Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music
This is the first biography of Ralph Peer, the revolutionary A&R man and music publisher who pioneered the recording, marketing, and publishing of blues, jazz, country, gospel, and Latin music, and this book book tracks his role in such breakthrough events as the recording of Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” the first country recording sessions with Fiddlin’ John Carson, his discovery of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, the popularizing of Latin American music during World War II, and the postwar transformation of music on the airwaves that set the stage for the dominance of R&B, country, and rock ’n’ roll. Ralph Peer changed our very notions of what pop music can be.
singer-songwriter Francis Lemarque’s new “Le Tuer Affamé,” the ballad of a long-suffering hit man who barely has time to eat between assassination jobs. Having checked in with Peer-Southern’s existing European connections, Ralph and Monique boarded a plane in Lisbon in October, heading south toward the Belgian Congo, on a globe-trekking route that would take them down to South Africa, then north to Egypt, on to India via Iraq, across Burma and Malaya to Australia and New Zealand, and then to
less-argument-instigating Classical Department. The new unit, Peer would later admit, was partly set up as a tax-loss hedge at the time, but it was also a long-term investment that could “ultimately” be profitable. “I do not expect immediate financial returns,” he joked. “You have to wait about fifty years!” It seems likely, however, that he was acting with the future of the firm and of his family beyond his own time in mind, and seriously so. The music also meant much to both Ralph and Monique
reluctantly agrees, conceding, “Somebody had to discover it. And I did … and I figured out these things in my own mind. But if I hadn’t, somebody else would have.” He goes on to offer a reasonably objective compact dissertation on the economic and social situation in the United States post–World War I, adding, “They would come to me, people who could play a guitar very well, and sing very well—and I’d test them…. ‘Do you have any music of your own?’ That was the test.” He appeared at the May
“He played a fair game of golf,” De Droit recalled, “but he thought he played a better one!” When Peer’s secretary at Okeh kidded De Droit about having lost the second nine holes to her boss, De Droit confided (or boasted) “that he could beat Mr. Peer with one club.” Papa Celestin, in a 1960 interview, recalled Ralph Peer heading his session, as well, though offering no details other than recalling him as “a nice guy.” That summer, back in New York, Peer approved the recording of a highly
less systematically since 1923. For Peer himself, such common characterizations were sources of amusement: “That was the first recording trip for Victor, and the first stop was Bristol … [but] I had had all my experience, of course, from handling the Okeh situation.” This most famed of location recording trips represented, for him, both the chance to implement ideas that had not been practical until that moment and to show Victor what he could do. If Okeh had not had the resources or