About The Group
The Callahan Brothers ranked among the more significant and popular brother duets of the 1930's and intermittently for some years afterwards. Natives of the Asheville, North Carolina area, Homer and Walter worked on local radio and at the folk festival managed by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, securing a contract with the American Record Corporation. This led to radio work at such major radio outlets as WHAS Louisville and WWVA Wheeling, and eventually KRLD Dallas.
While Walter sometimes dropped out for brief spells, Homer continued in radio as a bass player or comedian in some musical capacity until his brother returned. When the Callahans went to Texas, they dropped their given first names and became Bill and Joe. In addition to their vocal duet, the Callahans were also well known for duet yodeling. After Joe retired from music in the early 1950's, Bill continued work as a bass player until he was past 80.
An appearance at the Rhododendron Festival at Asheville in 1933 attracted attention from both radio and record folk. In January 1934, the boys journeyed to New York for their first session and they did their early airwave work at local WWNC, but soon moved to the larger WHAS in Louisville. A popular early recording was W. C. Handy's "St Louis Blues," but their original "She's My Curly Headed Baby" became their best number. "Little Poplar Log House," which was covered by the Carter Family, probably ranked second. On their next session in 1934, sister Alma Callahan joined them on three songs which were released as the Callahan Family. The Brothers remained with the American Record Corporation through 1939.
In 1935, the Callahans moved to Louisville and station WHAS where they were managed by Joe L. Frank, later known for his relationship with Pee Wee King and his Golden West Cowboys. The Brothers also made the acquaintance of Roy Hobbs who would play mandolin on their 1936 recording session. These later recordings included such songs as the traditional "Banks of the Ohio" and "Katie Dear;" covers of songs like Cliff Carlisle's "End of Memory Lane;" new ones of their own like "Gonna Quit My Rowdy Ways," a rewrite of Jimmie Rodgers' "North Carolina Moon" (from Mississippi Moon"); and the lesser-known team of Fleming and Townsend's "Gonna Quit Drinkin' when I Die" which showcased their duet yodeling.
After leaving Louisville, the Callahans spent a few months at WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia. Walter decided to take a leave and Homer went to WLW Cincinnati where he worked with Red Foley and some of the groups contracted to John Lair who was broadcasting his Renfro Valley Barn Dance complex while also working WLW's own Boone County Jamboree.
Some of the Lair contractees such as Violet Koehler and Daisy Lang of the Coon Creek Girls were becoming unhappy with Lair's low pay. Feeling less loyalty to him, the Ledford girls decided to leave and go west with the reunited Callahan Brothers first to KWTO, Springfield, Missouri; KVOO Tulsa and then to KRLD Dallas.
Once in Texas, Homer and Walter shortened their stage names to Bill and Joe and were known as such for the rest of their professional lives. Doing their last session for Columbia (formerly American Record Corp.), the Brothers were now managed by Gus Foster of Texas Roundup fame. They alternated broadcasting live from KRLD or from KWFT in Wichita Falls. They also made transcriptions for the Sellers Company in Ft. Worth.
The Callahan Brothers did their last pre-war recording session on April 22, 1941 cutting seven numbers for Decca, one of which was never released. Homer switched to bass on this session while 18-year old Paul Buskirk (newly arrived from West Virginia) played mandolin. Songs included "John Henry," a new unrecorded number by West Virginia composer Buddy Starcher (uncredited and probably learned from Buskirk), and "The're at Rest Together," a sad number about young lovers dying from consumption. It may have been the boys smoothest session.
By the end of the war they were slowing down. They did make a motion picture for Monogram starring Jimmy Wakely titled Springtime in Texas (1945). Afterward, Joe worked less; Bill often played bass and did comedy with other groups not only in Texas, but elsewhere as well. Most notably he did a long tour with singing cowboy Ray Whitley during which time, he made a single on the Philadelphia-based Cowboy label about 1947.
When Lefty Frizzell found sudden stardom in 1950-1951, Bill managed him for a time and the Callahan Brothers toured with him as an opening act. They also recorded eight more numbers on Columbia. None were hits, but they demonstrated that the Callahans could adapt to changing styles.
After this Joe went back to North Carolina and operated a grocery store, but returned for a few shows in the mid-sixties. He died in September 1971.
Bill continued to do comedy and play bass in Texas although his main occupation was working for an auto parts firm. By the 1970's he worked as a photographer when John Morris of Old Homestead Records and I met him as he was photographing members of a church for a directory.
He and John were working on what became the first (OH 90031) of four reissue albums. The others were two on the German label Cattle and one on BACM. Bill would call us periodically thereafter for several years. He died in Dallas at age 90.
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