Reichert prepares to listen to a 45 recording of Johnny Otis's "Willy and the Hand Jive," released in 1958.
Bill Reichert has been collecting 45-rpm records for just shy of 60 years, carefully curating and tending a collection that has grown to nearly 20,000 of the little vinyl discs.
At the age of 73, he said, “I’m at the point now with my collection—there’s no way I could sit down and listen to all these in my lifetime.”
Thanks to Reichert’s generosity, a lot of other people are going to have the chance to listen to his 45s, for years and years into the future. He is donating his entire collection to the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles from Nashville. At the center, Reichert’s collection will be part of more than a million items related to American folk and pop music.
Reichert is thrilled to have found a home for his collection, and the Tennessee center is thrilled to provide it.
“We are extremely excited about this,” said Gregory Reish, director of the center and a professor of music history. “It’s a world-class collection.”
Reish plans to arrive in Billings Sunday night, load up the collection on Monday and drive it back to Tennessee.
Reichert toured the Center for Popular Music with his wife, Dot, last year, and he was impressed.
“I have never seen a more spotless place,” he said. “They collect everything and it’s all in the interest of preserving the music.” Much as he loves his record collection, he added, “I know they’re going to take care of it, so I have no qualms at all.”
Reichert keeps his collection in an office and listening room in his tidy West End house in Billings. The records are stored in after-market white paper sleeves inside white plastic boxes, each with a label listing all the artists in the box.
“I think Elvis is the only one who has his own private box,” Reichert said, the rest of them sharing quarters with anywhere from several to 50 or 60 other artists.
Several things distinguish Reichert’s collection, which includes rock and roll, pop, country, blues, jazz and adult contemporary, previously known as “easy listening.” He takes excellent care of the records, for one thing, so that virtually all of them are in pristine condition.
Ed Kemmick/Last Best News
Reichert has so many Elvis 45s that Elvis got his own box.
He also carefully catalogs each record, noting when it was released, where it was manufactured, what position it reached on the charts and whether it was an original or a reissue, a live performance, an extended-play record or a small-hole 45—to name just a few of the characteristics he keeps track of.
Reish spoke with awe of Reichert’s “astonishingly detailed” records, and called him “sort of an archivist’s dream. … The care with which he’s kept them, and the careful cataloging, is going to save us an enormous amount of work.”
“A collection like Bill’s is just a magnificent acquisition,” he said.
Reichert was born and raised in Wolf Point, and it was in the summer of 1958 that he bought his first 45 (named for the record’s rpm’s, or revolutions per minute). He was a freshman in high school and the record was the Owen Bradley Quintet’s “Big Guitar.”
He stayed in Wolf Point, where he worked for the state as a driver examiner, until 1991, when he moved to Billings to give tests to would-be semi-truck drivers. He retired after 26 years with the state, then put in nine more years as a full-time employee of the Barnes & Noble Bookstore.
“I had always wanted to work in a bookstore,” he said. “I really like books, especially when they have to do with records and stuff.”
Through it all, he continued adding to his collection. Many collectors go on the web to find new 45s, but Reichart said he is “sort of technologically dysfunctional.” He mostly relies on dealers in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Missouri, the same ones he’s used for decades. They notify him when they’ve got auctions coming up, then send him catalogs. He sends in his bids by mail.
Ed Kemmick/Last Best News
Reichert had lots of references books to help build his collection of 45s.
In addition to the records themselves, Reichert has a separate collection of 6,000 picture sleeves—record jackets illustrated with photographs. He keeps those, without their 45s, in plastic holders, to keep them clean and uncreased.
He also has a sizable collection of “colored wax” 45s, or records made of brightly colored vinyl. All of it is going to Tennessee.
About three years ago, Reichert said, he completely reorganized his collection, being even more meticulous in his sorting and record-keeping. “It took me close to 11 months to get everything organized,” he said. His notes on the records run to 326 single-spaced pages.
He said he started thinking about donating the collection a couple of years ago, after deciding that he didn’t want to sell it. He didn’t want to sell to someone who just wanted to make money and would cherry-pick, breaking up the collection.
“I want the whole thing to be together,” he said.
He called the Montana Historical Society, but people there weren’t interested because the collection had no real bearing on Montana history. A person there gave him a few other suggestions, however, and by luck he reached out to Middle Tennessee State University fairly soon after that, and he found what he was looking for.
He said Reish told him, “‘We don’t have a lot of singles.’ I said, ‘Well, I think I can help you with that.'”
Reish the great thing about Reichert is that he is a “completist,” a collector who goes to the trouble to find every single by the artists he collects. The Tennessee center has about 20,000 to 25,000 45s now, he said, and he expects Reichert’s collection to fill in a lot of gaps in the school’s collection.
For example, he said, the center already has a good selection of 45s from Sun Records (Elvis’s original label), and with Reichert’s collection he expects to have a complete or nearly complete Sun Records catalog.
What is of equal importance, Reish said, is that Reichert’s collection is so well taken care of that if there are duplicates, they will compare what they have with Reichert’s 45s, and he suspects Reichert in most cases will have the better copy.
“He’s taken obsessively good care of them,” he said, adding, “Frankly, it’s an honor for us to become the long-term caretakers of a collection like that.”
Reichert, meanwhile, acknowledged that he’ll probably keep buying 45s, even after his collection heads down to Tennessee next week.
“I don’t think I can quit entirely,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a Vinyls Anonymous out there.”