Before there was rock, there was country. And before there was country, there was an ad placed in the Bristol Herald Courier on Sunday, July 24, 1927.
The Clark-Jones-Sheeley Company, a music store in the twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia, was hosting a Victor Co. recording machine for 10 days. Any musicians in the area who wanted to make records should make an appointment at the store.
The Carter Family was interested, as were Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Phipps. A total of 19 acts recorded 76 songs that formed the start of the country canon. The Bristol Session recordings are sometimes called the “big bang” in country music: the point where the performers, songs, and technology came together to launch the genre.
The recordings have been reproduced and studied for decades. However, recording technology was so primitive in 1927 that the original Bristol Sessions are not pleasant to listen to, nor can they be re-mastered. They moved from art to artifact.
A few years ago, the Virginia and Tennessee tourism departments and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, in the state-line-straddling town of Bristol, decided that it was time to reintroduce the recordings to the world. Sony Legacy Recordings and Grammy-winner Carl Jackson were enlisted to put together Orthophonic Joy: The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited.
The finished album is structured with a series of brief historical points about each of the original artists and songs, narrated by Eddie Stubbs. The commentary runs between new recordings of 18 of the songs from the original Bristol Sessions by country stars and distinguished studio musicians alike. Jackson created fresh arrangements and recruited a range of singers including Dolly Parton, Sheryl Crowe, Vince Gill, and Keb’ Mo’. He organized a group of session singers into The Shotgun Rubies, a vocal trio that handled I Am Resolved and backed other tracks. “They are legendary, too, it’s just the public doesn’t know it yet,” Jackson says in an interview at Station West, the recording studio where Orthophonic Joy was made.
In the spirit of the original newspaper ad, the project’s organizers put out a call on social media. Corbin Hayslett, a music student. won and shows up on the recording playing Darling Cora, a banjo standard.
The narrated tracks are good for educational background and make ideal listening on a long car ride. The songs on the recording are great, and their role in music history is significant. Even if country isn’t usually your thing, check this out.