I liked Robert Hilburn's article on Richard Weize ("A Record Junkie's Habit," March 16). You're right, he sure doesn't do what he does for the money. He told me that his vocal group sets by the Orioles, Cadillacs and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers sold in the neighborhood of 250 each, well below the break-even point.
Having helped out on a number of his projects, I got some insight as to how and why he chooses what he puts out. Since he has a good working relationship with Capitol, he was able to do Julia Lee, Ella Mae Morse, plus Aladdin/Imperial acts like Shirley & Lee, Smiley Lewis, Fats Domino and others.
When I asked him to do Melvin Smith, obscure even by R&B; collector standards, his only questions were, "Do you have a photo?" and "Will you write the notes?" If I felt Melvin deserved to be preserved, that was enough for him. If Melvin sold 200, I'd be surprised.
Having worked with Richard Weize on Bear Family projects for 20 years, most recently annotating his Bob Wills box (the second volume's due later this year), I've seen quite a few stories on both Richard and the label. I think Bob Hilburn's story was the definitive one, with many details I hadn't previously known. I understand Richard's concerns regarding a future disinterest in history and in the material he's reissued. But I'd venture to say that, in truth, his packages will both preserve and explain a hefty chunk of 20th century popular music to future generations.
Readers interested in the Bear Family reissues, and the other reissue labels listed in the article (Sony, Universal, Rhino) should be made aware of another vital reissue label, arguably the best, the U.K.-based Ace label (also including Kent, BGP, Big Beat and other labels in the Ace family).
Ace has a catalog of astonishingly rare and valuable blues, R&B;, Cajun, soul and pop titles -- many devoted to American artists whose work is otherwise unavailable in the U.S. In addition, Ace has produced lavish box sets known for their completeness by such iconic artists as B.B. King and Elmore James.