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The Johnson City Sessions were a series of recording auditions conducted in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1928 and 1929 by Frank Buckley Walker, head of the Columbia Records “hillbilly” recordings division.


The auditions were part of a search for native Appalachian-Blue Ridge Mountains musical talent. Walker was a pioneer, as was Ralph Peer of Victor Records, in the art of remote recording, which was deemed more effective than bringing musicians to New York City or larger northern cities to record. They thought the unsophisticated amateurs would perform more comfortably in their accustomed surroundings.[1]

First Auditions[edit]

On Saturday October 13, 1928, Walker auditioned musicians, with recording sessions scheduled for the following week at makeshift studios at the Brading-Marshall Lumber Company in Johnson City. Amateur musicians brought their fiddles, banjos, guitars and voices to Johnson City to display their talents for Walker. Participants included the Shell Creek Quartet, the Grant Brothers, the Roane County Ramblers, Renus Rich and Charles Bradshaw, Clarence Greene, the Wise Brothers, Ira Yates, Uncle Nick Decker, the Proximity String Quartet, Hardin and Grindstaff, the Greensboro Boys Quartet, Richard Harold, Charlie Bowman and His Brothers, the Bowman Sisters, Bill and Belle Reed, the Reed Children, the Reed Family, the Hodges Brothers, the Hodges Quartet, Bailey Briscoe, Robert Hoke and Vernal Vest, McVay and Johnson, Earl Shirkey and Roy Harper (Roy Harvey), George Roark, the Ed Helton Singers, the Garland Brothers and Grindstaff, Dewey Golden and His Kentucky Buzzards, the Holiness Singers, Frank Shelton and the McCartt Brothers/Patterson.

Second Auditions[edit]

Returning to Johnson City in October 1929, Walker auditioned the following in the second group: Blalock and Yates, Jack Jackson, George Wade and Grancom Braswell, the Roane County Ramblers, Wyatt and Brandon, Roy Harvey and Leonard Copeland, the Spindale Quartet, the Queen Trio, Earl Shirkey and Roy Harper (Roy Harvey), the Moatsville String Ticklers, the Weaver Brothers, Byrd Moore and His Hot Shots, the Bateman Sacred Quartet, Fred Richards, Clarence Ashley, the Bentley Boys, Charlie Bowman and His Brothers, Fran Trappe, Eph Woodie and the Henpecked Husbands, Ira and Eugene Yates, and Ellis Williams.


Popular recordings, such as "Roll on Buddy" (now a bluegrass standard) and "Moonshiner and His Money" by Charlie Bowman and His Brothers, along with "Johnson City Blues" by Clarence Greene, were made from the Johnson City Sessions. Clarence "Tom" Ashley's clawhammer banjo classic recording, "Coo Coo Bird", was a highlight of the 1929 Johnson City sessions. According to the North Carolina musician Walter Davis, he and Clarence Greene learned the art of blues guitar from the legendary performer Blind Lemon Jefferson, who played on the streets in Johnson City during the early 1920s.[2]

Other States[edit]

In addition to the Johnson City sessions, Frank Buckley Walker (Oct. 24, 1889 - Oct. 15, 1963) scheduled recording sessions in Atlanta (1925 – 1932), New Orleans (1925-1927), Memphis (1928), and Dallas (1927-1929) to search out musical talent throughout the southern United States. Walker recounted to Mike Seeger once during an interview:

We would build up the recording sessions in advance – getting the word around that at a certain time of year we were going to be there, and these people would show up from 800 or 900 miles away. How they got there I’ll never know and how they got back I’ll never know. This was natural. Life in the country, particularly in the early days, was a lonesome life. Farmers would often talk to themselves or to a horse and stock… and the sound of that railroad train, that lonesome whistle has a powerful emotional impact.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Old-Time Music Heritage", Johnson's Depot
  2. ^ Wayne Erbsen, "Walter Davis: Fist and Skull Banjo," Bluegrass Unlimited: March 1981, 22-26


  • The Bristol Sessions: Writings About the Big Bang of Country Music, by Charles K. Wolfe and Ted Olson, McFarland & Co., Inc., Publishers, 2005.
  • Fiddlin' Charlie Bowman, by Bob L. Cox, University of Tennessee Press, 2007.
  • Remembering Johnson City, by Bob L. Cox, History Press, 2008.
  • Anthology of American Folk Music, edited by Josh Dunson and Ethel Raim, 1973.
  • "Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol," by Archie Green, Journal of American Folklore 78: Jul-Sep 1965, 204-228.
  • "Walter Davis: Fist and Skull Banjo," by Wayne Erbsen, Bluegrass Unlimited: March 1981, 22-26.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_City_sessions — Please support Wikipedia.
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23 news items

The Daily Post-Athenian
Wed, 27 Apr 2016 10:03:45 -0700

... a leading historian of old-time music from London, England, co-produced and co-authored album books for three boxed sets from "Bear Family Records: The Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928: The Big Bang of Country Music" (2011); "The Johnson City Sessions, ...


Fri, 18 Oct 2013 15:10:04 -0700

"The Johnson City Sessions were early Hillbiilly music recording sessions that were location recording sessions," said Ted Olson, Professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. "In other words, the record company moved their ...

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News
Sun, 01 Sep 2013 21:18:45 -0700

The Johnson City Sessions Bristol, TN/VA -- Last April, Cybergrass reported on the John City Sessions project. The project is a young sibling of sorts to the Birthplace of Country Music's The Bristol Sessions. The Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) and ...

Johnson City Press (subscription)

Johnson City Press (subscription)
Tue, 08 Oct 2013 18:09:19 -0700

The 1928 Johnson City Sessions –– a four-day period in October of that year –– recorded a variety of local musicians at 334 E. Main St., in what used to be the Marshall Brothers Lumber Co. building, and the 1929 Sessions were just recently discovered ...

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News
Thu, 26 Sep 2013 19:48:45 -0700

The Johnson City Sessions Bristol, TN/VA -- East Tennessee State University and Birthplace of Country Music present Johnson City Sessions Weekend, October 17-20, 2013, an event-packed weekend celebrating the release of Johnson City Sessions ...

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News
Mon, 15 Apr 2013 21:12:42 -0700

The Johnson City Sessions Bristol, TN/VA -- On Friday, April 5, Downtown Johnson City, Tennessee was abuzz with sounds and sights of the past. Local residents, media and organizations gathered to celebrate the Birthplace of Country Music®'s musical ...

The Knoxville Mercury

The Knoxville Mercury
Mon, 29 Feb 2016 07:06:45 -0800

'The Johnson City Sessions, 1928–1929: Can You Sing Or Play Old-Time Music?' focused on Columbia Records' similar search for early country music talent in Appalachia, sessions that yielded many other seminal recordings. The Knoxville Sessions ...

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News

Cybergrass Bluegrass Music News
Fri, 05 Jun 2015 21:12:09 -0700

As a fan of the original Bristol Sessions and the Johnson City Sessions, this new rendition with contemporary artists and fresh sounds takes these historic recordings to a new dimension. One needs to listen to this entire album to fully grasp what Carl ...

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