Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About The Artist
Garnet Benton. Warren, who worked with several country music groups in the Carolinas in the 1930's, eventually gained his principal fame through a long association as fiddler with the Briarhoppers at WBT radio and later.
He was also proficient on the hand saw and almost equally renowned as a comedian. Actually he gained proficiency on several instruments and worked as a photographer for WBTV for many years as well.
Warren was a native of Mt. Airy, North Carolina near where the piedmont rises to form the Blue Ridge Mountains (also the model for Andy Griffith's fictional Mayberry). Pilot Mountain is also close by. He picked up musical instruments from an early age and remembered hearing the blind vocalist Ernest Thompson (1892-1961) who sang and played in the towns from Mt. Airy to Winston-Salem. Thompson also became the first male country singer from the Tar Heel State to make recordings in 1924.
As Warren became older he formed a local band known as Warren's Four Aces to play dances and also to compete in area fiddler convention (aka, contests). He then went "professional" with Jack Richie and the Blue Ridge Mountaineers, who played at WSOC Charlotte in 1931, which was also the same year that he married his love of a lifetime, Inez Turney.
A little later, Warren hit the big time by joining the Tennessee Ramblers, then led by Dick Hartman (1898-1962) a West Virginia native who had organized the band in Pittsburgh. They went to Rochester, New York and finally to WBT, the biggest Charlotte station. The Ramblers also recorded for Bluebird, sometimes as the Washboard Wonders and Hartman's Heart Breakers in addition to their own name.
They also made two movies with Gene Autry, "Ride, Ranger, Ride" and "The Yodelin' Kid from Pine Ridge", both made in 1936. Warren is listed as an uncredit performer in the movies as "Elmer Warren." Dick Pitts interviewed Dick Hartman upon the Ramblers' return from Hollywood about the movie making experience. He said the movie was made in 8 days and they worked 15-16 hours a day. They worked all but two days in the studio. He related a funny story about Elmer (Garnet Warren).
In the first scene, we were on horses galloping down the road behind the sound and camera truck. Now Elmer (Garnet Warren) had never been on a horse before, and the first thing we knew, he'd pulled away from us, passed the sound truck, and galloped on down the road. Elmer didn't know how to stop the horse, so he let go the reins and yelled, "Waw! Waw!". We had to shoot that scene over, and from then on when we were supposed to be riding horses, a double would take our parts. However, they did let me ride my own horse.
Later the Ramblers went to Atlanta, but Warren remained in North Carolina, going to WPTF to play with the Swingbillies, a group that included the son of Charlie Poole and future Tobacco Tag members, Harvey Ellington and Sam Pridgen. By the end of 1937 he was back at WBT where he joined the Briarhoppers that became his band from then on.
Fiddlin' Hank Warren never made any recordings under his own name. He had earlier supported Hank Briarhopper (Homer Drye) on a Bluebird session as well as the various Tennessee Rambler groups. Later he cut discs with Whitey and Hogan, various Brirhopper combinations, the Carolina Playboys, and probably Fred Kirby's Sonora acts.
After the Briarhoppers became more or less inactive after 1953, he earned his living primarily as a photographer for WBTV television. When the quintet of Whitey, Hogan, Don White and Shannon Grayson re-activated, Hank was right there with fiddle and saw although by that time he had abandoned his comic persona which had been as prominent as his fiddling during the 1940s. He fiddled on all the Briarhopper recordings in the 1970's and 1980's on both the Old Homestead and Lamon labels.
By 1992, Fiddlin' Hank at age 83 began to wear down. Initially Homer Sherrill and then from 1993, Dwight Moody replaced him. Hank lived on for four more years before he died in 1997. His wife, Inez Turney Warren, passed away on June 27, 2000 at the age of 89. The couple raised four children, Robert, Roy and Joy (twins) and Barbara Jean.
In his obituary published after his passing, Whitey Hogan was quoted as saying:
Hank is (was) the best comic fiddle player that any of us have ever seen.His obituary also stated that another Mount Airy native was Andy Griffith who played guitar and Hank would join him in jam sessions. In January of 1998, Bob Inman tells of Whitey telling him that Hank could fiddle and do a bird imitation at the same time.
Credits & Sources