Rem Wall

 "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 out somebody.

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 to move.

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.

 

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Last modified: 02/17/08