Bear Family Records – the German-based independent record label that
has served music fans around the world with some of the most
comprehensive collections in all of music – is celebrating its’ 40th anniversary this fall.
Founded by music historian Richard Weize, the company’s first release was 1975’s Going Back to Dixie
by Bill Clifton. Since then, the company has issued multi-CD packages
and box sets of a wide array of artists and genres, ranging from R&B
acts like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Eartha Kitt to Pop legends Dean
Martin and Doris Day to and Country icons, such as Porter Wagoner and
Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill
Anderson has nothing but the utmost respect for the care that Bear
Family puts into their work. The Grand Ole Opry star was the subject of a
2011 set issued by the label – Bill Anderson: The First Ten Years, and says he was thoroughly impressed with the attention paid to his music.
“They have the reputation of doing the
best box sets of anyone in the business,” he said. “I had wanted a box
set for the past few years, and wanted Bear Family to be the ones to do
it. When I listened to the music, there was a lot of it that I hadn’t
heard in a long time.”
Through the work of Bear Family Records,
it is possible to secure the entire recorded catalog of iconic artists
such as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Snow, and Bill Monroe. Perhaps two of their
most-extensive collections are In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain – an
incredible 12-CD collection of the complete recordings by the Original
Carter Family, as well as The Honky Tonk Years, a 10-disc collection
containing the complete recordings of Ray Price through 1966.
The label also has delved into the
obscure with their collections. Perhaps one of the most interesting
releases by the label was a four-CD collection of songs related to the
legendary television favorite Bonanza
– including Christmas On The Ponderosa, a rare 1963 Yuletide platter
that features recordings from all four of the Cartwright family – Lorne
Greene, Dan Blocker, Pernell Roberts, and Michael Landon. Bear Family
has also released several single disc sets, focusing on hit recordings
by acts such as Don Gibson or And the Answer Is
– a collection of three single discs containing many of the greatest
answer songs in Country Music history – including “He’ll Have To Stay”
by Jeannie Black, and Jean Shepard’s rarity “The Only Mama That’ll Walk
The label is also well-respected for
their lavishly-researched books that go along with each of their box
sets. Whether it be Barry Mazor’s explanation of the music and life of
Connie Smith or Rich Kienzle’s in-depth account of Buck Owens and the
Bakersfield Sound, music fans get not only an audio delight for the
ears, but also get to learn about the history of the music. Each set
also includes a detailed discography of the recordings involved,
including the dates, the times, and the instrumentalists on each track.
That’s worth the price of sets alone, says Billboard’s Chuck Dauphin, who has written articles on many of the individual packages the label has released.
“The music is the drawing power, of
course, but when you read a Buck Owens discography, and see the name
James Burton involved on several tracks – it gives you a unique spin on
the history of the music, which is priceless,” he said.
And, from that first release four
decades ago, the company’s inventory continues to grow, with the label’s
catalog containing approximately 1,500 in-print releases including 300
CD boxed sets w/ comprehensive books (LP-size), a wide assortment of
historical music DVDs, a selection of high-profile 180-gram vinyl LPs,
and even several 45s to round things out.
Bear Family Records continues to plow new musical ground. For a detailed listing of all of their releases, go to www.bear-family.com