Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

The American Epic Sessions

Airs Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 at 12:30 p.m. & 10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Jack White (center) recording “Matrimonial Intentions” at Vox Recording Studi...

Credit: Courtesy of ©2017 Lo-­‐Max Records Ltd.

Above: Jack White (center) recording “Matrimonial Intentions” at Vox Recording Studios, Los Angeles, Calif., for "The American Epic Sessions."

This program is part of our TV Membership Campaign. Support quality programming you depend on from KPBS. Give now!

Witness Jack White and T Bone Burnett recording top artists as they recreate America’s musical past.

In "The American Epic Sessions," the AMERICAN EPIC team has reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s, and invited Jack White and T Bone Burnett to produce an album of recordings by twenty of today’s greatest artists.

Sessions: Elton John and Jack White

Sessions: Elton John and Jack White perform “Two Fingers of Whiskey”

In this beautifully filmed musical feature, these artists are given the chance to pass through the portal that brought the world into the modern era.

Engineer Nicholas Bergh has reassembled this recording system from original parts and it is now the only one left in the world.

The system consists of a single microphone, a towering six-foot amplifier rack, and a live record-cutting lathe, powered by a weight-driven pulley system of clockwork gears.

Photo credit: Courtesy of ©2017 Lo-­‐Max Records Ltd.

Director Bernard MacMahon and Engineer Nicholas Bergh recording on the very first electrical sound recording system from the 1920s, the only one in the world.

The musicians have roughly three minutes to record their song direct to disc before the weight hits the floor. In the 1920s, they called this “catching lightning in a bottle.”

All the musical performances in this film are live. The audio you hear is taken directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements.

Photo credit: Courtesy of ©2017 Lo-­‐Max Records Ltd.

Producer Duke Erikson talking with Jerron "Blind Boy” Paxton before recording “Candy Man” for "The American Epic Sessions."

Starring: Alabama Shakes, The Americans, Ana Gabriel, Ashley Monroe, The Avett Brothers, Beck, Bettye LaVette, Bobby Ingano, Elton John, Frank Fairfield, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, Los Lobos, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Nas, Pokey LaFarge, Raphael Saadiq, Rhiannon Giddens, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Taj Mahal, Jack White, and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

Photo credit: Courtesy of PBS

Give $15/month or $180 all at once and receive the "American Epic Sessions" Combo: 2-DVD & 2-CD set or 2-Blu-ray & 2-CD set. This gift includes a KPBS License Plate Frame (if you're a new member). Also enjoy access to KPBS Passport and myKPBS Film Club. The 2-DVD set or 2-Blu-ray set only is at the $120 level, and the 2-CD set only is at $144.

Filmed and recorded at Vox Recording Studios in Los Angeles.

The series is written by Bernard MacMahon, Allison McGourty, Duke Erikson and William Morgan.


All three episodes from the series are available for viewing on demand for a limited time. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.


The companion book, AMERICAN EPIC, will be available May 2 from Touchstone. Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty’s fascinating account, written with the assistance of prize-winning author Elijah Wald, continues the journey of the series with a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible journey across America searching for these recordings and eyewitness accounts.

It features additional stories, exclusive never-before-seen photographs, and unearthed artwork. It also contains contributions from many of the musicians who participated, including Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nelson, and Steve Martin all of which will reveal a new understanding of America to the world and future generations.


AMERICAN EPIC is on Facebook, Google +, Instagram, and you can follow @AmericanEpic on Twitter. #AmericanEpic

Q&A with Taj Mahal and Producers

PBS talks with blues legend Taj Mahal and the producers of AMERICAN EPIC about the roots of sound recording and "the first time America heard itself."

The Big Bang

Travel to 1920s Tennessee as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Memphis Jug Band make their first records with producer Ralph Peer on a revolutionary portable recording machine, creating the first recordings of R&B and country songs.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.