In the 1930s and 40's, whether they performed mountain music, hymns or western swing, they were called—and called themselves— “hillbillies.” It was not until the late 50's and 60's that the term fell out of favor, and became “country and western.”

 

 

 

 

Sound Vault | Hillbillies

Introduction

Hill-billy Tunes

In its early decades WBT was a magnet for musicians. They used whatever talent they had to escape the dead-end labor of the mills and farms. The exposure they got on WBT's big 50,000-watt signal helped them get fans, public appearances and, for some, record contracts. At any time of day you might hear one of their 15-minute shows, live or by transcription.

We've assembled a selection of artists and songs, some from scratchy old 78s, some “restored” to improve the sound quality.

To hear their songs, choose the singers from the list at right.

The Briarhoppers

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Briarhoppers-spring-1980

In 1980 the original Briarhoppers performed in perhaps their last recording session, for an album produced at Dwight Moody's Lamon Records. These are the only LP recordings in this "Hillbily Tunes" grouping.

The Carolina Playboys

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Who were the Playboys? Turns out, they were Briarhoppers under another name. Why? We get the answer from Tom and Lucy Warlick's book, The WBT Briarhoppers: Eight Decades of a Bluegrass Band Made for Radio.

The WBT Briarhoppers were surprised to be on a newly released CD by Cattle Records out of Europe in 2006. The CD, The Carolina Playboys Play and Sing Country Music, were from recordings made by Sonora records in the 1940s.

Roy "Whitey" Grant remembers when those recordings were made:

Me and Hogan and Don White, Fred Kirby, Claude Casey, Nat Richardson, Dewey Price, got the itch one day and we wanted to record some songs. A good friend of ours ... I forget his name, now ... was an engineer at WBT and lived off of Park Road in Charlotte. We told him that we wanted to do some recordings and he told us that he could record us at his house.
We wanted to do something under another name since we had done everything under the "Briarhopper" name, so we came up with the name "The Carolina Playboys." We did a whole bunch of songs that day, with me and Hogan and Dewey Price doing the singing, and Fred and Don did some, and it really came out nice. I thought that was the end of it until somebody, possibly Fred Kirby or Claude Casey, sent the tapes to Sonora Records and, all of the sudden, there were records out under the name "The Carolina Playboys." Didn't make a dime off of it. Now you tell me that it is on a CD from Europe. I am 90 years old now. I can tell my friends and neighbors that I just put out a new CD although it was recorded in the 1940s.

Roy Grant died on September 17, 2010.

Cecil Campbell

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Cecil CampbellCecil Campbell's first association with the Tennessee Ramblers was in the late '30s when the group was headed by Dick Hartman. Cecil, although a singer, was often noted for his steel guitar instrumentals, such as "Gomango," included here. (Go, man, go. Get it?)

Claude Casey

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Claude CaseyIn the mid 1930's Claude Casey appeared on Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour, after which he toured with the show as "the Carolina Hobo." This led to a spell with Fats Sanders's Country Cousins - featuring Effie, the Hillbilly Strip Dancer. In 1938, he formed his own group, the Pine State Playboys. In the '40s he was the lead vocalist, and sometimes master of ceremonies, of the Briarhoppers, and appeared in a few low-budget Hollywood films, including "Swing Your Partner" (Dale Evans' first movie). In the 50's Casey toured and sang with the Tennessee Ramblers, and with his own group was a regular on station WGAC in Augusta, Ga. He was a prolific song writer; perhaps his most famous was "Send Me the pillow That You Dream On." In later years he became a radio station owner-operator in Johnston, SC. Claude Casey died in 1999.

Shannon Grayson

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King Records, labelShannon played and sang in the Briarhoppers, and for a time had his own group, the Golden Valley Boys, and probably showed up in other groups. Note the label lists his co-writers for this song as "Grant-Hogan," of the Whitey & Hogan duo, a clue as to how the players were like interchangable parts of the Hillbilly Machine.

Fred Kirby

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Fred KirbyIn his younger days Fred was quite a singer, and could reach those high notes with the best of them. If you're only acquainted with him through his "Little Rascals" affiliation, you're in for a surprise. Here are some of his biggest hits, the very biggest being "Atomic Power."


J. E. & Wade Mainer

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Wade and J. E. were brothers, raised on a farm near Weaverville, N. C. in Buncombe County. Wade was a member of J. E.'s Mountainers for a couple of years in the mid 30's, then went out on his own. He lived in Concord for a time. The Zeke in the photo is Zeke Morris, who is featured on the two recordings with Wade.