The title of this post is taken from the title of a book put together by Charles K. Wolfe and Ted Olson called The Bristol Sessions: Writings About the Big Bang of Country Music, published in 2005. The information to follow is taken from some of the various fine articles in that book.
In his comment to my post of May 11 (Yesterday In Music History), Tom Savage wrote about listening to his father’s Jimmie Rodgers records and how he remembered a few tracks where Jimmie and the Carter Family “visited” and did a song together.
The original connection between Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family is that they were both “discovered” and made their first recordings at the same recording sessions held in Bristol, Tennessee, in the summer of 1927. Given the subsequent popularity and influence of these two acts, the term “Big Bang” is well deserved.
Ralph Peer, the man in charge of the sessions, arrived in Bristol with his wife, two recording engineers and their portable recording equipement on Friday, July 22. On Sunday, July 24, the Bristol Herald Courier newspaper ran an article, including an interview with Mr. Peer, that announced their arrival and served as an invitation to local musicians to come and audition.
Recording started on Monday, July 25 and ended on Friday, August 5. During that time, nineteen “hillbilly” bands and soloists were recorded. Artists such as Ernest Stoneman, Uncle Eck Dunford, The Johnson Brothers, Blind Alfred Reed, The Bull Mountain Moonshiners and The West Virginia Coon Hunters “cut sides” to be released on Victor Records.
The Carter Family auditioned in the morning on Monday, August 1 and recorded four songs that evening. Maybelle and Sara came back the next morning and recored two more songs, for some unknown reason, without A.P. In the afternoon on Thursday, August 4, Jimmie Rodgers recorded the two songs that would launch his career: The Soldier’s Sweetheart and Sleep, Baby, Sleep.
Victor Records released Jimmie Rodger’s record on October 7, 1927. The first Carter Family record: The Poor Orphan Child backed with The Wandering Boy was released on November 4. Their next release came on December 2 and the final release from this first session came out on January 20, 1928.
Johnny Cash once said: “These recordings in Bristol in 1927 are the single most important event in the history of country music.” I think it is safe to paraphrase this and say that these recordings are among the most important events in the history of American music.