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CALLAHAN, HOMER

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CALLAHAN, HOMER (1912–2002). Homer (Bill) Callahan, bluegrass, hillbilly, and western musician, was born in Laurel, North Carolina, on March 27, 1912. Callahan's most significant impact on Texas music was his role in one of the state's most popular radio shows, the Big D Jamboree. At the time of his birth, Laurel was a small town in the largely Scots-Irish region of western North Carolina. This area was rich in musical traditions from the British Isles that undoubtedly influenced Callahan's musical development.

Callahan came from a musical family. His father taught voice in his spare time to supplement his income as a postman and grocery clerk. His mother was an accomplished organist. Callahan's sister Alma and especially his brother Walter were also talented musicians. A great deal of Callahan's future success in the music industry came from working with his brother. Callahan was skilled with several musical instruments and singing styles. He played the guitar, the string bass, and the mandolin. He was also an accomplished singer and yodeler. His principal styles were borrowed from the native sounds of his home state--bluegrass and hillbilly music. In addition, he listened to the popular singers of traditional country music, such as Ernest Stoneman, Riley Puckett, and Jimmie Rodgersqv.

His first break in the music business came in 1933 while he was performing at the annual Rhododendron Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. At this festival Callahan and his brother publicly demonstrated their yodeling ability, and their success led to their first recording session for ARC records in New York in January 1934. Homer and Walter recorded fourteen songs, including their most famous hit "She's My Curly Headed Baby." In addition to his work with his brother on the album, Callahan recorded solo numbers, such as "Rattlesnake Daddy" and "My Good Gal Has Thrown Me Down." He also completed a few tracks with his sister. The Callahan brothers embarked on successful careers in radio, working first at WWNC in Asheville, North Carolina, and then at jobs in Louisville, Wheeling, Cincinnati, Tulsa, and Springfield, Missouri. They published songbooks and continued making recordings, including one of the first recorded versions of the classic folk song "The House of the Rising Sun" in 1935.

The Callahan brothers moved to Texas by 1941. During this time Homer and his brother Walter altered their musical style to accommodate the growing popularity of cowboy music made popular by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. As a part of their move away from their hillbilly and bluegrass roots, the Callahan brothers changed their names. Homer became Bill, and Walter took the name Joe. In 1941 the two signed a contract with Decca Records and cut seven songs. But their change in style resulted in only moderate success. They achieved their greatest fame through their part on the Big D Jamboree on KRLD in Dallas. This early, successful barn dance was broadcast every Saturday night from the Sportatorium and included other well-known performers, such as Charline Arthur, Johnny Carroll,qqv and Roy Acuff. The brothers also achieved success during this time as sidemen for performers such as Wesley Tuttle and Marty Robbins. They quit recording together in October 1951.

During the latter part of his career Homer Callahan undertook a variety of projects. In 1945 he teamed with his brother in the movie Springtime in Texas with Jimmy Wakely and went on a nationwide tour to promote the film. He later went on a tour of the East Coast with Ray Whitely and in 1947 he recorded a solo for Cowboy Records in Philadelphia. For a period starting in 1951 Callahan worked as the opening act for the young Lefty Frizzellqv and served briefly as Frizzell's manager.

Eventually both Homer and his brother retired from the music industry and took up other careers. Walter went back to Asheville, where he became a grocer like his father, and died on September 10, 1971. Homer remained in Dallas and made a living as a photographer. He died in Dallas on September 12, 2002, and was survived by his son Buddy, his grandsons Kelly and Michael, and five great-grandchildren. Homer Callahan, along with his brother Walter, represented the rapid expansion and popularity of country music on the radio from the 1940s to the 1960s and played a key role in its development.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Richard Carlin, The Big Book of Country Music: A Biographical Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin, 1995). Paul Kingsbury, ed., The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). The Independent (London), September 16, 2002. Kevin Coffey and David Dennard, Notes to CDThe Big "D" Jamboree LIVE! Volumes 1 & 2 (Dragon Street Records, Inc., 2000).

Michael Morawski

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Michael Morawski, "CALLAHAN, HOMER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcaek), accessed November 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on August 30, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.