The Country Gentlemen and Rebel Records came of age together. Both entities were formed in the late 1950s, were located in the metropolitan Washington, D. C. area, and joined forces in 1962 for the recording of a 45 rpm single. It was the start of a relationship that lasted for over 30 years and yielded at least a dozen albums.
The grouping of Country Gentlemen that arrived at Rebel in 1962 consisted of what has since been tagged the Classic Country Gentlemen: co-founders Charlie Waller and John Duffey, ace banjoist Eddie Adcock and stellar bass player Tom Gray. This foursome did much to take bluegrass to urban audiences for the first time. They orchestrated snappy arrangements of bluegrass standards, incorporated material from folk, pop and traditional sources, and infused their stage shows with a comedic wit that endeared them to new legions of bluegrass fans.
The release of a 1965 recording called Bringing Mary Home caused a minor stir within the country music industry. The disc is reported to have sold 50,000 copies and landed on Billboard magazine’s “Hot Country Singles” chart for four weeks. The group received offers to appear on mainstream network television programs such as The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson). The release did much to place the Country Gentlemen and Rebel Records in the national spotlight.
Additional recordings followed, including two albums from the late 1960s: The Traveler and Other Favorites and Play It Like It Is. 1970’s New Look, New Sound heralded changes for the band. John Duffey left the group, supposedly to retire from music. He was replaced by a tenor-singing mandolin whiz from New England named Jimmy Gaudreau. Still more changes came in 1971 when the gospel album One Wide River was released. It was then that Bill Emerson, who was a member of the debut version of the band in 1957, returned for another stint. Mandolin player Doyle Lawson and bass player Bill Yates teamed up with Charlie Waller and Bill Emerson for what is arguably one of the band’s best LPs of the era, The Award Winning Country Gentlemen.
Throughout their recording career, the Country Gentlemen took several detours to make recordings for other labels. When they returned to Rebel from one such venture in 1976, they released Joe’s Last Train which was notable for lovely renditions of songs such as “Ages and Ages Ago” and exquisite four-part harmony arrangements of gospel gems such as “Lord Don’t Leave Me Here” and “Cryin’ Holy.” These two hymns set the stage for one of the group’s landmark LPs, the 1978 all-gospel outing, Calling My Children Home. After 35 years, it remains a consistent seller in the Rebel catalog. The Country Gentlemen completed their tenure with Rebel with three recordings: 1988’s Return Engagement, New Horizon – released in 1992, and the 1995 disc Souvenirs.
In 1998, Rebel issued a lavishly produced 4-CD box set that included 110 songs in all – arranged in chronological order from start to finish. The collection, entitled The Early Rebel Recordings: 1962-1971, was accompanied by a 24-page booklet that included many rare photos, the histories behind the songs and the recording sessions, and numerous comments from various band members about the music. The booklet won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s award for Best Liner Notes. Bluegrass fans interested in THE music and THE story of this remarkable band will appreciate this offering.