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Company rushes Byrd CD release

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fans of the late Sen. Robert Byrd's fiddling don't have to wait any longer to get a copy of his only musical recording.

A CD re-release of Byrd's 14-song album, "Mountain Fiddler," is now available for purchase on

Mark Freeman, president of County Records and its sister-label, Rebel Records, said the album will start appearing online and in brick-and-mortar music stores in a couple of weeks.

"We're doing a rush release," Freeman said.

Freeman said his label had been working on the re-release for months and originally planned to ship it in September.

The company moved that date up to July 27 after Byrd's death on Monday but decided to release it immediately after an influx of e-mails and letters from fans.

"When we came in Monday morning, we didn't have any intention of putting it out right away, but as the day progressed, we made the decision to bump up the release date," Freeman said.

"We've decided to put it out now because we've had so many people clamoring for it."

Bumping up the re-release wasn't a problem, though. Freeman said the CDs have been sitting in County Records' warehouse for months, waiting on a promotional campaign to start.

This is the first time "Mountain Fiddler" has been released on CD. Freeman said his label produced only one run of vinyl records in the late 1970s.

Original copies are becoming rare. As of Wednesday afternoon, listed only two copies of the album - one for $99.99 and another for $59.95. At the same time, eBay listed 10 copies, including one autographed LP selling for $200.

Freeman said his company has considered the re-release for four or five years. He said customers frequently wrote e-mails and letters to County Sales, the label's music retailing operation, requesting a CD copy.

Freeman said the label wanted to coordinate the release with Byrd's office but had trouble connecting with his people. He said he recently heard through one of Byrd's acquaintances in the West Virginia bluegrass community that the senator wanted the album released on CD.

"That's kind of what instigated it," he said. "That sort of spurred us on to it."

Freeman said the CD is taken directly from Byrd's original master tapes.

The album also features new cover art - a cropped photo of Byrd in front of an Americana background featuring the U.S. Capitol building, stars and stripes.

"We just wanted to give it an updated look," Freeman said.

He said the new photo came from the album's original photo shoot. The CD's booklet includes a couple of other previously unreleased outtakes from the session, as well as images from the first release's album jacket.

The LP's original cover art also is included, under the CD's clear tray.

Byrd's recordings were originally released in 1978, during his first stint as U.S. Senate majority leader from 1977 to 1981. Barry Poss, the eventual founder of Sugar Hill Records but then a graphic designer at County Records, was chosen to produce the album.

Freeman said Byrd started putting the songs on tape in a northern Virginia recording studio, backed by top bluegrass musicians and Country Gentlemen members Doyle Lawson on guitar, Spider Gilliam on bass and James Bailey on banjo.

Byrd played his fiddle and sang traditional tunes like "Turkey in the Straw," "Rye Whiskey," "There's More Pretty Girls Than One" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

But recording didn't go very well at first, Freeman said.

Intimidated by the professional studio surroundings, Byrd's nerves got to him and his performances suffered, he said.

The session's recording engineer suggested taping the performances in a more comfortable setting, so the entire operation - recording equipment and all - moved to the senator's Capitol Hill offices.

Byrd started fiddling as a teenager and performed in several square dance bands. After his political career began, he frequently used his musical talents to entertain crowds at campaign stops and other events. He also appeared on the "Grand Ole Opry" and "Hee Haw," alongside country music legends like Charley Pride, Roy Clark and Barbara Mandrell.

He lay down his bow in 1982 after the death of his grandson, Michael Moore, when tremors in his hands worsened.

Although Byrd has rosined his bow for the last time, his fiddling is becoming increasingly popular.

"The phone's been ringing off the hook since Monday," Freeman said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or



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