Peer spent some years working for Columbia Records, in Kansas City, Missouri until 1920 when he was hired as recording director of General Phonograph's OKeh Records label in New York. In the same year he supervised the recording of Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues", reputed to be the first blues recording specifically aimed at the African-American market.
He is also credited with the first country music recording, Fiddlin' John Carson's "Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane"/"That Old Hen Cackled" and "The Rooster's Goin' To Crow". In August 1926, while talent hunting in the southern states with Victor Records he recorded both Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family in the same session at a makeshift studio in Bristol, Tennessee, known as the Bristol Barn Session. This momentous event could be described as the genesis of country music as we know it today. Rodgers, who later became known as the Father Of Country Music, cut "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep", while the Carters' first sides included "Single Girl, Married Girl".
Peer went on to publish and record other country artists and songs through his company Southern Music Publishing Company. He expanded into jazz. Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie were on Southern's roster. Then into popular music with songs such as Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell's "Georgia On My Mind".
The company became very successful and influential in the 1930s. It hit the big time through Peer's introducing Central American music to the world and in 1940 there came another watershed when the dispute between the ASCAP and US radio stations, led to the inauguration of the rival Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). BMI supported music by blues, country and hillbilly artists, and Peer, through his Peer-International company, soon contributed a major part of BMI's catalogue.
During and after World War II Peer published songs such as "Deep In The Heart Of Texas " and "You Are My Sunshine" (sung by Jimmie Davis, covered by Bing Crosby and many others), "Humpty Dumpty Heart" (Glenn Miller), "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" (Russ Morgan), "The Three Caballeros" ( Andrews Sisters), "Say A Prayer For The Boys Over There" (Deanna Durbin), "I Should Care" and "The Coffee Song" (both Frank Sinatra). In 1945, he published Jean Villard and Bert Reisfeld's composition "Les Trois Cloches" ("The Three Bells"), which was recorded by Edith Piaf.
In the 1950s Peer published "Mockingbird Hill", a million seller for Patti Page, "Sway" ( Dean Martin and Bobby Rydell), and the novelty "I Know An Old Lady" (Burl Ives). Then came rock 'n' roll and Southern published hits by Buddy Holly, Little Richard, The Big Bopper and The Platters.
Peer handed over the reins of his company to his son, Ralph Peer II, in the mid-50s and devoted himself to horticulture, growing and becoming an expert in camellias. He died in Hollywood in 1960.
Ralph Peer was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1984.