A popular country and early bluegrass duo from the '30s, Whitey & Hogan were based out of sleepy Gastonia, NC, for many years before finally trudging up the road apiece to the big town of Charlotte. There, they established an expanded band named the Briarhoppers, which became something of a city institution as well as occasionally making the claim to being the longest-running band in the history of the universe. The two singing partners, Arval Hogan and Roy "Whitey" Grant, met while toiling in the same cotton mill in Gastonia, where they made a cord fabric that went into the fabrication of automobile tires. When the yabber got around to music, the two men realized they each had wanted to find a singing partner. They began performing in a churches in the Carolinas, a common venue in the early days of bluegrass due to the heavy content of gospel music in a typical program. This duo made no outlandish insertions into their own repertoire, but were fond of corn pone humor, including a routine in which they each wore about a dozen cowboy hats at once. They also liked to perform cowboy songs and wound up cutting a good version of the "Jesse James" saga for the aptly named Cowboy label. This track was eventually reissued on the first volume of The Early Years of Bluegrass, a fine series on the Rounder label. The excellent banjoist Shannon Grayson, himself a leader of the Golden Valley Boys, plays on this side and was frequently heard in the company of Whitey & Hogan. The original release was a boost upwards for sure, the song becoming the group's most requested item and leading to a chance to go to New York and cut for Decca, where a total of some 16 sides were eventually recorded. One of these records was one of the first versions of the old-time chestnut "Turn Your Radio On." Whitey & Hogan published their own song folio, Whitey & Hogan's Mountain Memories, in 1947. In 1949 and 1950, they also recorded for Sonora and continued a regular series of broadcasts and schoolhouse performances. Other gigs came via bookings by community groups and a theater circuit that sometimes engaged the group nightly for a month straight. A major step in the duo's career was building up the courage, as well as the repertoire, to audition for a new radio station when it opened its doors in Gastonia. The duo were given a program of their own for their trouble, sponsored by a department store. They were on for 15 minutes during each midday and had soon garnered another program featuring a remote broadcast from the window of a furniture store, where they would sit and pick. The pair would sometimes arrive out of breath at one broadcast, having run all the way across town from another. The talented friends picked up a loyal following in the Charlotte area with the Briarhoppers, but Grant was always convinced the listeners who were there to catch the popular Lone Rangers broadcast, which started just moments after the bluegrass and country music was done. Nonetheless, the Briarhoppers became a Charlotte "thing," much like the Speedway, Discovery Place, and the punk Milestone club. At one point, young people would look ill at the mention of this group's name, but by the time the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? came out, it was a different story. In the time between, there were lean years for sure. The Briarhoppers broke up in 1953 after enduring a lack of much financial return for their barnstorming. Hogan said goodbye and moved to Florida, but after a period of separation decided he wanted to be back together with his old partner, but not on a musical basis. They wound up living next door to each other, both working as mail carriers for the post office. The resurgence in interest in bluegrass at the end of the 20th century has gotten these reluctant mailmen in its power, however, and in 1996 a re-formed Briarhoppers featuring Whitey & Hogan was busy touring and cutting new albums.
Share this page