In the late sixties, Barry Poss came to the United States from Canada with a fellowship and a student visa to obtain a doctorate’s degree of sociology from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Coming within one chapter of completing his dissertation, Poss answered a classified ad for a graphic artist placed by a small Virginia-based record label, County Records. Though Poss didn’t know anything about graphic design, he applied for the job anyway, admitting his lack of experience in design but professing his love for the music. County hired him, and Poss gave up teaching to follow his main passion, music, at a record label he admired. Within the first few years Poss was immersed in the record business, learning everything from reissuing old 78s to producing traditional musicians to selling records at retail stores.
Three years later, in 1978, Barry Poss launched Sugar Hill Records (named after a song Poss heard in Western North Carolina). Poss wanted a strong label identity with a “signature sound,” that stood for great artists and quality production, similar to what Sam Phillips had done with Sun Records. While traveling around rural areas in the South with his banjo, engrossing himself in traditional music, Poss became intrigued by the music of the children and grandchildren of the mountain musicians he visited. Those younger generations of musicians were a combination of the old and the new—influenced as much by old-time and bluegrass music as they were rock, country and other newer forms of music. This interesting combination of, and tension between, roots and contemporary music gave further impetus for Poss to start Sugar Hill Records. Ricky Skaggs was the perfect personification of this tension and became the first artist Poss targeted to help launch the new record label. Sugar Hill’s first album was by a band called Boone Creek and it featured Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas, two artists Poss credits as being instrumental in shaping the “Sugar Hill sound.” The success of that record begat a Ricky Skaggs solo effort, Sweet Temptation , that went on to sell over 150,000 copies—a huge success for the brand new independent label. Following on that success, Sugar Hill, in a joint effort with Epic Records, released Ricky Skaggs’ Don't Cheat In Our Hometown. That record helped pave the way for a neo-traditional movement in Nashville/Country Music. It also helped Sugar Hill cement its burgeoning legend, a legend that would, decades later, elicit praise: “Sugar Hill is one of twenty-one labels that changed the world … reinventing country music” —PULSE!