Orthophonic Joy reimagines The Bristol Sessions

Orthophonic Joy - The Bristol Sessions RevisitedBluegrass fans like to point to the first Grand Ole Opry appearance by Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as the official birth of bluegrass music. The Ryman Auditorium even has an historical marker near the original 5th Avenue entrance attesting to the fact.

It is said that when Scruggs kicked off Molly and Tennbrooks in what was then a revolutionary new banjo sound to those assembled in the hall – not to mention the thousands of others listening to the radio that night in 1945 – the place went wild. Bluegrass music would never again be ignored.

1927 Victor ad - Courtesy of Bristol Herald CourierFor what we now know as country music, the moment that sparked its invention is traced back a few years earlier to 1927 when Ralph Peer showed up in Bristol, VA to make audio recordings of local hillbilly and blues musicians. The Bristol Victrola dealer famously placed an ad in the local paper noting that fact.

During that time, the first recordings of Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, and The Stonemans were made. Before long each was a household name, with Rodgers elevated to superstardom before he died tragically just a few years later from tuberculosis.

Ralph PeerPeer had only recently joined the Victor company, agreeing to very small salary as long as he could copyright the material he recorded. There are plenty of stories about how he snatched up the rights to old folk songs, and even new compositions which had never been registered, and built a huge and powerful publishing company from these efforts. It is also said that A.P. Carter used this practice once he developed an understanding of how the music business worked.

These Bristol Sessions, as they are commonly known, lit a fuse and demonstrated that mountain music had commercial appeal. Just a few years after the Grand Ole Opry began broadcasting, Peer and Victor had their own hillbilly sensation.

And now folks from Nashville and Bristol are collaborating to re-record 16 of the influential tracks from these original sessions with modern studio technology and some of the biggest names in bluegrass and country music. With Carl Jackson producing and participation from Marty Stuart, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Doyle Lawson, Steep Canyon Rangers and several others, Orthophonic Joy: 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited is certain to draw attention from fans of all sorts of roots and Americana music when it is released in October.

The title comes from the word Victor used to describe the audio fidelity of its recording and playback equipment in the 1920: Orthophonic music.

The project appears to be produced and sponsored in some part by the Birthplace of Country Music Association in Bristol, and the Virginia department of tourism. A pair of videos have been released today to drum up interest in the album.

First this general tease…


… and this music video for Where We Never Grow old featuring 18 year old twins, The Church Sisters.


We’ll have more information about Orthophonic Joy over the next few days as we are able to speak with the principals and get more details.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.