by Gerry Wood
Although the company name, peermusic, eschews capitalization for an underplayed lower case style, this firm deserves headline-sized capitals for its impact on the international music scene. Launched as Southern Music in 1928 by Ralph Peer, famed for finding seminal talents in neglected genres and markets, the independent publishing company has hit the mile marker of 75 successful years -- and counting.
Ralph Peer II with Roni Stoneman, Janette Carter, June Carter Cash and Patsy Stoneman
On a 1927 safari for songs, Peer ventured from New York City into the southland, scouting artists for the Victor label. He found blues, jazz and country. In Bristol, Tennessee, he recorded the first sessions for the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers while gaining valuable copyrights. South of the border trips led to the explosion of the Latin American market, thriving to this day with such peermusic standards as "Perfidia," "Brasil," "Granada" and multiple Latin Grammys and BMI Latin Publisher of the Year titles.
Peer's penchant for discovering diverse, often-overlooked creators preceded a quantum leap in that area in 1939 when BMI was formed, a blessing for writers and publishers on the fringes of mainstream music. Peer's philosophy fit perfectly with the new performing rights organization.
Later acquisitions and talent development in Europe added to its stature, but not at the expense of foretelling U.S. trends, as the company signed Buddy Holly and other rock & roll pioneers.
After Peer died in 1960, his wife Monique led the company for the next 20 years before their son Ralph Peer II expanded the family tradition of exploring new opportunities.
"We have to be very conscious of respect for the roots of music and at the same time work very hard to keep ourselves contemporary," he explains. "By being players in the contemporary music markets around the world, we do the best job of serving our repertoire and the composers and heirs of the repertoire."
Keeping abreast of technological advances is a key to success, stresses Peer, who presides over a global operation with 32 offices in 27 countries, and an immense catalog of some 300,000 songs. "It was the technology of the Victrola that really spearheaded my father's introduction of country music to a broader public. And I've always been very proud of the fact that he was involved in the first recordings of black people singing the blues. He knew there were genres of music and audiences that weren't being fulfilled out there."
Kevin Lamb, Vice President in charge of the Nashville office, succinctly observes, "While everybody zigged, Ralph Peer was zagging."
The zagging has resulted in a catalog that has yielded hits for such artists as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Celine Dion, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Edith Piaf and Julio Iglesias. Among the company's songwriters are producer/writer David Foster, Grammy-winning new age artist Kitaro, BMI multi-award winner Stewart Harris and Shelly Peiken, who has crafted compositions for Christina Aguilera and Meredith Brooks.
Beyond the airwaves and record sales, peermusic spices TV series, commercials and movies. O Brother, Where Art Thou? featured six of its songs on the soundtrack, selling more than six million copies in the U.S. alone -- the best-selling country soundtrack in history.
Providing gems for the hottest chart-topping acts from rock to Latin while mining gold and platinum from the catalog prods peermusic into the forefront as a modern day publishing giant. Significantly, the O Brother evergreens were a back-to-the-future gift from the copyright collage assembled by Ralph Peer when he made that historic trip to Tennessee. His son saluted the achievement, hosting a private dinner in Bristol commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Bristol sessions, with invitations sent to all the living relatives of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and the Stonemans.
"It's not often that you get 75 years of relationships between a publishing company and its composers and heirs," Peer points out. "It was that relationship that we were celebrating and holding up as a standard which we strive to attain."