"Bob, this is your old friend Rem, Rem Wall. Could you use my
services entertaining our friends in the nursing homes?" I think
I mumbled something about being honored and delighted, to the
familiar voice on the phone, a voice l hadn't heard in a long
time... too long a time. And, as I hung up the phone a million
memories came flooding back...
I remember a very nervous eighteen year old
beginning singer-songwriter, who got turned down by every radio
and television studio in the area until he stumbled onto the set
of THE GREEN VALLEY JAMBOREE late one Saturday afternoon. "Sure
son, we'd love to have you sing a song with us on tonight's
show, what would you like to sing?!"
"...Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to
introduce a long, tall boy from Battle Creek, Michigan, Mr. Bob
Rowe, who's gonna sing one of my favorite numbers, 'The Green,
Green Crass of Home'!"
That was the same reassuring, kind voice I
heard on the telephone all those years later. The voice of the
legendary Rem Wall, smooth and caring, and always ready to help
He was my hero then, and just about the
biggest country star around, in my eyes. He was on TV for thirty
years, longer than I'd been alive. Every Saturday night my
brothers and sisters and I, Mom and Dad and Grandma, sat around
the television set to hear Rem and The Green Valley Boys sing
their hearts out especially the hymns and standards... they were
my favorites. Yet the road to the longest running country music
television show wasn't a short road...
Born October 2, 1918, on a farm outside of
West Frankfort, Illinois, Rem developed a strong set of
Christian values and an unrelenting love for music while
attending church as a youngster. He sang in the choir and even
took gospel-singing lessons, which, he says, is the only formal
musical training he's ever had.
Rem's father worked in the coal mines in
Franklin County and his mother stayed home to raise Rem and his
two sisters. Although neither of his parents were musical, he
remembers always having a great love for music, even before he
was old enough to know what a guitar was!
As he grew, Rem listened to country music
records and radio religiously, including WSM's, GRAND OLE OPRY,
which led to his dream to become a country music star. By high
school, he already had his own band, known as "The Boys of the
Golden West." where his fiancée, Roberta Black, had moved to
work as a nurse. Rem had already received his first guitar, from
Gibson of Kalamazoo, so he thought that was a pretty good place
He arrived in Kalamazoo in 1939 and before
too long landed a job with Gibson, Inc., making violin bows. And
it didn't take him long at all before he became known in local
country music circles. These early performances included
nightclubs, hospitals, ballrooms, and anywhere the audience
called for him.
As his original group disbanded, Rem began
appearing on local radio as a disc jockey at WGFG (now WKMI). He
once hosted guests, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans at the studio in
Kalamazoo's State Theatre Building. Solo performances on WKZO
radio's farm program eventually led to his starring in a weekly
country music radio show that lasted until 1980.
Around the time of his first radio show, Rem
married Roberta and started his family. His first son, Rendal,
was born in 1942, Rebecca in 1947 and Rodney in 1951. However,
tragedy struck his family when Roberta was diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis, a disease which took her life in 1978. Rem
remained devoted to his wife throughout their entire marriage,
even turning down some of the biggest career breaks that
eventually came along, a decision that wouldn't have been made
by many entertainers.
He found a real musical home in Kalamazoo,
starting in the late 1940's when talk began of starting a weekly
barn dance similar to WLS in Chicago, and that eventually led to
the beginnings of THE GREEN VALLEY JAMBOREE in 1950, a show
broadcast to some four million viewers throughout southwest
Michigan and northern Indiana. This show, which lasted some
thirty years on WKZO television, brought Rem widespread acclaim
and popularity, so much so, that in 1959, Rem was asked to
represent American Country Music in the Kalamazoo Exhibit at the
Berlin Industrial Fair. He even counts the now Chancellor, Willy
Brandt, as one of his ardent admirers! In its time, THE GREEN
VALLEY JAMBOREE boasted appearances by just about every major
country star... passing through town to perform on the show and
visit their friend, Rem Wall. Officials at the Country Music
Hall of Fame in Nashville say they know of no show that can
rival GREEN VALLEY's success. Not bad, for a fellow from
southern Illinois who taught himself to play and sing.
Along with the show's popularity, Rem made
many recordings. In the beginning, Rem's recordings were for
small independent record companies, until his big break came in
the early sixties when an executive from Columbia Records called
and asked him to record for the big label. During his successful
relationship with Columbia, Rem recorded one record a year for
seven years, and in 1963, scored a big hit with his song "Home
Is Where the Hurt Is," and the flipside, "Keep on Loving You."
That record even outsold Elvis Presley in Michigan, and sold
over 100,000 copies in Detroit alone. Rem says the highlight of
this short, but successful recording career was his appearance
at the 1963 Disc Jockey Convention in Nashville, where he
brought the house down with his music.
It looked like things were going to be
nonstop right to the top for Rem Wall in those days... with
offers pour mg in from all over, including the popular Arthur
Godfrey Show, all of which Rem turned down because of the
declining health of his wife. Record companies like Columbia
didn't like you to turn down good offers when you've got a hit
record on the BILLBOARD charts, but Rem's total devotion and
commitment were to his family, even to the point of staying up
many late nights with his wife and leaving work at noon to take
care of her. He did these things faithfully until her death.
Shortly after Roberta passed away in 1978,
Rem and the Green Valley Boys did a tearful last show for WKZO
television and Rem retired to southern Illinois, bidding
farewell to his many fans in Kalamazoo. That was 1980, a year
fate smiled on Rem Wall, for he met up with an old high school
sweetheart by the name of Helen, whom he married soon after he
began his retirement. It was a new beginning for Rem and his
bride, with many years spent in Florida and Illinois. Yet
missing folks in the Kalamazoo area soon proved to be too much
for the couple and they moved back "home" in 1989...
"Bob, do you think they'll take me back
around here?" the familiar voice on the phone asked. Take him
back, we'd move heaven and earth to have him back here!
After hanging up the phone, I got busy
calling the nursing homes and retirement communities I'd been
working with for over three years with Renaissance Enterprises
Company, a nonprofit company formed in late 1988, to provide
high quality arts and entertainment programs to area senior
citizen facilities. Needless to say, every single facility I
called was thrilled at the possibility of having "the legendary"
Rem Wall perform live at their nursing home. Soon after, we were
traveling throughout the entire region, Rem, Rendall, and I,
performing for every imaginable group. Rem has even re-released
many of his greatest recordings on cassette tape, a big treat
for everyone who has heard it.
You ought to see those happy faces light up
when Rem comes to sing and the joy he's sharing through his wit
and music. Hearing that music of his again, that unforgettable
top-class country music, brings back so many memories of a time
when I thought there wasn't a better example of how a star
should be than him.
There wasn't anyone bigger in my eyes then -
than the "legendary" Rem Wall. There still isn't.