The Bristol Sessions: Writings About the Big Bang of Country Music Published08.03.2005
County music was defined as an artistically respectable yet commercially popular music genre during the Bristol Sessions. The 1927 gathering in Bristol of 19 musical acts included two soon-to-be famous ones — the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers — and numerous other lesser-known musicians whose recordings made at Bristol continue to interest fans of early country music and to influence musicians today.
Victor Talking Machine Co. executive Ralph Peer noted the popularity of Appalachian music in the earliest releases of recordings of "hillbilly music" during the mid-1920s, and he brought together key musicians to record some of their favorite songs in Bristol. In the process of interacting, Peer and these musicians ultimately created a sound that has remained a mainstay of American culture.
Those momentous events have become the stuff of legend, and as often happens with great occasions, truth, misunderstanding and embellishment intermingled over time.
East Tennessee State University's Dr. Ted Olson and Dr. Charles Wolfe of Middle Tennessee State University have edited a collection of 19 essays to give a definitive overview of the historical musical meetings in a recently released book, The Bristol Sessions: Writings About the Big Bang of Country Music.
Their work, published by McFarland, details the spark of an idea for the sessions, first-hand accounts of the music making, the events' place in history and their tremendous influence, still felt today.
According to Bill Hartley, executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (BCMA), which is based in Bristol and dedicated to celebrating the Appalachian music legacy, "In The Bristol Sessions: Writings About the Big Bang of Country Music, Dr. Olson and Dr. Wolfe have combined new research, current scholarship, and first-hand accounts to present in a comprehensive and lively form the story of one of the pivotal developments in country, bluegrass and traditional American music. The book provides the reader with an overview of the Appalachian musical heritage, which was carried from our region around the world and which remains popular today. This work is invaluable for bringing all this information together in one readable volume. Anyone who is a fan of traditional music or who is interested in this region's rich cultural history should read this book."
Olson is an associate professor at ETSU, where he teaches courses in Appalachian Studies, English and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Olson is the author of several other works, including Blue Ridge Folklife, part of the Folklife in the South Series published by the University Press of Mississippi, and he is the editor of several books, including CrossRoads: A Southern Culture Annual (Mercer University Press), James Still's From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems (University Press of Kentucky) and Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs and Selected Short Fiction (Barnes and Noble Classics).
Wolfe, a professor of English and Folklore at MTSU and a leading historian of American music, is the author of 20 books, including A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry; The Devil's Box: Masters of Southern Fiddling; and Tennessee Strings: The Story of Country Music in Tennessee, as well as a forthcoming book on Bill Monroe, the founder of bluegrass music.