Claude Casey

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Claude Casey is part of an elite group of early country & western performers associated with the Charlotte, NC, broadcasting scene. Just like his peers Fred Kirby and Arthur "Guitar Boogie"…
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Claude Casey is part of an elite group of early country & western performers associated with the Charlotte, NC, broadcasting scene. Just like his peers Fred Kirby and Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, Casey's career was sort of like a lake in a Charlotte subdivision, collecting the run-off from a variety of mountain streams and rivers to the north, and the main current feeding in was old-time Appalachian music. He was closely associated with the Briarhoppers band and the entertainingly cornpone duo of Johnnie & Jack, in the latter group involved in material that in retrospect is considered borderline early rock & roll. He doubled as a Western actor like Kirby but with a bit more success. On a much smaller scale than Briarhoppers founder Charles H. Crutchfield, Casey became a radio station owner himself after decades of performing on them. He became the founder, president, and general manager of WJES-AM and WKSX-FM radio stations in Johnston, SC, completing a kind of gradual arc he had been making since his birth close to the same region back in 1912.

Casey was raised in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and supposedly began his show-business career by hitchhiking from Danville to New York City for a chance to appear on Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour. But he was playing music and performing at every stop along the way. From his teen years, Casey is said to have traveled the country performing on street corners as well as radio shows. He formed the Pine State Playboys in 1938, and in this capacity began cutting sides of what people were calling Western music. This material has been welcomed into the great, somewhat holy archive known as historical Western swing. By the end of the year, his first band had recorded ten songs for RCA Victor Bluebird, a label heavily pushing the new popularity of cowboy and country music. As the next decade started, his career was going well, the recordings having led to parts in several cowboy movies for the man now often known as the Carolina Hobo. In Hollywood, Casey scored big the first time out with the Republic Pictures production Swing Your Partner, which also happened to be the first movie for a certain cowgirl named Dale Evans.

Daily broadcasts began in 1941, as well as with WBT, meaning the wanderer had to keep at least within spitting distance of the messy juncture of I-85 and I-77, i.e. Charlotte. In the Carolinas, he became known as the master of ceremonies and lead vocalist of the Briarhoppers, a group whose home base was WBT; first radio, then television. While never a breathtaking old-time music group, the Briarhoppers have always involved fine old-time players and singers, and nobody can say the idea didn't have longevity. The group, most of the time helmed by the talent duo of Whitey & Hogan, stayed together until the mid-'50s, then re-formed in the '80s, and hasn't stopped since Casey himself began focusing less on performing in the '50sl an era when many traditional country players found themselves taking a backseat to rockers. Already, by 1951, during the Savannah River Plant boom, he had gone to work in Georgia at the Augusta radio station WGAC, and was doing music only part-time. He toured and recorded with Cecil Campbell and the Tennessee Ramblers, and what might have been his last recording session was done in 1952 for MGM, and with a first-class budget. Fred Rose, early country trailfinder in the studios, was producing and Chet Atkins is on the logs as the session guitarist.

The Briarhoppers broke up in the mid-'50s due to a lack of much financial return and the end of the WBT contract, and Casey headed south across the "Carolina border" to begin what would be his radio empire. The state of South Carolina welcomed him back, In 1996, he was a winner of the South Carolina Folk Heritage Award. In his later years, he was particularly proud of his continuing friendships with the withering cowpoke Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Casey was still creating a new songs in his 80s, and new recording artists continued to have a habit of snatching examples of his songwriting up for new cuts. The cheesy 1949 film Square Dance Jubilee provides on-screen time for Casey and his band (as well as the strange country legend Spade Cooley).