The name was catchy, even if it sounds like someone talking with a mouthful of bubblegum. Rebe & Rabe was the team of Revin "Rebe" Gosdin and Auburn J.C. "Rabe" Perkins, players not even Alabama county lines could keep apart. In the beginning, that was the only thing that was keeping them seperated, as they hailed from neighboring counties in eastern Alabama. Guitarist and tenor vocalist Perkins was born on June 17, 1923, in Heflin, part of Cleburne county. Gosdin, a mandolin picker and lead singer, was from Roanoke in Randolph County. He was just about one year younger than his musical partner and which one started listening to the radio first is unknown. Anytime in the '30s it would have been quite simple to hear any number of duet groups, especially the team of Bill and Earl Bolick, known as the Blue Sky Boys to their many fans. This type of music was a big influence on Rebe & Rabe, the latter singer admitting that he had actually broken down and wept when the Blue Sky Boys' regular WGST show got cowboy booted off the air.
By 1946, Gosdin and Perkins wound up working in the same cotton mill and then ran into each other in a barbershop where singing and picking among clientele was never discouraged. This is where Rebe & Rabe finally heard each other, then tried doing a few songs together. The conclusion was logical to anyone who heard them. Their voices blended beautifully. The name Rebe & Rabe was handed to this new country duo phenomenon by Chester Studdard, himself a member of the singing team Chester & Toby. The following year, Rebe & Rabe went to the big town, Birmingham, and instantly created a success over station WVOK. The duo remained favorite performers on this station for the following decade, expanding their group along the way. The addition of Charles Franklin on electric guitar was a distinctly non-bluegrass type of move, yet the group was evolving in an era when bluegrass was still a pretty new genre, with not as many restrictive rules. Other members on more normal bluegrass instruments included banjoist Hubert Davis and fiddler Curley Fagan. The band played over and over in many of the same area venues, including high school gynasiums and auditoriums where Perkins recalls packing in the crowds. Sometimes the group would have to perform two extra shows in one night just to satisfy all the paying cusomers. A tale is told that in both 1948 and 1951, our heroes blew off the Grand Ole Opry because they were making more money in Birmingham, the veracity of which is somewhat tempered by the fact that the same might have been said of a dishwasher -- the Opry's fees for performers were notoriously cheapskate.
Rebe & Rabe's first recording sessions were held in 1951 for MGM, the boys receiving a helpful leg up from none other than Ernest Tubb, whose long career was full of such noble gestures toward upcoming atists. In 1952, Rebe & Rabe recorded for both the Tennessee and Republic labels, continuing to utilize pickers Franklin and Fagen, as well as pianist Del Wood for a taste of the new Nashville country sound. The group continued to cut sides for small Alabama labels, with Perkins also doing some solo outings. Gosdin's song "Helen," first recorded by Rebe & Rabe, later became a standard of the bluegrass repertoire with recordings by the Country Gentlemen, Red Allen, and J.D. Crowe. Other tunes in the duo's discography were team writing efforts, such as the poignant "Mother, Sweet Mother." The sentimental power of such tunes wasn't much ammunition against the onslaught of rock & roll, which sent many country acts into hiding in the '60s. Gosdin relocated to Montgomery and began selling radio advertising. His old partner continued to sing, gravitating toward more gospel music and less country and bluegrass. In this period, Perkins wrote several gospel tunes which were recorded, including "I Went Back Again." Rebe & Rabe re-formed in the late '60s and in the '70s began performing at Bill Monroe's Beanblossom Bluegrass Festival. Gosdin's death from a heart attack in 1978 put an end to this enjoyable and inspirational routine. Rabe said his goodbyes to Rebe and began running a service station, continuing to play some gospel music with his family and over radio WVOK into the early '80s. ~ Eugene Chadbourne