A major undertaking such as Before the Big Bang is only possible through the generosity of some of the most discerning record collectors. We’re not talking about the good folks who pursue the ultra rare electric blues and country (Paramount, etc.) and pay top dollar for the privilege of owning the discs.
It’s the handful of people who collect the world’s oldest recordings, many of them one of a kind. There’s an art to finding, understanding, and caring for those brown wax cylinders from the 1890s, the black moulded cylinders from the 1900s, and the earliest acoustically recorded discs such as Berliners and others. Some things are easy to find, but condition is key.
OK, you numbers people. Get your pencils sharpened, because we’re going to draw some stats from our Before the Big Bang tracks.
We have now announced 50 of the 167 tracks appearing on the set; that’s nearly one-third of the total. Those 50 actually give a pretty good sampling of the types of people, material, and decades represented on the CDs. Let’s zoom in more closely.
Despite our admonition on this blog to “beware of firsts,” I couldn’t help myself.
For those skeptics who doubt that country music began with the 1927 Bristol Sessions, Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland are usually, hands down, their favored candidates for the artists who made the first commercial recordings of the genre.
Each of the 6 CDs on Before the Big Bang has its own theme. Here’s a first look at what we’ll be presenting on the upcoming reissue.
Before the Big Bang does not assert—or attempt to persuade—that the genre of country music as we know it now can be found on the various discs and cylinders produced in the four decades prior to the 1927 Bristol Sessions, if only we examine the right recordings. Instead the box set answers two main questions.
Everyone is stir- crazy right now. Archeophone is chomping at the bit to begin sharing details about Before the Big Bang even though its release has been pushed back to the end of the year. We wondered: Is there anything we can do to relieve the boredom and give us all a little fun and excitement to look forward to? Here’s what we’re going to do.
We’re sheltering in place like all of you out there, watching covid-19 devastate so many lives and communities. Interruptions are inevitable, and we are no different.
That means that our plan to have Before the Big Bang: Country Music Origins in the Acoustic Era, 1890-1926 out in the summer of 2020 has changed.
There’s a big misconception about the recording artists of the earliest days. Because the industry was centered in the Northeast, particularly around New York City, Philadelphia, and parts of New Jersey, the idea has persisted that it was a lot of “elite” artists and musicians making records to suit the tastes of sophisticated urbanites. Only when the industry began scouring the country for “authentic” musical traditions did they find the real America—or so the thinking has been.
What is the company and who are the people behind this production, Before the Big Bang?
If you are not familiar with the name Archeophone Records, then you might not know it is the only reissue label that deals almost exclusively with the “acoustic era” of sound recording (see our blog post of 10-17-2019 for an explanation of what that means). Archeophone Records was founded in 1998 to preserve, restore, and contextualize the world’s oldest recordings.
All of our releases feature top-notch audio restorations and are packaged with new scholarship and research, discographical information, and extensive photos and illustrations.
It must make for some uncomfortable moments when visitors to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia, ask about all the “hillbilly” records released by the major labels in the roughly six years before the Big Bang sessions that gave us Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Most people understand (at least when they think about it) that the recordings that came out of Bristol in 1927 weren’t the first country records.
But then what was the first country record?
If you’re thinking about the birth and development of country music, let us recommend a few texts for your Christmas holiday.
Maybe we were trying to bring a little visibility to the project while the sunshine from Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary was still pouring in and spoke too soon. Nonetheless, the scope of Before the Big Bang: Country Music Origins in the Acoustic Era, 1890-1926 has expanded.
If you are new to the “acoustic era” of recording, a word of explanation may be in order. “Acoustic”
does not refer to un-electrified instruments—“unplugged” sessions, if you will—but, rather, to the un-
electrified method of recording.
In the beginning, long before the microphone, there was the horn.
Guest post by Ted Olson
Like any fan of American roots music, I’m a fan of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. And like many fans of those great artists I heard years ago that they had made their first records at the Bristol Sessions, the 1927 location recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee. I learned that one scholar (Nolan Porterfield) had dubbed what happened in Bristol as “the Big Bang of Country Music” and that a former mayor of Bristol had called that small city “the Birthplace of Country Music.” I sought to know more.
Conventional wisdom on recorded country music traces its origins to the famous Bristol sessions held in July and August 1927, famously dubbed “The Big Bang of Country Music” by author Nolan Porterfield. Bristol gave us the first records by the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and while there’s no disputing that Bristol put country on the map in the public mind, this narrative overlooks the four decades of recording that happened before Bristol—and any impact that material had on the evolution of country music.