Dick Damron and The Famous Bear

Dick Damron January 16.png

Submitted by Don Graham

Dick Damron is truly a Canadian treasure, one of the pioneers who mapped the road future acts would travel and wrote the book on Canadian country acts crossing borders. And although he has been a recording artist for 7 decades, recorded on vinyl, cassettes, 8 Tracks and CDs,  Dick isn’t just lying in the sun in Mexico resting on his laurels and telling war stories of the past. He’s a busy boy. He has been working on another book, working title ‘Last Days of a Crazy Old Man in Mexico’ and when we talked last week from his home in Mazatlan, Mexico, I asked how it was coming along.

“Man I had to put it on hold for a bit, way too busy!” Nice. What are you up to? “ I’m with the Bear Family Record Company out of Hamburg, Germany and they are celebrating 40 years in business this year, 1975-2015, I’m proud to be on Bear Family, I have 156 songs on two boxed sets. I got a call from Richard Weize, he’s the head honcho at Bear. We first met when I was touring the U.K. and Europe in the 70’s. I picked up Foreign Artist of the Year artist for two years running in the mid 80’s. Dick Damron 1957Dick Damron 1957Anyway, Richard asked me to come up with something for the 40th anniversary album, so I’m doing a song I wrote called  ‘The Famous Bear’ or ‘Oso Famoso’ in Spanish. I play quite regularly down here at a place called La Catrina so on January 19th, we’re making a video of the song. Gonna be a lot of fun.”

So how does the Bear Family sell records in an age where so much of music is free for the taking. The willingness to pay for it is declining at an incredible rate. Is there still a secret formula for success in the music business? Well, they have no business plan except staying in business. But there is a master plan. And it starts with this: "we are not in it for the money".  In other words, if you want to be successful, don't care about the profit. The rest is down to chance and good taste. Of course, it's pretty well known among Bear Family aficionados Richard Weize is the guiding presence behind Bear Family, but he'll be the first to tell you that it's all about teamwork. For Richard Weize, reissuing the complete and luxuriously packaged recordings of artists he honoured in his youth is not only a matter of passion and respect but a form of obsession. Weize confesses: "I'm a collector.and crazy."  George Hamilton IV and Dick DamronGeorge Hamilton IV and Dick DamronThis is illustrated by his gigantic archive collection which stores approximately 40,000 records, piles of music books and magazines, (including all volumes of 'Spiegel' magazine since the pilot issue), stacks of posters and collections of master tapes. This complete list could have made Weize into a lonely nutter, but the fact that he's so lively and pleasant is due to the existence of Bear Family. While the classic collector in him is trying to catalogue and complete his collection, Weize is utilizing his material. By licensing the recordings, he creates a whole new entity, distributing it as a completely new product through the label. This way he supplies the collector's market with items that become objects of desire for other collectors. And so old treasures become new ones – anthologies, audio documents, illustrated books, and comprehensive biographies.  Bear Family asks no questions about sales potential – projects are realized according to musical taste and historical importance. Dick DamronThe packaging and audio restoration are always as lavish as possible. The list of acts available on Bear Family reads like a who’s who and Hall of Fame roster.

So from Bentley, Alberta to Mazatlan,Mexico for the winter and Alberta bound for the summers; Little Dickie Damron in the 50’s to hard livin’ Dick Damron of the 70’s and 80’s evolving into the elder statesman of Canadian Country music, through 7 decades Dick has earned his place in Canadian history. Well done amigo, be as proud of yourself as all of us are of you.