A legendary institution in world of bluegrass and old time music is coming to an end. It was announced in the latest newsletter from County Sales that they would be ceasing operation on January 17, 2018.
For more than 50 years they have been offering recordings of traditional music at discounted prices, shipping to customers worldwide. Starting with LPs, they moved with the market to include tapes, CDs, and now DVDs as well, plus books and other merchandise related to bluegrass.
In operation since 1965 in the mountain hamlet of Floyd, VA, County Sales was launched by Dave Freeman from his home in New York City. A serious student of old time and bluegrass music, Freeman had started County Records two years earlier to service that market, and built the second business on his recognition that people outside of the Appalachian region had difficulty obtaining records.
His thinking was to keep an inventory of such product on hand, and offer knowledgeable, friendly service for phone and mail order customers. Dave’s monthly newsletters were like a life line for folks living in bluegrass isolation, with reviews of dozens of new projects included in each one. Regular customers grew to trust Freeman’s take on these new projects, with a good word from him certain to generate orders, even from a new artist.
In 1973, he moved his family from New York City to Floyd, before relocating eventually to Roanoke, and then to Charlottesville. Along the way, he purchased Rebel Records from Dick Freeland, and started yet another business, Record Depot, which functioned as a wholesaler to record shops and music stores who carried bluegrass and old time recordings. At the height of their success, Rebel and Record Depot maintained a large warehouse operation in Roanoke, with literally every album, tape, or CD of importance in our music in stock.
Many a bluegrass lover can recall the excitement of seeing an LP-sized package arrive from County Sales, but the more recent switch to online ordering and streaming/download preferences have taken away a good bit of their market. With many of the customers who have long supported the company passing on, and the recent retirement of several key employees, Dave has decided that it was time to let it go. The family operating the Floyd County Store, just around the corner, had looked into taking on County Sales as well, but eventually decided against it.
Largely retired now at 78 years of age, Freeman has turned the running of Rebel Records over to his son, Mark, who manages it from an office in Charlottesville, VA. Dave has continued to oversee County Sales from his new home in North Carolina, but the newsletter is now sent bi-monthly, and he understandably wants to spend more time with his grandchildren, and his passion for finding rare old records thought to have become unavailable.
The International Bluegrass Music Association gave Freeman their Distinguished Achievement Award in 1989, and inducted him into their Hall Of Fame in 2002. Fortunately, his health is still good, but after 60 years of service to our industry, he certainly deserves his rest.
Our own Richard Thompson, who was a loyal County Sales customer from his home in England, echoes a sentiment widely shared among their clientele.
“I reckon that I first started buying LPs and books (and then CDs) from David Freeman in the early 1980s. In addition to the random purchases, I have to thank David for the many old-time and bluegrass music releases on his label County Records; they did a lot to foster my knowledge and bring great listening joy during the past 35 and more years. Thank you David Freeman and County Sales.”
Rebel Records will continue under Mark’s direction, with a number of new projects already scheduled for 2018. Dave’s record auction business will also live on, so those customers will be unaffected.
It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that literally every fan of bluegrass and old time music over 40 years of age has purchased something from County Sales over their lifetime. And there is no question that Dave Freeman deserves a great deal of the credit for keeping the music alive through some difficult early days.
It’s sad to see them go, but market realities are one thing that can’t be ignored. Three cheers to Dave Freeman and County Sales for exceptional service to our community for 52 years!
Special sale prices are being offered on remaining inventory. You can see Dave’s final newsletter online.