folk was met with giggles and snickers, but the upbeat tempo and good time melodies soon won over more than a few city-bred admirers. During the post war years bluegrass exploded across the country.
Bluegrass may have its roots in the mountains but its branches now spread around the globe. I was recently pointed to an article in the Orange County (California) Register by Julie Anne Ines. Ms. Ines writes of a lively bluegrass scene in Fountain Valley, California, being driven by four-time Southern California fiddle champion and teacher, Shelah Spiegel (MySpace). Although there are still a few folks who turn their noses up at bluegrass, its history owes as much to Baltimore and Chicago as it does to Berea, Kentucky and Clinch Mountain, Virginia. Read the article here.
Since we are on the subject of bluegrass let me tell you about the latest gem brought to us from our friend Walt’s Cousin Wes and his amazing collection from his home in the hills of southwest, Virginia.
Many riders on the Bus may be familiar with Rebel Records. Rebel may have fallen by the wayside as so many other local record companies did, but thanks to Charles R. Freeland and Bill Carroll and their dedication to bluegrass music, Rebel became one of the frontrunners in bluegrass music throughout much of the 1960s and ‘70s. The success of Rebel can be attributed to the resurgence of interest in bluegrass and the label’s ability to find great artists.
Rebel Records never did have a very wide distribution. Often the records were personally delivered to merchants and left on consignment. Later, as word about Rebel’s wonderful catalog of bluegrass music was passed by word of mouth, mail order sales became an important part of Rebel’s prosperity. When Rebel teamed up with County Sales of Floyd, Virginia sales and exposure increased measurably. County’s monthly newsletter was, and still is, read by bluegrass enthusiasts around the world, your humble driver included.
While still selling most of their catalog by mail order, Rebel Records put together a few “mail order only” records not available in stores. In 1965 Rebel offered a four LP compilation of 70 of their most popular and most requested 45s. The set, known as the "70 Song ‘Per-Inquiry’ Collection" was issued as catalog numbers R1473 through R1476. The records were not identified on the label besides a listing of the tracks and did not come with covers. The records were delivered by mail enclosed only in thin, white paper inner sleeves.
I don’t know for sure how many of these special mail order sets were sold, but there was only one run and when those were sold the catalog numbers were retired. Imagine my astonishment when I was loaned a set of these rare LPs by Walt’s Cousin Wes.
Y’all have a good weekend.