Blue Duck Records

Blue Duck Records was the Pittsburgh based record label that launched Rusted Root and other regional bands to national prominence. Founded by Bree Freeman Blue Duck Records released, distributed, and promoted recordings of bands from Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Western New York, and West Virginia. Bree and his team called on college and commercial radio stations getting airplay across the country for its roster of signed artists and for the acts on its compilation CDs. On the Blue Duck roster where Rusted Root, A.T.S, the Nixon Clocks, Ploughman's Lunch, Rasta Rafiki, Kama Sutra, The Means, Out of the Blue, CFI Massive, Steve Morrison, and Slack Jaw.  Earning regional sales success several of the bands went on release recordings on nationally distributed labels. Through Blue Duck's promotions of its compilation CDs the Clarks, Brownie Mary, the Affordable Floors and Dhrama Sons and others obtained airplay on college stations throughout the US, as well as support to gain increased airplay on influential FM stations such as WDVE, WXXP, and WYEP.  During the 1990s the alternative weekly papers  City Paper and In Pittsburgh named Blue Duck Record Pittsburgh's best record label.  The Cleveland Scene also gave an awarded recognition to Blue Duck.  During the six year run of Blue Duck Records Bree Freeman and his team worked hard to distribute and promote music arguably playing an important role in the regional music scene. 

Music from Blue Duck Artists

Bree Freeman From Radio to Record Promotion

Blue Duck Records founder Bradley "Bree" Freeman grew up in Bethel Park south of Pittsburgh. Part of Freeman’s ear for music was likely honed in his home where his mother gave piano lessons.  He was exposed to differing levels of competence in the musician’s skills.  Bree also studied piano, trumpet, and guitar during his school years.  After graduating from Bethel Park High School he began college at Slippery Rock University. Wanting to study the Japanese language he transferred to the University of Pittsburgh after one semester. At Pitt he become the manager of the University's FM radio station WPTS.  Bree hosted the regular WPTS program “Local Images” where the played the music of Pittsburgh area bands such as Dhrama Sons and Brownie Mary.  WPTS also supported local music playing Pittsburgh artists in the regular rotation.  Bree graduated from Pitt with degrees in Political Science and German.    
After Pitt Freeman founded the experimental progressive and alternative rock station X15 WXVX. Wanting to work in radio as a programmer of alternative rock and on air host Freeman called several station owners to pitch the idea of switching to an alternative rock format, the music he loved.  
WXVX located at 1510 on the AM dial gave Bree a chance to try his new format.  Bree put his format on the on the air as an experiment to see if the “new music” format could work in Pittsburgh and if fans would listen to music again on the AM band.  X15 introduced Pittsburgh to up and coming new rock acts such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Call and Lenny Kravitz.  WXVX also promoted Pittsburgh area bands on with weekly show Pittsburgh Rocks" hosted by Phil Harris and later Bill Ferchak.  To promote the station The station held concerts outside of its Monroeville studio building.  The station's staff worked for free as volunteers.  The X15 experiment ran from 1989 through 1992.  During this time Freeman also did promotions for Anthem Records and managed bands including the Affordable Floors and the Wall Flowers (led by Jon Rinaldo who went on to found Joker Productions).

Blue Duck Takes Flight

Freeman founded Blue Duck Records in 1992 as a vehicle for bands to promote their music and to achieve legitimacy as recording artists. He initially set up shop in an unheated building on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh sharing the space with Rusted Root. Much of the budget was spent on space heaters. Later the label moved to third floor office at 2020 Smallman Street in the Strip District across from the historic Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church. Working with Bree were Lovinda Weaver, Joelle Park, Greg West, and Susan 
Malosky.  Bree supported his artists promoting releases to the press and radio, distributing CDs, and booking, promoting and running shows. Having a phone, an office and a staff he was able to support bands doing whatever needed to be done. There was a need for promotional services for independent artists in the early 1990s.

To promote a new release Blue Duck Records held CD release parties at Graffiti, Rosebud and other showcase clubs.  They mailed out copies of the CDs to hundreds of radio stations and the media.  The Blue Duck team made follow up calls to the radio stations trying get to airplay for the artists.  Blue Duck was successful in getting airplay for its acts of college radio stations across the country and sometimes in foreign countries.  Bree spent much of his time on the road driving to record stores to deliver CDs, to put up show posters, and to ask the store personnel to play the CDs in the store.  Blue Duck was successful in placing its CDs at National Record Mart (NRM),  Oasis, Waves, Sam Goody, and Camelot chains along with independents such as Paul's Records in Bloomfield and Eide's in the Strip.  A record store as far away as Colorado, called "The Album On the Hill" stocked the Blue Duck CDs   Bree's nights were spent in the night clubs running showcase events.  Blue Duck staffers attended the shows of their artist to sell CDs.  Overtime Blue Duck built up a potent network of venues, record stores, radio stations, and music writers for marketing new releases.

In addition to running Blue Duck Bree Freeman had a day job teaching in the Music & Video Business Program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.  He invested is own money to keep the business going.  Expenses were high with telephone bills, electricity and gasoline. Some of the records stores were unreliable in paying their bills.  Camelot music filed for bankruptcy in September of 1996 owing Blue Duck $6,000. Any time money was made, it was reinvested into marketing and promotions.  Bree was not getting rich, but he was having fun promoting music and helping many bands to gain fans, airplay, and recognition.  

ATS Sepco - First Release
With its very first CD release Blue Duck Records brought the Pittsburgh band A.T.S to national attention. A.T. S. was country-inflected post-punk no wave trio led by singer/guitarist Evan Knauer with bassist Mike Marcinko and drummer Kip Ruefle. A.T.S. had released 5 recordings since 1989 before teaming with Bree Freeman's label. Blue Duck released and promoted Sepco a 50 song double CD in 1993. With songs in a smorgasbord of music styles including avant-punk, scratch-funk, grunge, jazz, country, folk, bluegrass and street corner doo-wop it was wildly experimental. The national magazine Alternative Press gave Sepco a great review calling it ''a colossal, brainy treat ...that contains some of the most affecting music produced this side of the Susquehanna." Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette praised Sepro writing "one thing's for sure: Producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Sonic Youth) could probably put this band into the front ranks of the alternative scene." Earning critical acclaim and college radio airplay AT.S attracted the attention of the nationally distributed New York City based label Shimmydisc. They released two albums on Shimmydisc "Blood Drive" (1994) and "Axe of Free Will" (1995). Magnet magazine described A.T.S as "Phish for smart, angry kids with Attention Deficit Disorder" 

Rusted Root's Cruel Sun Breakout Hit

Rusted Root made its first release with the eleven song CD "Cruel Sun" on Blue Duck Records in February of 1993. It was an eclectic collection of world beat originals. It took off with critical acclaim.

Scott Mervis of this Pittsburgh Press wrote: "Cruel Sun is an excellent home companion to the band's orgiastic concerts. It bursts with the colors found on the walls of the Beehive, the coffeehouse where you're always likely to find a member of this band. ...The spirited yin and yang vocals bounce on a wave of almost 100-percent natural percussion, bass and acoustic guitar. Michael Glabicki is the young and charismatic leader, falling stylistically somewhere between Peter Gabriel and a Zuni medicine man. ...Liz Berlin and Jenn Wertz wrap their pretty voices around his, particularly on the lovely "Artificial Winter" and the show stopping "Martyr." Root runs through elements of earth, air, water and fire. ...Cruel Sun  is unlike anything you're likely to find on the new release shelves these days. Urban primitives from Pittsburgh.' What a concept." 

WYEP put the song "Send Me on My Way" in rotation playing it several times a day. Blue Duck's staff furiously worked the record pitching it to college radio stations across the country.  Cruel Sun charted in the Top 30 albums on 50 college radio stations in 1993.  To promote the album Rusted Root went on a regional tour performing from upstate New York to eastern Ohio and West Virginia.  The CD was sold at record stores, at shows, and by mail order.  With airplay in Pittsburgh and other cities 30,000 copies of Cruel Sun were sold. The strong regional record sales, the Root's mailing list of 6,000 rabid fans, and the fact that the band was selling out 1,000 seat venues captured the attention of Mercury Records. In 1994 Mercury Records signed Rusted Root and released the platinum selling CD “When I Woke” which featured six songs from Cruel Sun including “Send Me On My Way”.  Rust Root gained acclaim opening for the Grateful Dead, the llman Brothers Band, Santana, Dave Mathews, and the Jimmy Page Robert Plant tour before they became headliners in the own right. 
Blue Duck Compilation CDs Gain Airplay for Bands

Blue Ducks Records helped several bands get airplay for their songs through the release of four CD releases featuring a compilation of acts. Bree used the compilations as a means to test the market and determine which acts to sign for full CD.  He signed bands that got airplay and attention in the press from the compilations including Rusted Root. A.T.S, Slack Jaw and the Nixon Clocks. 
Each CD was launched with a release party featuring several of the bands included on the disks.  The first Blue Duck compilation CD “Duck Tracks” issued in 1993 featured seventeen bands including Rust Rooted, the Affordable Floors, the Nixon Clocks, A.T.S, Dharma Sons, The Distractions, Out of the Blue, The Means, the Twist Offs, the Earthworms, Major Domo, Stinging Rain, Thuckhead Grin, the Left, the Thirteen, Ubermensch, and Rasta Rafiki.  Following favorable reviews and requests from other bands Blue Duck issued a second compilation "Duck Tracks Returns" in 1994 with the Clarks, Brownie Mary, the Nixon Clocks, the Dharma Sons, the Distraction, Gravity, Mace, Rasta Rafiki, Ploughman's Lunch, Kelly Affair, 210, Hypnotic Clam Bake, the Smarties, Crossfire Choir (who wereregulars at CBGBs), Peacefield, Scarpapple, Slack Jaw, and the State College legends - the Dirges.

In November of 1995 Blue Duck released "Duck 'N' Cover" a compilation of Pittsburgh bands playing cover songs. It featured the Clarks playing the Beatles "Dear Prudence", the Affordable Floors doing Kate Bush's ''Big Sky", and The Means rendition of the Violent Femmes tune "Blister in the Sun". Several of the bands performed their cover tunes at a release party at the Graffiti.  

Turning to singer song-writer folk/rock material Bree Freeman released the compilation "Swan Songs" under the Blue Swan Label. It included 16 selections from The Clarks' Scott Blasey, Rusted Root's Liz Berlin, Jenn Wertz and Jim Donovan, Carol Lee Espy, John Bechtol, Brooke Smolelin, Frank Spadafora, Plow on Boy, Burke Ingraffia, Cloud, Kama Sutra, the Vibro Kings, Psoas and 
Kim Fox (who later signed with BMG).  WYEP-FM supported "Swan Songs" hosting the release show at the Birmingham Gallery on the South Side.  With several days of advance promotion from WYEP it a well received sold out show.

Beyond the Burgh

Kama Sutra at Blue Duck with Bree and Lovinda
Blue Duck expanded beyond Pittsburgh signing bands from other markets.  In 1992 Blue Ducks CDs from the Buffalo area band Kama Sutra and the Youngstown area band The Means. Blue Duck signed the State College, Pa band Out Of the Blue after they won the Graffiti Rock Challenge in Pittsburgh in 1993. The 
Rasta Rafiki band from Morgantown West Virginia release the CD "Stream of Consciousness" in 1995 and toured the country playing over 150 dates in at clubs, colleges, and festival appearances from Boston to Florida   Freeman established relationships with Cleveland musicians when Blue Duck artists performed at clubs such as Peabody’s in the Flats and Peabody's Cafe.  Bree establish a relationship with the influential Cleveland alternative paper "The Scene".  He signed the Cleveland based band Slack Jaw to the label releasing their album "Father Misery" in 1996.  As noted in Billboard Magazine Slack Jaw built up a dedicated following in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania through its airplay on WMMS and WENZ in Cleveland and WDVE in Pittsburgh.

The Duck's Last Quack

The final release for the labels came on Blue Swan with the release of Lovechild’s CD in 1997.  In August of 1997 Bree Freeman left Pittsburgh to attend graduate school at Syracuse University.  Tired of the fickleness of the music business and the long hours and the late nights that often went unrecognized or unrewarded, he came to see the music business as an impractical long term career.  He left to pursuit an advance degree in the media and a scholarly career in academia. Lovinda Weaver took over the label running it until it was dissolved. 

Freeman went on to earn a P.H.D. in Mass Communications from from the Newhouse School at Syracuse.  While at Syracuse Bree hosted the 'Media Talk' program from 1998 to 2002 on WERW.  Bree began his teaching career at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in the Music & Video Business Program. In 2003 Freeman became an assistant professor of media arts at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Drawing on his radio roots he became faculty adviser for Marist's radio station WMAR FM 88.1 and launched a sister AM station.  He won a "faculty advisor of the year" award for his work with WMAR.  Moving to Singapore he became an Assistant Professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information, Broadcast & Cinema Studies Department at Nanyang Technological University.  There he served as faculty adviser to Radio Fusion that won annual CBI college production awards. In August 2013 Freeman joined the faculty of American University in Dubai (AUD). At AUD he founded “post-radio” the first campus station.  Freeman writes and speaks at international conferences on the topics of Radio & Audio Media Studies, Pop Culture & New Media, and Environmental Communication.  Occasionally he offers his advice freely to new singers and bands on the ins and outs of the music business.

Blue Duck Records Discography - Artist Releases

Year Artist Title
1992 A.T.S Sepco
1992 Kama Sutra Kundulini
1992 Rusted Root Cruel Sun
1992 The Means The Means
1993 CFI Massive Extra Massive
1993 Out of the Blue  
1994 Steve Morrison You Can Be Replaced
1995 Nixon Clocks Clear Creek Road
1995 Rasta Rafiki  Stream of Consciousness
1996 Ploughman's Lunch Paddy's Got a Brand New Bag
1996 Slack Jaw Father's Misery
1997 Lovechild Lovechild

Blue Duck Records Compilation Releases

Year Title Artists
1993 Duck Tracks A compilation featuring seventeen bands with Rust Rooted, the Affordable Floors, the Nixon Clocks, A.T.S, Dhrama Sons, The Distractions, Out of the Blue, The Means, the Twist Offs, the Earthworms, Major Domo, Stinging Rain, Thuckhead Grin, and the Left , the Thirteen, Ubermensch, and Rasta Rafiki.
1994 Duck Tracks Returns A compilation featuring The Clarks, Brownie Mary, Ploughman's Lunch, Kelly Affair, 210, the Nixon Clocks, the Dharma Sons, Gravity, Mace, Rasta Rafiki, Hypnotic Clam Bake, 210, Mace, Smarties, the Distractions, Peacefield, the Dirgs
1995 Duck N Cover A compilation of Pittsburgh bands playing cover songs with the Clarks playing the Beatles "Dear Prudence", the Affordable Floors doing Kate Bush's ''Big Sky", and The Means rendition of the Violent Femmes tune "Blister in the Sun". .
1997 Swan Songs A compilation of 16 folk/rock songs from singer songwriters including The Clarks' Scott Blasey, Rusted Root's Liz Berlin, Jenn Wertz and Jim Donovan, Kim Fox, Carol Lee Espy, John Bechtol, Brooke Smolelin, Jim Donovan, Frank Spadafora, Plow on Boy, Burke Ingraffia, Cloud, Kama Sutra, the Vibro Kings, and Psoas