It’s known as the “Big Bang of Country Music”: Back in 1927, Victor Records producer Ralph Peer set up a recording studio in a hat warehouse in Bristol, right on the Tennessee-Virginia state line. He placed newspaper advertisements to recruit talent and in doing so, ended up discovering some of the most revered artists in music history, namely Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.
In all, 19 performers recorded 76 songs at the Bristol Sessions, creating some of the most influential recordings in country music history. Those songs ultimately set the stage for what became the signature sound of the entire genre. “The Bristol Sessions is the single most important event in the history of country music,” Johnny Cash once said.
Those historic recording sessions are now being recreated by a who’s who list of country artists. Grammy Award-winning producer Carl Jackson is at the helm of a double-disc compilation called Orthophonic Joy – The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited, featuring Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Marty Stuart and several more traditional country artists. Set for release in October, the project includes 16 songs that originated from the Bristol Sessions, with legendary Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs providing stories behind the songs in between each track.
“They’re almost like the North Star,” says Marty Stuart of the Bristol Sessions’ recordings. “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.”
Stuart joined Jackson and songwriter Rusty Morrell, who was the mastermind behind the upcoming album, for a press conference at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The three musicians were also accompanied by the Church Sisters, the Shotgun Rubies and the Chuck Wagon Gang in performing some of the songs on the upcoming project for reporters and industry executives in the audience.
Jackson is now looking for one more act to join his legendary list of talent on the album. A contest is underway for the chance to record the last track on Orthophonic Joy. Aspiring artists are encouraged to record themselves singing one of the Bristol Sessions songs and submit it between now and July 10th. See more information on the contest rules here.
Tuesday’s press conference additionally served as the official announcement of Bristol’s new Birthplace of Country Music museum, set to open August 1st. The Smithsonian-affiliated building will house 12,000 square feet of exhibit space, a rotating exhibit gallery, music listening stations, interactive media and theaters for live performances year round.