The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
Americans have changed how they listen to music, streaming online stations and storing tunes on their computers while also showing renewed interest in vinyl records. CDs have steadily faded, but that hasn’t stopped a longtime southwest Virginia business from swimming upstream.
County Sales has distributed bluegrass and old-time music for 50 years, as of October. It continues to chug along to the beat of its own business model—one that endears it to customers while flying against the direction of the rest of the music industry.
County Sales mostly sells CDs, primarily through mail order. It moves the occasional vinyl record, but mostly only old 78s via occasional auction. While most distributors have gone completely digital, County Sales has faithfully sent out a regular newsletter offering lists of new releases and short reviews—which aren’t afraid to call out subpar offerings.
David Freeman founded County Sales in 1965 as the distribution arm of County Records, an independent label aimed at preserving bluegrass, old-time and other rural music of the South. County Sales began in New York City, but in 1974, after stopping in Floyd, Virginia, on his way to fiddlers’ conventions in Virginia and North Carolina, Freeman decided to move his residence and business to southwest Virginia.
Check out its stock and read old newsletters at countysales.com.
A couple of recommendations, if you’re new to bluegrass and old-time, along with a description from Freeman: (For a more complete set of recommendations, please go to BlueRidge
Doc Watson, “...At Gerdes Folk City”
“The first thing that strikes the listener when hearing these 15 tracks is how much the same Watson remained from that day to his death [in 2012]. This is a supreme compliment: Watson’s proficiency, warmth, humility and his unique way of connecting with an audience were already there in 1962, and remained so.”
Carter Family, “In The Shadow Of Clinch Mountain” 12-CD box set
“I heard my first Carter Family record over radio station WCKY in the mid 1950s when I was 15 years old; it was ‘Picture on the Wall,’ and it made an indelible impression. … Had I seen a box set like this Bear Family gem at that time, I believe I might well have toppled over and expired. The sheer number of superb recordings (well over 300) and the fantastic 220-page hard-cover book are overwhelming, as much so as the group’s influence on American music.”