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Over the last few years, writing these descriptions has often felt like an act of persuasion, an apology for poor sound quality and poor selection of available recordings, sweetened with some historical background to try to make the sounds accessible. There’s always plenty of music I love buried inside, but naturally I understand that getting past the hiss, the awful recording medium, the lack of quality musicians, the control of everything by a small group of New York businessmen who at best are indifferent to good music… well, it’s not easy to reach out to your listeners with what feels like a leap of faith, every time.

It’s 1927, and all of that is out the window, I might as well just put out this collection of astonishing music, as it can easily do the job of selling itself. This is an explosion of sound the likes of which have not been experienced before or for that matter since.

One of the many people responsible for this was Ralph Peer, talent scout for the Victor Talking Machine Company. For two months in 1927 he took his portable recording studio on the road, visiting cities through the southern United States. Between the 25th of July and the 5th August he was in residence in Bristol, Tennessee. The Ernest Stoneman, J.P. Nester and Tenneva Ramblers recordings made here would alone have made these sessions notable, but the discovery of the two acts which came to define “country music” are the reason this is referred to as the “Big Bang.”

Jimmie Rogers, “The Singing Brakeman” or “The Blue Yodeler” arrived at the sessions with a group in tow (the Tenneva Ramblers) but decided just at the right moment to go solo with his unique mix of country folk, vaudeville-inspired songwriting and yodelling. The song recorded, “Blue Yodel”, would go on to sell half a million copies, make Jimmie a superstar for the rest of his short life, and inspire musicians across the rest of the century.

The other great discoveries of the sessions were The Carter Family – A.P. Carter, his wife Sara Carter and his sister-in-law Maybelle Carter, who all made a precarious journey from Maces Spring, Virginia, while Sara was heavily pregnant, in order that they could record at the sessions. The combination of A.P.’s gathering of folk songs, Sara’s heavenly voice and autoharp and Maybelle’s revolutionary guitar-playing has proved to have as great a legacy as Jimmie Rodgers, if not greater.

The joy of the Bristol Sessions is not its uniqueness, quite the opposite. As you’ll be able to hear from this mix, there were many musicians throughout the USA and the world who were being recorded for the first time. With records still a luxury item unavailable to the working class, and radio still in its infancy, these artists each seem to have something to offer which was previously undiscovered. Everyone has their influences, of course, but this is the one moment where you’re hearing amateurs with a lifetime’s experience inventing their own music, suddenly being able to make the records which would lead to the next generation being able to swap influences and formulate the genres which we all know – for now though, everything is itself and nothing really belongs to anything else, it’s impossible to put anything in a box, the jazz is all blues is all folk is all country is all gospel.

And gospel music, or rather Christian music (it would be ridiculous to try to claim this disparate group of recordings represented “a genre”) is a massive force in this mix. The South was (and still is) a very religious place, and the church is one of the few places people could get together and express themselves. We have a full range of religious recordings here, from impassioned baptist sermons, to the religious folk music of Alfred Karnes and the almost Sufi-like meditative bliss of Washington Phillips, whose divinely inspired pieces, played on an unknown zither-like device of his own making, are some of those rare pieces of music so beautiful that it is truly hard to imagine their being of this world.

Just to scratch the surface of some of the other music being made around the world, 1927 is also the year Zonophone started recording West African musicians in London in order to try to open up this previously undiscovered market. I’m in danger of overusing the word ‘unique’ so let’s just say that everything I’ve said about the southern USA can be applied tenfold here – countless centuries of music are being dipped into for the first time, and far from being an ethnographic curiosity, nothing could be more shockingly direct.

And oh, I didn’t talk about Jazz, in what might be the greatest year of the jazz age! Why can’t things peak separately? Let’s focus on Bix Beiderbecke, as this is really his year – he opens this mix with his revolutionary piano piece (he was a cornet player) ‘In A Mist’, and features on at least five other tracks in one way or another. It’s impossible for me to write about him without putting this quote here, so I’m just going to do it.

“Bix Beiderbecke. The first great white jazz musician. Cornet player. Born in Davenport, Iowa, March 1903. Drank himself to death. Died August 1931, aged 28. Amazing man. They say his playing sounded like bullets shot from a bell.”
— Trevor Chaplin, The Beiderbecke Affair, episode 1: “What I don’t understand is this…” by Alan Plater.

And what else? I’ve barely started, I can’t ever really do this music justice, all I can do is get this mix out there and hope people will listen, enjoy and share.


0:00:22 Bix Beiderbecke – In A Mist (Bixology)
0:03:03 The Harlem Footwarmers – That Jungle Jamboree
0:06:03 Al Jolson – Excerpt from ‘The Jazz Singer’ 1
0:06:10 Washington Phillips – Lift Him Up That’s All
0:08:52 Mrs. L. Reed; Mrs. T.A. Duncans – Light in the Valley (Excerpt 1)
0:09:01 Alfred G. Karnes – I Am Bound for the Promised Land
0:11:04 The Carter Family – The Poor Orphan Child
0:14:25 Jimmie Rodgers – Blue Yodel
0:16:36 Ben Simmons – (Blank)
0:17:00 Ben Simmons – Mu Kun Sebor Wa Wu
0:18:29 Prince Zulamkah – Ligiligi
0:19:01 The West African Instrumental Quintet – Adersu No. 2
0:22:02 Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang – At The Jazz Band Ball
0:24:50 Al Jolson – Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye
0:26:50 Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven – Twelfth Street Rag
0:29:09 Thomas A. Edison – Mary Had a Little Lamb
0:29:23 Savoy Orpheans – Vo Do Do De O Blues
0:32:36 Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra – Fidgety Feet
0:35:28 Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski – Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Excerpt 1)
0:36:07 Steva Nikolič – Arnautka
0:38:23 Osip Mandelshtam – Gypsy Girl (Excerpt 1)
0:38:32 Tetos Demetriades – Miserlou
0:40:42 Osip Mandelshtam – Gypsy Girl (Excerpt 2)
0:40:49 Marika Papagika – Ti Se Méli Esénane
0:42:24 Dajos Béla and His Dance Orchestra – Jalousie
0:43:19 Iriarte-Pesoa – Instrumental – Pericón Por María
0:44:56 Domingo Aguirre – Atamisqueña
0:46:06 Orquesta Gelix Gonzalez – Cabaniguan
0:47:14 Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra – Singin’ the Blues (Till My Daddy Comes Home)
0:50:13 Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers – The Pearls [Take 2]
0:52:15 Memphis Jug Band – Memphis Jug Blue Take 1
0:55:00 Bobbie Leecan’s Need-More Band – Washboard Cut Out
0:56:43 Henry Thomas – The Fox And The Hounds
0:59:16 DeFord Bailey – Pan American Blues
1:00:31 Tenneva Ramblers – The Longest Train I Ever Saw
1:02:10 J. P. Nestor – Train On the Island
1:03:23 Mead Lux Lewis – Honky Tonk Train Blues
1:05:57 Rev. A.W. Nix – Black Diamond Express to Hell
1:07:56 Rev. T.E. Weems – If I Have a Ticket Lord Can I Ride
1:09:36 Waring’s Pennsylvanians – Hello Swanee Hello
1:10:58 Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys – Sweet L’il – Ain’t She Sweet (take 2)
1:12:32 Al Jolson – Excerpt from ‘The Jazz Singer’ 2
1:12:37 Jack Smith – Birth Of The Blues
1:13:52 Bessie Smith – Backwater Blues
1:15:46 Robert Hicks (Barbecue Bob) – Mississippi Heavy Water Blues
1:17:04 Chris Bouchillon – Born In Hard Luck
1:20:18 Long ‘Cleve’ Reed And Little Harvey Hull (The Down Home Boys) – Mama You Don’t Know How
1:21:43 Calvin Coolidge – Presentation Speech 1
1:21:56 Duke Ellington And His Kentucky Club Orchestra – East St. Louis Toodle-oo
1:24:59 Ed Lang – A Little Love a Little Kiss
1:26:54 Tram Bix & Lang – For No Reason At All In C
1:29:13 Calvin Coolidge – Presentation Speech 2
1:29:39 Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven – Potato Head Blues
1:30:42 Sylvians – I Need Lovin’
1:32:15 Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers – Wild Man Blues
1:34:25 Charles Lindbergh – Speech Part 1
1:34:43 Banjo Joe – My Money Never Runs Out
1:36:20 Charles Lindbergh – Speech Part 2
1:36:51 Charlie Parker & Mack Woolbright – Ticklish Reuben
1:37:26 Burnett & Rutherford – Ladies On the Steamboat
1:38:51 Obed Pickard of Station WSM Na – The Old Grey Horse
1:40:47 South Georgia Highballers – Blue Grass Twist
1:42:02 Frank Hutchison – The Last Scene Of The Titanic
1:43:34 Sylvester Weaver – Damfino Stump
1:44:59 Ernest Stoneman & Hattie Stoneman – Mountaineer’s Courtship
1:46:11 Uncle Dave Macon and His Fruit-Jar Drinkers – Sail Away Ladies
1:47:35 Jaybird Coleman – Mistreatin’ Mama
1:49:12 Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was The Night — Cold Was The Ground
1:52:11 Mrs. L. Reed; Mrs. T.A. Duncans – Light in the Valley (Excerpt 2)
1:52:36 Washington Phillips – Denomination Blues
1:53:52 Elder J.E. Burch – The Church and the Kingdom
1:55:59 Rev. T.E. Weems – God Is Mad With Man
1:56:24 Rust College Quartet – Hallelujah
1:57:44 Rev. Webb – Moses Was Rescued by a Negro Woman (Excerpt 1)
1:58:04 Sister Mary Nelson – Judgement
1:58:53 Rev. Webb – Moses Was Rescued by a Negro Woman (Excerpt 2)
1:59:04 Chhunnu Khan – Sarod Instrumental
2:01:59 Truett & George – Ghost Dance
2:03:05 Andrés Segovia – Tremolo Study
2:04:20 Septeto Machín – El Guateque
2:06:08 Estudiantina Oriental De R. Martinez – Nanore
2:09:07 Wilmoth Houdini – Good Night Ladies And Gents
2:11:11 Domingo Justus – Buje
2:11:43 Douglas Papafio – Kuntum
2:12:58 Demir Cholakov – Selska Svadba [Village Wedding]
2:14:12 Abe Schwartz’s Orchestra – Rusihe Sher
2:16:19 Frank Hutchison – Logan County Blues
2:18:35 Al Bernard Accom. by Goofus Five – Hesitation Blues
2:20:29 Memphis Jug Band – Sometimes I Think I Love You
2:22:48 The Traymore Orchestra – Soliloqui
2:24:18 Miff Mole & his Molers – Davenport Blues
2:25:37 Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra – Crying All Day
2:27:37 Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra – My Pretty Girl
2:29:16 The Original Wolverines – Royal Garden Blues
2:31:26 Duke Ellington And His Washingtonians – Black and Tan Fantasy
2:34:47 Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orch. – Moten Stomp
2:35:38 Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five – Hotter Than That
2:37:17 Gene Austin – My Blue Heaven
2:39:24 Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski – Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Excerpt 2)

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