THE CALLAHAN Brothers were among the finest of the many hillbilly brother acts that emerged in the early 1930s. If their work today lacks the stature of that of the Monroe Brothers, the Delmores or the Blue Sky Boys, they nevertheless carved out an important niche with their distinctive duet yodelling.
They were born and grew up in Madison County, North Carolina, an area steeped in Appalachian musicianship. Walter, later to be renamed Joe, was born in 1910 and his brother Homer, long known as Bill, followed two years later. Both of their parents were musical: their father supplemented his income as a postmaster and grocer by teaching voice and their mother was an accomplished organist. Walter learnt to play the guitar while Homer became proficient on both mandolin and bass. In addition, they were exposed to some of the earliest hillbilly records, absorbing the music of figures like Riley Puckett, Jimmie Rodgers and the now largely forgotten yodelling duo of Fleming and Townsend.
A performance at the annual Rhododendron Festival in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1933 demonstrated their yodelling ability and led to their first recording session in New York in January 1934. They cut 14 sides for ARC, all of which were released, including their most famous number, "She's My Curly Headed Baby". They returned to the studio in August, where they were joined on four numbers by their sister Alma. Homer also got to cut several solo sides including "Rattlesnake Daddy" and "My Good Gal Has Thrown Me Down".
By now, too, they were enjoying a burgeoning career on radio. Work at WWNC Asheville was followed by stints at WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, at WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, at KWTO in Springfield, Missouri, and, from 1941, at KRLD in Dallas, Texas. It was whilst at KRLD that they met the promoter Gus Foster, with …