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The Bristol Sessions are considered the "Big Bang" of modern country music. They were held in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee by Victor Talking Machine Company producer Ralph Peer. Bristol was one of the stops on a two-month, $60,000 trip that took Peer through several major southern cities and yielded important recordings of blues, ragtime, gospel, ballads, topical songs, and string bands. The Bristol Sessions marked the commercial debuts of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. As a result of the influence of these recording sessions, Bristol has been called the "birthplace of country music". Since 2014, the town has been home to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
Country music before the Sessions
Commercial recordings of country music had begun in 1922. Among these very early artists were Vernon Dalhart, who recorded the million-selling Wreck of the Old 97, Ernest Stoneman from Galax, Virginia, Henry Whitter, A.C. (Eck) Robertson, who recorded the first documented country record along with Henry C. Gilliland ("Sallie Gooden" b/w "Arkansaw Traveler"), and Uncle Dave Macon. However, any "hillbilly" artists who recorded had to travel to the New York City studios of the major labels, and many artists, including Dalhart, were not true "hillbilly" artists but instead crossed over from other genres. ("Hillbilly" is used here to distinguish the largely secular folk music of the region from gospel and blues, and is not meant as a pejorative.)
Okeh Records and later Columbia Records had sent producers around the South in an attempt to discover new talent. Peer, who worked for Okeh at the time, recorded Fiddlin' John Carson using the old acoustic method (known for its large intrusive sound-gathering horn) in 1923, at the behest of the Okeh dealer in Atlanta, Georgia, Polk Brockman. Despite Peer’s belief that the record was of poor quality, the 500 copies made of “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow” sold out in weeks. This experience convinced Peer of the potential for “hillbilly” music.
Peer left Okeh for the Victor Talking Machine Company, taking a salary of $1 per year. However, Peer owned the publishing rights to all the recordings he made. Peer's arrangement of paying royalties to artists based on sales is the basis for record contracts today, and the company he founded, Peermusic, remains in existence today.
The rise of electronic recording allowed records to have a sound better than radio, which had threatened to reduce the recording industry to irrelevance by 1925. This new method allowed softer instruments such as dulcimers, guitars and jaw harps to be heard, and it also meant recording equipment was more portable — and as such, recordings could be made nearly anywhere (the acoustic equipment was not really portable.)
Peer asked Ernest Stoneman, who had recorded for Okeh, how to find more rural talent. Stoneman convinced Peer to travel through southern Appalachia and record artists who would have been unable to travel to New York. Peer recognized the potential with the mountain music, as even residents of Appalachia who didn't have electricity were using hand-cranked Victrolas. He decided to make a trip, hoping to record blues, gospel and "hillbilly" music. Artists were paid $50 on the spot for each side cut, and 2½ cents for each single sold.
In February and March, he made a trip recording blues and gospel music, and decided to make another trip. He decided to make a stop in Savannah, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina. He settled on Bristol (at the urging of Stoneman) as a third stop, because with Johnson City and Kingsport, Tennessee, it formed the Tri-Cities, the largest urban area in the Appalachians at the time. In addition, three other record companies had held or were scheduling auditions for Bristol. So Peer set out with his wife and two engineers for Bristol.
Between 25 July and 5 August 1927, Peer held recording sessions on the third floor of the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company on State Street, which is the state line in Bristol. He placed advertisements in the local newspapers, which did not receive much response aside from artists who had already traveled to New York (such as the Powers Family) or were already known by Stoneman.
Stoneman was the first to record with Peer, on 25 July 1927. He recorded with his wife Hattie, Eck Dunford and Mooney Brewer. Other acts, including the Johnson Brothers vaudeville duo (best known for their Crime of The D'Autremont Brothers) and a church choir, filled out the rest of July. However, these artists were only enough to fill the first week of recordings and Peer needed to fill out his second week.
A newspaper article about one of Stoneman's recordings (Skip To Ma Lou, My Darling), which stressed the $3,600 in royalties that Stoneman had received in 1926 and the $100/day that he was receiving for recording in Bristol, generated much more interest. Dozens of artists went to Bristol, many of whom had never been to Bristol. He scheduled night sessions to accommodate the extra talent, which included Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers had a disagreement with the band in which he was a member over what name to record under, and so Rodgers recorded solo and the band recorded as the Tenneva Ramblers. Rodgers and the band only found out about the sessions when they stayed at the boarding house run by the mother of one band member.
The arrival of the Carter Family was more expected. Ralph Peer had corresponded with the family earlier in the summer, but later wrote that "he was still surprised to see them," primarily due to their appearance. "They wander in," Peer told Lillian Borgeson during a series of interviews in 1959. "He's dressed in overalls and the women are country women from way back there. They looked like hillbillies. But as soon as I heard Sara's voice, that was it. I knew it was going to be wonderful." The Carters recorded four songs on the second Monday of the sessions and two the next day. On 1 August, Sara sang lead while playing autoharp, A.P. sang bass, and 18-year-old Maybelle played guitar with an unusual and subsequently influential style that allowed her to provide both melody and rhythm. The Victor Company released the first Carter Family record, "Poor Orphan Child" and "The Wandering Boy," on 4 November 1927.
The 1927 sessions recorded 76 songs, recorded by 19 performers or performing groups.
A second group of sessions was made by Peer in 1928, but the artistic success was not duplicated. In those twelve days in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, Peer had managed to fully introduce America to the authentic music of southern Appalachia. The results were two new superstars, The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.
In 1987, the Country Music Foundation issued a two-LP set, The Bristol Sessions, with 35 tracks. This was reissued on CD in 1991. In 2011, Bear Family Records issued a five-CD Box set The Bristol Sessions: The Big Bang of Country Music 1927-1928 containing 102 tracks.
In 2015, Sony Legacy Recordings released Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited as a benefit for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The two-CD set pays homage to the original 1927 sessions with 18 songs updated by some of country music's biggest stars, such as Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley. WSM disc jockey and country music historian Eddie Stubbs narrates 19 tracks that tell the story of the 1927 recording sessions.
|39700||25 July 1927||Ernest Stoneman/M. Mooney Brewer||Dying Girl's Farewell||21129||17 February 1928||Stoneman|
|39701||25 July 1927||Ernest Stoneman/M. Mooney Brewer||Tell Mother I Will Meet Her||21129||17 February 1928||Stoneman|
|39702||25 July 1927||Ernest Stoneman/Eck Dunford/Miss Irma Frost||Mountaineer's Courtship||20880||4 November 1927||Stoneman||another take issued on LP & CD|
|39703||25 July 1927||Ernest Stoneman/Eck Dunford/Miss Irma Frost||Midnight On The Stormy Deep||Stoneman||issued on LP & CD|
|39704||25 July 1927||Stoneman's Dixie Mountaineers||Sweeping Through The Gates||20844||16 September 1927||Stoneman|
|39705||25 July 1927||Stoneman's Dixie Mountaineers||I Know My Name Is There||21186||16 March 1928||Stoneman|
|39706||25 July 1927||Stoneman's Dixie Mountaineers||Are You Washed In The Blood?||20844||16 September 1927||Stoneman|
|39707||25 July 1927||Stoneman's Dixie Mountaineers||No More Goodbyes||21186||16 March 1928||Stoneman|
|39708||25 July 1927||Stoneman's Dixie Mountaineers||The Resurrection||21071||20 January 1928||Stoneman||another take issued on LP & CD|
|39709||25 July 1927||Stoneman's Dixie Mountaineers||I Am Resolved||21071||20 January 1928||Stoneman|
|39710||26 July 1927||Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet||I Want to Go Where Jesus Is||20834||16 September 1927||Phipps|
|39711||26 July 1927||Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet||Do Lord Remember Me||20927||18 November 1927||Phipps|
|39712||26 July 1927||Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet||Old Ship of Zion||20927||18 November 1927||Phipps|
|39713||26 July 1927||Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet||Jesus Is Getting Us Ready for That Great Day||21192||2 March 1928||Phipps|
|39714||26 July 1927||Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet||Happy In Prison||21192||2 March 1928||Phipps|
|39715||26 July 1927||Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet||Don't You Grieve After Me||20834||16 September 1927||Phipps|
|39716||27 July 1927||Uncle Eck Dunford/Ernest Stoneman/Hattie Stoneman/T. Edwards||The Whip-Poor-Will's Song||20880||4 November 1927||Dunford|
|39717||27 July 1927||Uncle Eck Dunford/Ernest Stoneman/Hattie Stoneman/T. Edwards||What Will I Do, For My Money's All Gone||21578||5 October 1928||Dunford|
|39718||27 July 1927||Uncle Eck Dunford/Ernest Stoneman/Hattie Stoneman/T. Edwards||Skip To Ma Lou Ma Darling||20938||16 December 1927||Dunford|
|39719||27 July 1927||Uncle Eck Dunford/Ernest Stoneman/Hattie Stoneman/T. Edwards||Barney McCoy||20938||16 December 1927||Dunford|
|39720||27 July 1927||Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers||Old Time Corn Shucking Part 1||20835||16 September 1927||Stoneman||similar personnel to Dixie Mountaineers|
|39721||27 July 1927||Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers||Old Time Corn Shucking Part 2||20835||16 September 1927||Stoneman||similar personnel to Dixie Mountaineers|
|39722||28 July 1927||Johnson Brothers With Tennessee Wildcats||Two Brothers Are We||21243||6 April 1928||Johnson|
|39723||28 July 1927||Johnson Brothers||The Jealous Sweetheart||21243||6 April 1928||Johnson||another take issued on LP & CD|
|39724||28 July 1927||Johnson Brothers||A Passing Policeman||Johnson||issued on LP & CD|
|39725||28 July 1927||Blind Alfred Reed||The Wreck Of The Virginian||20836||16 September 1927||Reed||another take issued on LP & CD|
|39726||28 July 1927||Blind Alfred Reed||I Mean To Live for Jesus||20939||16 December 1927||Reed|
|39727||28 July 1927||Blind Alfred Reed||You Must Unload||20939||16 December 1927||Reed|
|39728||28 July 1927||Blind Alfred Reed||Walking In The Way With Jesus||20836||16 September 1927||Reed||another take issued on LP & CD|
|39729||28 July 1927||Johnson Brothers With Tennessee Wildcats||The Soldier's Poor Little Boy||20891||4 November 1927||Johnson|
|39730||28 July 1927||Johnson Brothers||Just A Message From Carolina||20891||4 November 1927||Johnson|
|39731||28 July 1927||Johnson Brothers||I Want To See My Mother (Ten Thousand Miles Away)||20940||16 December 1927||Johnson||release date uncertain|
|39732||28 July 1927||El Watson||Pot Licker Blues||20951||18 November 1927||Watson||Only African American artist to record at Bristol Sessions|
|39733||28 July 1927||El Watson||Narrow Gauge Blues||20951||18 November 1927||Watson||Only African American artist to record at Bristol Sessions|
|39734||29 July 1927||B. F. Shelton||Cold Penitentiary Blues||V-40107||6 September 1929||Shelton|
|39735||29 July 1927||B. F. Shelton||Oh Molly Dear||V-40107||6 September 1929||Shelton|
|39736||29 July 1927||B. F. Shelton||Pretty Polly||35838||16 September 1927||Shelton||12 inch disc|
|39737||29 July 1927||B. F. Shelton||Darling Cora||35838||16 September 1927||Shelton||12 inch disc|
|39738||29 July 1927||Alfred Karnes||Called To The Foreign Field||V-40327||5 December 1930||Karnes|
|39739||29 July 1927||Alfred Karnes||I Am Bound For The Promised Land||20840||16 September 1927||Karnes|
|39740||29 July 1927||Alfred Karnes||Where We'll Never Grow Old||20840||16 September 1927||Karnes|
|39741||29 July 1927||Alfred Karnes||When I See The Blood||Karnes||never issued|
|39742||29 July 1927||Alfred Karnes||When They Ring the Golden Bells||20933||2 December 1927||Karnes|
|39743||29 July 1927||Alfred Karnes||To The Work||20933||2 December 1927||Karnes|
|39744||1 August 1927||J.P. Nester||Train On The Island||21070||20 January 1928||Nester|
|39745||1 August 1927||J.P. Nester||Georgia||Nester||never issued|
|39746||1 August 1927||J.P. Nester||John My Lover||Nester||never issued|
|39747||1 August 1927||J.P. Nester||Black Eyed Susie||21070||20 January 1928||Nester|
|39748||1 August 1927||Bull Mountain Moonshiners||Sweet Marie||Bull Mountain||never issued|
|39749||1 August 1927||Bull Mountain Moonshiners||Johnny Goodwin||21141||28 February 1928||Bull Mountain||release date approximate|
|39750||1 August 1927||Carter Family||Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow||21074||20 January 1928||Carter|
|39751||1 August 1927||Carter Family||Little Log Cabin By The Sea||21074||20 January 1928||Carter|
|39752||1 August 1927||Carter Family||The Poor Orphan Child||20877||4 November 1927||Carter|
|39753||1 August 1927||Carter Family||The Storms Are On The Ocean||20937||2 December 1928||Carter|
|39754||2 August 1927||Carter Family||Single Girl, Married Girl||20937||2 December 1928||Carter|
|39755||2 August 1927||Carter Family||The Wandering Boy||20877||4 November 1927||Carter|
|39756||2 August 1927||Alcoa Quartet||Remember Me O Mighty One||20879||4 November 1927||Alcoa|
|39757||2 August 1927||Alcoa Quartet||I'm Redeemed||20879||4 November 1927||Alcoa|
|39758||2 August 1927||Henry Whitter||Henry Whitter's Fox Chase||20878||4 November 1927||Whitter|
|39759||2 August 1927||Henry Whitter||Rain Crow Bill||20878||4 November 1927||Whitter|
|39760||3 August 1927||Fred H. Greever, John B. Kelly, J. V. Snavely||When They Ring The Golden Bells For You And Me||Private||private recording, not made for release|
|39761||3 August 1927||Shelor Family||Big Bend Gal||20865||7 October 1927||Shelor|
|39762||3 August 1927||Dad Blackard's Mountaineers||Suzanna Gal||21130||17 February 1928||Shelor||= Shelor Family|
|39763||3 August 1927||Dad Blackard's Mountaineers||Sandy River Belle||21130||17 February 1928||Shelor||= Shelor Family,
another take issued on LP & CD
|39764||3 August 1927||Shelor Family||Billy Grimes The Rover||20865||7 October 1927||Shelor|
|39765||3 August 1927||Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Baker||The Newmarket Wreck||20863||7 October 1927||Baker|
|39766||3 August 1927||Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Baker||On The Banks Of The Sunny Tennessee||20863||7 October 1927||Baker|
|39767||4 August 1927||Jimmie Rodgers||The Soldier's Sweetheart||20864||7 October 1927||Rodgers|
|39768||4 August 1927||Jimmie Rodgers||Sleep, Baby, Sleep||20864||7 October 1927||Rodgers|
|39769||4 August 1927||Red Snodgrass' Alabamians||Weary Blues||Snodgrass||Jazz/dance band|
|39770||4 August 1927||Tenneva Ramblers||The Longest Train I Ever Saw||20861||7 October 1927||Tenneva||later recorded as Grant Brothers|
|39771||4 August 1927||Tenneva Ramblers||Sweet Heaven When I Die||20861||7 October 1927||Tenneva||later recorded as Grant Brothers|
|39772||4 August 1927||Tenneva Ramblers||Miss Liza, Poor Gal||21141||28 February 1928||Tenneva||later recorded as Grant Brothers,
release date approximate
|39773||5 August 1927||West Virginia Coon Hunters||Greasy String||20862||7 October 1927||West Virginia|
|39774||5 August 1927||West Virginia Coon Hunters||Your Blue Eyes Run Me Crazy||20862||7 October 1927||West Virginia|
|39775||5 August 1927||Tennessee Mountaineers||Standing On The Promises||20860||7 October 1927||Tennessee||mixed 20-voice choir|
|39776||5 August 1927||Tennessee Mountaineers||At The River||20860||7 October 1927||Tennessee||mixed 20-voice choir|
- Johnson, David W. "Did Bristol Sessions Produce Country Music's 'Big Bang'?" Knight Ridder Tribune News Service: 1 July 2002.
- Stimeling, Travis D. "Recording Reviews: "the Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928: The Big Bang of Country Music"." Journal of the Society for American Music 7.2 (2013), pp. 219-222.
- National Geographic
- America's Library
- This Historic Day in Music
- "Fiddlin' John Carson (ca. 1868-1949)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
- "The Global Independent - Home". peermusic. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
- Stimeling, Travis D. "Recording Reviews: "the Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928: The Big Bang of Country Music"." Journal of the Society for American Music 7.2 (2013) pp. 219-222.
- "Rodgers, Jimmie (The Singing Brakeman)." Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed. Ed. Colin Larkin. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.
- "Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, and more, to appear on Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited". Birthplace of Country Music Museum. 30 April 2015. Archived from the original on 20 May 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
- Russell, Tony. Country Music Records, A Discography, 1921-1942. 2004. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513989-5
- Encyclopedic Dictionary of Victor Recordings
- Wolfe, Charles K. The Legend That Peer Built: Reappraising the Bristol Sessions in Wolfe, Charles K. & Ted Olson (editors) The Bristols Sessions, Writing about the Big Bang of Country Music. 2005. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1945-8