This eclectic band played music rooted in the Southern Appalachians and was founded by banjo player John Rector (b. c. 1900, USA, d. 28 August 1985, USA), the owner of a general store in Fries, Virginia. Rector recorded in New York for OKeh Records with Henry Whitter and James Sutphin as Whitter’s Virginia Breakdowners. In Galax, Virginia, in 1924, Rector heard guitarist Joe Hopkins, his singer brother, Al Hopkins (b. 1889, d. 1932) and fiddler Alonzo Elvis ‘Tony’ Alderman (b. 1900, d. 1983), and persuaded them to record with him in New York. The Victor Recording Company cut the first sides by the as yet unnamed band of whom Al Hopkins was nominal leader. Owing to poor microphone placement, the results were technically inadequate. The group returned to New York in January 1925, this time to OKeh, where A&R man Ralph Peer impulsively named the band the Hill Billies following a joking remark made by Al Hopkins. Among the first pieces recorded were ‘Silly Bill’ and ‘Old Time Cinda’ and in April they also cut ‘Cripple Creek’ and ‘Sally Ann’. Other songs in the band’s repertoire were ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe’, ‘Black Eyed Susie’, ‘Bristol Tennessee Blues’ and ‘Round Town Gals’.
The Hill Billies then switched to Vocalion Records, retaining their name, and also recorded for the associated Brunswick Records as Al Hopkins And His Buckle Busters. The term hill-billies had been around since 1900, but was not in general use. Now, the term was picked up by others in showbusiness and the group incorporated themselves as Al Hopkins’ Original Hill Billies. Using the Hopkins family home in Washington, DC, as its base for tours of schools, political rallies, stage shows and radio broadcasts, which included appearing on WRC, the band became very popular. In May 1925, fiddler Charlie Bowman (b. 1889, d. 1962) joined the band, having met up with them at a fiddlers’ convention (sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan). Others who played in the band included fiddlers Uncle ‘Am’ Stuart, Fred Roe, ‘Dad’ Williams and Ed Belcher, harmonica player Elmer Hopkins, guitarists Elbert Bowman and Walter ‘Sparkplug’ Hughes, slide guitarist Frank Wilson, banjo players Jack Reedy and Walter Bowman, bassist Henry Rowe, and ukulele player John Hopkins. In 1929, the band made a Vitaphone short film that was used as a trailer for Al Jolson’s The Singing Fool (1928). Not long after the death of Al Hopkins in a road accident the group folded.