12. June 2014 By Walter Price 0

Orthophonic Joy – The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited

By Walter Price

“The Bristol Sessions is the single most important event in the history of country music,” – Johnny Cash
In the 1920’s there was nothing more intriguing, daring, out of left field, scary (to most) and perhaps shameful than the authentic sounds of the black man’s rhythm and blues or the white people’s country music. You could dare to say it was punk before there was such a thing in  music.


I’m not talking about the early country music recorded by pioneering cross-over artists like Texan Vernon Dalhart or Virginia native Henry Whitter but by true rural American folk artists. Familiar ‘Hillbilly’ names The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and the names of those artists that have seemingly been lost to the ages. Have you heard of Tenneva Ramblers (Grant Brothers), Dad Blackard’s Mountaineers, J.P. Nester, Blind Alfred Reed, El Watson or B. F. Shelton?


These names all found their way into music legend during the 1927 recording sessions carried out by innovative music producer and entrepreneur Ralph Peer in Bristol, Tennessee.  Peer, working with Victor Talking Machine Co., took advantage of the increasing portability of recording equipment and headed out across the American South in hopes of capturing the authentic sounds of gospel, blues and folk music.  And this, friends, is where it all started for the sounds that, have now, been bastardize in what is now being called ‘country’ music.


(On a side note, I did not know this until today, Ralph Peer was the first to offer ‘royalties’ to the artists he recorded. Paying performers up to $50 for a recording; that’s nearly $650 in today’s money. plus 2 1/2 cents per each sold single. Really hard to believe but I’ll go with it if history advises so. His publishing company, Peermusic, is still a powerhouse today and has been the home to writers such as Glen Miller, Patti Page, Donovan, Buddy holly and The Rolling Stones.)
In a two week period Peer recorded 19 artists in that make-shift hat-factory studio in Bristol. Making enduring household names out of Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family and introducing the world to the real sounds of American music; recordings that would eventually become the go-to ‘Bible’ for country music artists.
“Country music has taken so many forms, and I’ve always contended that it does not matter if the casual listener falls in love with country music through Florida Georgia Line, Taylor Swift, Old Crow Medicine Show or whomever — just get in and start digging! You’ll find some of the most colorful people, some of the richest, most beautiful stories that America has ever had to offer. But at the head of that stream is the Bristol Sessions.” – Marty Stuart

Take some time pick up any of the versions of these sessions. Money well spent. 
What got my juices flowing on this little tangent about this remarkable moment in music history is an article in Rolling Stone announcing that 16 of the original 79 songs recorded back then will see new light in a compilation called Orthophonic Joy – The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited, featuring traditional country artists, preservationist if you will, Marty Stuart, Dolly Parton, Church Sisters, Vince Gill and Emmyilou Harris. Produced by songwriter and Bluegrass legend Carl Jackson and they need one more artist to fill out the album. It could be you! Details HERE!
Anyway, that was fun. Check out Beville Dunkerley’s (coolest name you’ll hear all week) Rolling Stone article for more and then dig deep in music history for the real stories behind the sounds you think you know everything about. Good times indeed. 

Orthophonic Joy: Website. Facebook. Twitter.

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