Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

The Bristol Sessions, Music Reproduction, and Early Hillbilly En-tertainers

The “Bristol Sessions” was in the news again recently when the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (BCMA) donated to the Ar-chives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University a five-CD boxed set that includes music recorded in the 1927 sessions and the 1928 sessions in Bristol, Tennessee. Also included in the set is a 120-page hardbound book.
I have written about the “Bristol Sessions” conducted by Ralph Peer for Victor Talking Machine Company before in this column as well as the “Johnson City Sessions” held by Columbia Records that occurred in 1928. Masters were made in the sessions and the music was recorded on 78-rpm discs.
It has long been interesting to me how music reproduction has evolved over the last several years — even in my own life and how more folks seem to be enjoying the Old Time music that was popu-lar in the days of our parents. I have some old 78s. It has been awhile since I have taken them out of storage so I don’t remember if any are from the “Bristol Sessions.” My collection includes mu-sic of the Carter Family and others. While the discs were the state of the art at the time, when you realize how far sound reproduction has come, those records sound rather crude indeed. Those records were made of shellac and therefore were highly breakable.
Of course before going digital in the recent past, records evolved into 45-rpm discs, and finally to the 33 1/3 LPs. Made of vinyl, those records were not as breakable but had other disadvantages. The 8-Track tape is a has-been but the Cassette Tape is still around.
Thomas Edison’s cylinder type records were also an early way to hear music but the disc type recording won out. A machine for playing the cylinder type records is on display in the Johnson County Historical Society’s museum at the Welcome Center on South Shady Street in Mountain City. Visit the museum and see the record player along with a number of artifacts that pertain to Johnson County.
My earliest memory of a sound-producing machine was a crank-type portable record player my father owned when I was very young. This was even before we got our first radio. The record player was about the size of a suitcase and looked like one. It had metal snaps that secured the lid to the body of the machine just like a suitcase and a handle so it could be carried from place to place. Needles wore out often and had to be replaced. It took several turns of the crank to play a record all the way through. When the spring motor began to run down, the sound would get slower and lower in tone.
My collection of the old 78s, other than the Carter Family, includes the Monroe Brothers (Bill and Charlie) before they split up to form their own bands. Bill formed the Bluegrass Boys and the rest is history. He became known as the “Father of Bluegrass.” On the other hand, Charlie formed the Kentucky Partners and was less famous than his brother. I also have records by Uncle Dave Macon, Jimmie Rodgers, Henry Whittier and Banman Grayson and a number of others.
There seems to me to be a lot of emphasis on the Old Time and Bluegrass music these days. Perhaps some of the younger folks will “discover” the music that was enjoyed by their parents and grandparents. It wouldn’t be bad if they did.