A Short History Of Bearsville Records

A Short History Of Bearsville Records
Authored By John Nicholson

A small, but I always thought rather hip label, It was formed in 1970 by Albert Grossman manager of Bob Dylan and also Janis Joplin. It was only in existence for 13 years but in that time released some very significant albums and singles. 

The first recording to hit the stores was a self-titled release by a band called American Dream, and amongst their number was Nick Jameson later of Foghat who would also record for Bearsville. They were a Philadelphia-based band and their debut album was the first ever album produced by Todd Rundgren. Todd would go on to be Bearsville’s major selling artist as well as a kind of in-house producer. 

The second album the label released was by jazzer Gil Evans, the third by a band called Great Speckled Bird, a country rock group formed in 1969 by the Canadian musical duo Ian & Sylvia. Ian Tyson sang, played guitar and composed. Sylvia Tyson sang, composed and occasionally played piano. The other founding members were Amos Garrett (later famous for playing the solo on Maria Muldaur’s Midnight At The Oasis)  on guitar and occasional vocals, Ben Keith (who would work with Neil Young) on steel guitar, Ken Kalmusky on bass and Ricky Marcus on drums.

If you’ve seen Festival Express, the movie about the train carrying bands to play all across Canada, they feature in it. 

Todd’s Runt album was the labels’ 5th release. And it grazed the Billboard chart at #185 but We’ve Got To Get You A Woman made #20 on the Hot 100 singles listings. In 1971 they released an album by a band called Halfnelson which would soon become Sparks, with Ron & Russ Mael. Foghat’s debut came out in 1972 on the label, as did Paul Butterfield’s new band Better Days, first (and very good) album.

Their first really big hit was Todd’s epic Something/Anything double album. Released in 1972 it would become a top 30 album in USA an Hello It’s Me - an old The Nazz number which Todd revived) made #5 in USA and I Saw The Light made #16. It was also a UK #36.

Their next commercial release was Foghat’s 1974 offering Energized which charted in USA at #34. Foghat stuck with Bearsville until the label dissolved in 1983, releasing a total of 13 albums all of which charted, Foghat Live peaking at #11 and selling 2 million being the most popular.

Basically between Todd (and Utopia) and Foghat, their sales kept the label afloat. They did score a hit with the oddly named Randy Vanwarmer in 1979 but that was about it. Grossman was unwell in the early 80s and the label was run by his wife. It folded in 1983/4, two years before he died. The last album release was by power pop trio The DB’s ‘Like This’ - no I don’t remember them either. 

Other artists of interest on the label who didn’t make big sales was Jesse Winchester, a great singer-songwriter and all of Paul Butterfield’s solo releases. Jonathan Cain Band, he soon to be of The Baby’s and Journey-fame released a very good album on Bearsville called Windy City Breakdown in 1977. Also look out for Set The World On Fire by a British band called Liar and NRBQ’s only release on the label, Grooves in Orbit.

An interesting label and one that it’s quite easy to collect most of their releases both album and single. Nice logo for a t-shirt.

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