Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About the Group
About The Group
The mandolin-guitar vocal duet team of Roy "Whitey" Grant (B: April 7, 1916; D: September 17, 2010) and Arval Hogan (B: July, 24, 1911; D: September 12, 2003) formed one of the longest serving acts in the history of country music. From their origins about 1936 until Hogan's death in 2003 they provided entertainment for their fans.
After beginning as a radio act first weekly in Spartanburg, South Carolina and weekdays in Gastonia, North Carolina and recording for Decca in 1939, they moved to WBT Charlotte in 1941 becoming part of the WBT Briarhoppers where they were in essence an act within the larger Briarhopper group. While their appeal was primarily regional, they did at times reach a national audience.
Arval Hogan and Roy Grant were both products of the Carolina Piedmont textile mill culture that provided country music with so many major figures in the pre-World War II years. Hogan developed quality mandolin skills while Grant played guitar. Like other mill workers they first played to entertain their neighbors and then got a regular weekly program at WSPA before obtaining a weekday program at new station WGNC in Gastonia sponsored by Efird Department Store where they were known as the Efird Boys. At this time they did their show by days and worked the second shift at Firestone, making the fibers which went into tires.
During November 1939 they went to New York where they recorded sixteen numbers for Decca including one of the first discs of the Albert Brumley gospel classic "Turn Your Radio On." The twosome remained at WGNC until September 1941 when they were asked to become part of the better known Briarhoppers at powerful WBT in Charlotte. Not sure that they would make the grade at WBT they shifted their work time to the third shift until they were certain they made the grade in Charlotte.
The Briarhoppers had a 4:30 PM half-hour slot which made a first or second shift job incompatible.
However, after six months Whitey and Hogan moved to Charlotte and became full-time musicians. The Briarhoppers were a long-running WBT act for many years, sponsored by a Chicago firm that manufactured Peruna cough medicine, Koler-Bak hair dye, and other products. At one time or another membership included such key figures as Claude Casey, Shannon Grayson, Fred Kirby, Hank Warren, and Don White among others (with separate entries on each in hillbilly-music.com). They played live shows throughout the Piedmont region, sometimes in two units to satisfy demand. Ironically, they usually recorded under their own names although other members might furnish instrumental support.
Through the 1940's the duet recorded four sides for Sonora, eight for DeLuxe, and two for Cowboy. Their best-known songs included their answer to Fred Kirby's hit "There's a Power Greater Than Atomic" and covers of "Have I Told You Lately that I Love You," "Tramp on the Street," and the ever popular "Jesse James," with Shannon Grayson helping out on bluegrass banjo.
With changing times the Briarhopper days, with the sponsors cancelling the program, came to an end. Although Whitey and Hogan appeared on other programs for a time, they soon went back to being part-time and the occasional musicians.
Eventually, both of them became letter carriers in Charlotte. Hank Warren became the WBT photographer, no longer a fiddler or comedian. Fred Kirby was active with children's television, and Claude Casey became owner of his own station.
The Briarhoppers were a local legend in North Carolina. Articles abound of their various reunions. Emery Wister wrote in 1972:
Once upon a time, long before hillbilly musicians became country and western artists, a string band whipped up the rustic rhythms six days a week on radio station WBT here. The Briarhoppers they called themselves...Charlie Crutchfield, then president of the WBT parent company Jefferson Standard Broadcasting Co. announced in that article that the group had played on more than 3,400 programs between 1940 and 1951.
Mr. Wister's article indicated the group was getting together for the first time since they went off the air in 1972. No music though. They were just going to gather at the Steak Palace on ALbemarle Road and have a dinner. There was the original five, then three latecomers to the group. There was Roy Grant and Arvall A. Hogan (Whitey and Hogan) who worked for the Post Office. Elmer Hank Warren was then a photo lab man for WBT-WBTV. He was known as Hank Briarhopper and provided the comedy and fiddle playing. Claude Casey was a star and a soloist. Fred Kirty sang and played guitar. Big Bill Davis played the violin and was retired at the time of the 1927 reunion. They 'latecomers' to the group inludeed steel guitar player Nat Richardson, Shannon Grayson who played five string banjo and Don White. Roy told Mr. Wister that the group would be in for a swinging, but sober Saturday dinner. "That's because none of us drink. The highway patrolmen used to say you might find a Briarhopper asleep behind the wheel in the car but he'd always be sober."
In 1982, tne North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources selected Whitey and Hogan to represent North Carolina at the World's Fair. Whitey was 66 at the time, Hogan was 70.
White and Hogan kept performing together for years. In 1987, they appeared at the ninth annual Old-Time Radio Reunion that was sponsored by radio station WJCW in Johnson City, TN and the East Tennessee Musicians Cooperative. A picture accompanying a news article of the event shows Hogan's granddaughter, Kristin Scott sitting in on their set. The interview touched on the stars they encountered in their career. Red Foley was one, "...one of the finest men we ever knew...he was so easy going and he loved to have fun. He loved people" Hogan said. One of their favorites was Tex Ritter. "...heck of a nice guy, most generous man you've ever seen. Tex had a hit song called "The Boll Weevil" at the time and when they were talking with Tex, they told him they were were singing it too. Hogan said they heard Tex on the radio and when he did the song he managed to work in "Whitey and Hogan as boll weevils in each verse." The two indicated that the Delmore Brothers were always their idols.
In 2002, the three surviving members of the Briarhoppers, Roy (Whitey) Grant, Arval Hogan and Don White were honored with the Brown-Hudson award by the North Carolina Folklore Society. Past winners included Doc and Merle Watson. The award goes to artists and groups who have significantly contributed to North Carolina culture.
A year later in 2003, the group received the Folk Heritage Award from the North Carolina Arts Council. By this time, due to their age, they were doing three shows a month as opposed to the old routine of three shows a week. The event honoring them was to be at North Carolina State University and would be hosted by Grammy-winning traditional musician and storyteller, David Holt.
After White, Hogan and Warren retired they began to play together more often, joined by the somewhat younger Grant and Grayson. Realizing the increasing demand for their music with the rising popularity of bluegrass festivals, these former Briarhoppers reactivated their group and played for several more years and recorded albums on the Old Homestead and Lamon labels. The five played together until 1991 when Grayson was diagnosed with Alzheimers and dropped out, replaced by the younger David Deese. Then Warren, the oldest by then (along with White), began to slip and Homer Sherrill- another Carolina fiddling legend-filled in until he was permanently replaced by Dwight Moody.
Hogan's demise ended his and Whitey' sixty-six years as a team. Whitey suffered a heart attach in the weeks before his death. Up to that point, Whitey and Hogan would still get together and sing and play. In Hogan's obituary, Joe DePriest quotes Whitey:
"He was closer than a brother. We sang with one voice."The others continued working locally and as a group doing mostly music as art in schools, but when White died in 2005, Whitey began to conclude that the Briarhoppers would pass into extinction with his death. Deese and Moody had earlier thoughts of continuing the group, but ironically neither of them survived Grant's September 2010 passing for long.
Roy (Whitey) Grant passed away in September of 2010. When his wife had passed away in 2007, they had been married 73 years. An obituary noted that the two of them often described themselves as "two little dirty-faced mill boys who made good." Joe DePriest included a quote from H. A. Thompson, a former WBT radio personality:
"He traveled the journey well, made friends along the way, and gave us music to make us happy."
Credits & Sources