...In the Beginning-
From the notes of Bill Vernon's writings in
the 35 Anniversary Box set.
Bill has twice received the IBMA award
for Best Liner Notes, the first in 1994 for his work on the
4-CD boxed set reissue of Reno & Smiley recordings, and
again in 1998 for the Rebel 35th Anniversaries Box set he
completed just prior to his death.
"Recorded bluegrass, in the music's earliest
years, appeared on three types of record labels, Each"major"
label usually had at least one prominent bluegrass band whose
records were sold in the same way as its other country music.
A few strong independent labels would emerge; these could
not rival the major labels but they created a kind of second
tier, achieving significant distribution of a great many important
bluegrass recordings. There was also a underpinning of small
regional labels dedicated to bluegrass music but these could
not over come the obstacle of limited distribution; they would
issue great records and then be unable to continue in business.
The first record label of enduring consequence to concentrate
on bluegrass music, to the eventual exclusion of all other
kinds of music was Rebel Records....
Rebel's beginnings were as casual as they were
and eventual sole owner (through 1979) Charles R. Freeland
had always had a robust interest in bluegrass music, as had
his high school friend Bill Carroll. Buzz Busby's weekly television
show "Hayloft Hoedown" had spearheaded the popularity
of bluegrass in the Washington area; Carroll had been booking
shows for Buzz and occasionally for Reno & Smiley. When
Buzz returned to his native Louisiana to join the prestigious
Louisiana Hayride, Bill leased for his Carol label a Buzz
Busby 45 that had originally appeared on Jiffy. By the time
of Carol's second release, Dick Freeland had become Bill's
partner. By November of 1959, Dick and Bill decided to form
a new label and so with a third partner, Sonny "Zap"
Compton , the Rebel label was born....
The techniques Rebel employed to get its label
up and running could not succeed in today's complex , high
pressure business climate, but in 1960, they could still prove
fruitful. Evenings and weekends, Freeland and his partners
would visit the Library of Congress to write down the names
and mailing addresses of every radio station , every jukebox
operation and every record store and distributor in America.
Initial response was not overwhelming; Dick remembers response
from radio stations at the highest - "they all wanted
a free record" Nowadays, inventory decisions for any
type of retail location are often made a thousand miles away,
and a mile from Earth. By contrast, the men from Rebel succeeded
back then by simply getting into their cars and appearing
in person at the stores they hoped would carry their product.
Initially, retailers were skeptical; they didn't want to stock
items they might just have to return. Some were afraid they
wouldn't be able to find anyone to return items to when the
time came. The compromise was logical, Rebel's earliest 45s
were often left at stores on a consignment basis. But Rebel
records were in the stores, on whatever basis, and they began
to sell. ..