About Homer Briarhopper
"I Am Just What I Am" was the name of one of his popular solo recordings, but that doesn't seem to have inspired anyone to get his name right.
He was born Homer Lee Drye and used the professional name of Homer Drye until he became involved in the early '30s with the Briarhoppers, an old-time string band originally created for radio broadcasts on WBT out of Charlotte. He was just one of many, many old-time and country pickers and singers involved with this group, which was still a working entity in the new millennium. But Drye was one of two early members of this group that absconded with something other than a few WBT royalty checks, as in the group's name.
He became Homer Briarhopper after that, but despite the relatively high profile of the group, some of his recordings were issued under the name of Homer Brierhopper, while other recording companies further mutated the name to Horner Brierhopper. All of these variations are the same person; the only one who is not Homer Briarhopper is the early country artist Pappy Brierhopper, who was actually a chap named Johnny Macalester. His name is also spelled John McAllister in some Briarhopper research projects and it is assumed that Pappy Briarhopper was the real stage name he was trying for, record company typesetters notwithstanding.
The earliest studio photographs of the Briarhoppers display an extended Appalachian style string band, including a mandolinist whose instrument is almost bigger than he is, two fiddlers, a guitarist, an upright bassist, a banjoist, and a girl who seems to be holding a fife, although it could also be the sawed off barrel of a shotgun. Coming up with a complete list of Briarhoppers members was declared a statistical impossibility by the state of North Carolina and apparently figuring out who each of the musicians in the aforementioned picture is as well. Other members from this period include Clarence Etters, Jane Bartlett, Billie Burton, and Thorpe Westerfield.
Eventually, the lineup would become somewhat more consolidated behind the country duo of Whitey & Hogan, who wandered in from nearby Gastonia. These two players, Arval Hogan and Roy "Whitey" Grant, became closely associated with the Briarhoppers both in the early days and in a later reincarnation, and also had their own following as a duo. This was the course many early members of this group followed, including Drye, who began his recording career with various configurations of the Briarhoppers, then went on to cut some solo recordings for both Bluebird and Decca. His sides included tunes such as the inviting, fast-moving "Let's Ride That Plane" and the beautiful, "scentimental" "When the Roses Bloom." Making use of his broadcast experience, Homer Briarhopper spent his later years as the host of an early morning Raleigh television show, one of several charming if somewhat corny North Carolina performers of this ilk that also included Arthur "Boogie" Smith, Claude Casey, and Fred Kirby.
Stashing his bald head under a cowboy hat, the chubby and friendly Drye still sang and played guitar, but also served as an emcee, guiding members of the band and special guests through their featured spots. These shows, although less than appreciated at the time by the intelligentsia, are now considered to be an important part of the early country radio tradition in which just spinning records or reading news broadcasts was never considered entertaining enough and live bands were a regular feature.
Both Drye's show and the one hosted by Smith were shunted to the early mornings as a result of the major networks gobbling up more and more of their affiliates' time for their own programming. Thus Homer Briarhopper & the Daybreak Gang found itself playing to an audience of early risers and insomniacs. While old-time music scholars sometimes feel great pangs of guilt about such circumstances, it wasn't really that much different than the actual radio heyday when performers in towns such as Winston-Salem would stagger in to host shows beginning at six in the morning. The Daybreak Gang band was a sort of country repertory company playing classics, obscurities, current hits, and sometimes a gospel tune. The group also worked regularly at gigs around the area, a typical venue being a celebration marking the opening of a new mobile home lot. The group also worked regularly at gigs around the area, a typical venue being a celebration marking the opening of a new mobile home lot. In the '70s, the show was finally canceled. Veterans of this production include the fine alternative country performer Phil Lee, the drummer in this band at only 12 years old. Once off the air for good, Drye lived on another decade before passing away in the early '80s. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi