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40 Years Of Bear Family Records
“A German fairytale story of success”
(Kultur-Spiegel, 2008)
  
Founding a label for country music in 1975 was a big venture, at a time when German radio listeners had no interest in the genre – apart from German country bands like Truck Stop (who sang in German). Hitting the market with albums by Bill Clifton and Hedy West in the year when Elton John's Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was a number one hit seemed like commercial suicide. And to top it all, giving the label such an unusual name suggested extreme nonconformism. And while other record companies adorned their labels with strictly typographic logos, Richard Weize chose animals for his label – 80 years after Nipper's death.  Not even WEA, who had occasionally used Bugs Bunny for advertising, went that far). Weize was fond of bears, he liked the woodcut of a bear family in 'Meyers Konversationslexikon' from 1898 and created a new brand with it ('Established 1975'). That impressive sculpture of a bear family in front of his door is a replica of this picture, carved out of Redwood. It was custom-made for him in Monterey, California, and transported to Vollersode.
 
Bear Family Records is the most important among the postwar labels between Flensburg and Munich with a worldwide distribution. But while statistics can assert and substantiate, they can also twist and distort the reality. Actually, although reputations and fame reflected through internet stats are important, it's not quantity, sales or balance sheets that matter. There's only one dimension which really counts in music – and that's quality. With regard to quality, everyone in the sphere of Bear Family Records will swear by all that is holy that the releases from Vollersode are among the best that have ever been published in this field.
 
Today the Bear Family Records repertoire ranges from blues to soul, from rock 'n' roll to rhythm & blues, from jazz to pop, from cabaret to country – from boundlessly kitschy German Schlager to political messages such as the 'Songs For Political Action' box-set. At the roots there's always been the American music which was brought into Germany in the 1950s via American Forces Network.
 
Richard Weize founder of Bear Family Records
When Richard Weize went to the bank it was not to draw his proceeds but to ask for an extension to his credit line. He focused on collectors who had been neglected by other companies for too long. Being a collector himself since the 50s, he knew them inside out, including the many difficulties they encountered in those times. Asking in vain for Bill Haley's 'R.O.C.K.' at the local Riedel radio shop and having to make do with 'Rock Around The Clock' – as Richard had experienced – was no exception. There were no dedicated record shops 60 years ago, and you had to accept the poor supply. If a friend showed up with a compilation album including such treasures as Don Gibson's 'Oh, Lonesome Me' and Jim Reeves' 'The Blizzard', the foundations for a collectors' career were laid. But the records alone were not enough; after all, there were artists behind the music. And so in 1964 the 19-year-old jumped on a train in Bad Gandersheim to see Jim Reeves, Bobby Bare and Chet Atkins in concert in Hannover, and have a personal talk with them. For this he even risked missing the last train home.
 
He was addicted to country music, and his passion for collecting records gained the upper hand. Although he had sold his first collection by then – as so many others did – he remained a collector by heart. What sets him apart from most other humans is his historian's view. According to Walter Benjamin, the elevated collector has a specific eye, "he sees more and has a different view than the ordinary collector." It is his understanding of the importance of bygone eras and their values which are to be con-served. The same goes for the antiquarian books which he keeps as a cultural asset. A collector always builds up some inner resistance against the changing times. Richard Weize has done exactly this for the last 40 years.
 
The wide range of releases on Bear Family during those four decades are recommended to everyone who wants to understand pop culture of the past century. The step from distributor to a reissue label was a decisive one. He had started producing his own records with his previous company, 'Folk Variety' but the big breakthrough came when he stumbled upon the reissue of an old Flatt & Scruggs album. He was electrified by the fact that such a thing was possible, and he found no rest until he had made a deal with COLUMBIA/CBS to release his own record: 'The Unissued Johnny Cash.'
 
The high approval he gets from the international press is awe-inspiring. From 'Billboard' to 'Rolling Stone' (USA), from 'Frankfurter Allgemeine' to 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' in Germany – Bear Family Records' releases are praised. Back in the days of Tower Records, Weize's box- sets could be found in the shelves of their New Orleans branch. You'll find them in New York and in Hamburg. The most complete range of Bear Family CDs and box- sets is displayed at the American Amoeba shops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley. Today the best advertisement for the label are editions like the complete works of Chuck Berry or Johnny Horton, and historical releases of American country & mountain music (Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Uncle Dave Macon, etc. etc.).
 
 
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