‘Big Bang of Country Music” – Bristol Sessions gets two Grammy nominations

Johnny Cash once referred to a series of recordings made in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927  as “The single most important event in the history of country music.”  The sessions are also known as ‘The Big Bang of Country Music’ .

So whats so important about these recordings?

Well, in 1927, America was in the midst of the Great Depression as RCA Victor talent scout Ralph Peer headed for Bristol, to seek out musical talent to record. After advertising in local newspapers an array of artists turned up – string bands, hillbilly singers, gospel quartets, harmonica soloists, holy roller preachers and street evangelists and blues singers. Not all those who turned up to try their luck were recorded.  However, two of the most important country music pioneers – The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were.

The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers laid the basis for all future country music over a period of two weeks starting July 25th, 1927.

Peer recorded 76 performances by 19 acts including other country music pioneers such as Ernest V. ‘Pop’ Stoneman. Peer returned for more sessions in Bristol in 1928.

The Bristol sessions have never been reissued in their entirety until this Bear Family box set, which contains five CDs and includes all alternative takes.

There is an 120 page, hardcover book containing newly researched material on the background to the sessions and on the artists, along with many rare and unpublished photographs, the complete song lyrics, a detailed discography, and repro’s of Peer’s original recording sheets.

The Bear Family collection – ‘The Bristol Sessions 1927-1928 – The Big Bang of Country Music’ has been nominated for Grammy awards in the categories of Best Historical Album, (co-producer Christopher King and mastering engineer Chris Zwarg), and Best Liner Notes, co-written by the UK’s Tony Russell and Ted Olsen a professor in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Appalachian Studies. The  award winners will be announced in February.

Listen to a podcast of Ted Olsen discussing the Bear Family box set.

The New York Times reviewing the box set said: “This is the primordial soup from which modern country music evolved, the complete output of a handful of recording sessions that had an Alan Lomax-like influence on the decades to come. The most notable discoveries from these sessions — organized by the producer and talent scout Ralph Peer for the Victor label in Bristol, on the Tennessee-Virginia border — were the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. In this collection of dozens of acts, they’re clear standouts, especially the Carter Family, in which the framework of the country music of the 1940s and 1950s is already audible. But these sessions were agnostic, spanning Appalachian gospel, blues, hillbilly music, shape note singers and more. (Some of the musicians had been invited to record; others just showed up after an ad and an article ran in a local paper.)”

Mojo, Record Collector and Uncut all gave the collection 5 stars, with Uncut naming it their Americana album of the month.  Rolling Stone magazine recently named it to their list of 10 Best Reissues of 2011.

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