Tom and Lucy Warlick have written a book on the WBT Briarhoppers, an “accidental” hillbilly band formed to perform on Charlotte, NC radio station WBT in 1934. The group was formed when an advertiser, Consolidated Drug Trade Company of Chicago, indicated a desire for a hillbilly-themed show. They remained on the air until 1951.
The band continued to perform through numerous membership changes, and with only brief periods of dormancy, has been active to this day. In May of 2006, the North Carolina State Legislature passed a Joint Resolution honoring The Briarhoppers, and WBT founder Charles Crutchfield.
WTB Briarhoppers – Eight Decades of a Bluegrass Band Made for Radio will be published later this year by McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Co-author Tom Warlick befriended The Briarhoppers through his ability to mimic the playing style of their banjo player, the late Shannon Grayson. Tom tells us that when original band member Don White passed away a few years ago, Dwight Moody – fiddler with the modern iteration of the group – asked if Tom and his wife would consider compiling a history of The Briarhoppers.
Tom had written for both Bluegrass Unlimited and Banjo NewsLetter, and Lucy is an award-winning poet. They accepted the opportunity with relish.
“It has taken about three years to write it. During the process, we interviewed John Rumble of the Country Music Hall of Fame (and got access to their research files), Dr. Tom Hanchett of the Levine Museum of the New South, Doc Watson, David Holt, Wade Mainer, the late Janette Carter (the daughter of AP and Sara Carter – this was her last interview), Curly Seckler, Doc Childre (the son of the late Opry star Lew Childre), George Hamilton IV, Bill Anderson, WSM radio DJs, among others. It is full of old pictures made during the 1930s, up to the present. Stories include the Monroe Brothers and the Carter Family’s time at WBT in Charlotte, and their relationships with the BHoppers, as well as the many opportunities the BHoppers had to become members of the Grand Ole Opry.
The book covers the gamut from funny stories on the road with the group to the time they were almost murdered by a drunken band mate.”
Despite its rich history in southern American folk music, WBT now functions as a news/talk station, but they maintain a very detailed history of the station’s 85 years on air at the WBT web site.
Tom tells us that only a few members of the early group remain.
“To date, the following pre-1940 BHoppers are living: Tex Martin (aka rockabilly star Martin Schopp) and Billie Burton Daniels (the little blonde girl in the early photos)… The only post 1940 BHoppers who were on the radio program who are still with us are Roy ‘Whitey’ Grant and Eleanor Bryan Fields.”
McFarland indicates that a Fall/Winter 2007 release is anticipated.