Kyle (Born 7 May 1915, West Virginia, USA, d. 3 March 1996, USA), John (Born 24 June 1918, West Virginia, USA, d. 21 December 1989, Swainsboro, Georgia, USA), Walter Butler (Born 17 January 1920, West Virginia, USA, d. 27 November 2000, Sevierville, Tennessee, USA) and Homer Bailes (Born 8 May 1922, West Virginia, USA) were raised in abject poverty on a small farm in Kanawha County, near Charleston, West Virginia, USA. Kyle was forced to abandon his education as soon as he was old enough to work to support the fatherless family. The boys had a guitar, which their mother managed to buy from a mail-order catalogue. In the early 30s, their half-brother, Jennings Thomas, who worked as a rodeo rider and musician, arrived home and created sufficient interest for he and Kyle to sing together on local radio. A few years later, the family moved to Charleston, where Johnny found work to keep his two siblings at school but soon looked for a musical career. The boys sang together locally and appeared in churches as the Hymn Singers, and Johnny soon joined with Kyle and Walter on a regular radio programme on WCHS. In 1937, Johnny Bailes and his close friend Red Sovine appeared as Smiley and Red the Singing Sailors, and also became members of Jim Pike's Carolina Tar Heels. For a short time in 1938, they played on WWVA Wheeling, but returned to Charleston when Sovine married. In 1939, Johnny formed a group known as the Happy Valley Folks, which included Skeets Williamson, his sister LaVerne (who became famous as Molly O'Day) and Little Jimmy Dickens, who was billed as the Singing Midget. They played regularly on WJLS Beckley and proved very popular. Walter and Kyle Bailes were playing with their group at WCHS and at WPAR, but also moved to Beckley. Early in 1941, both groups disbanded and Johnny and Walter appeared on WCHS as a duo, although on occasions they were joined by their brothers. They moved to WSAZ Huntington, where their popularity grew as a result of their radio show, Tri-State Jamboree. In 1943, their friendship with Roy Acuff led to their becoming members of the Grand Ole Opry (Johnny and Walter became the first West Virginians to star on the show). Kyle worked at various stations and after Homer's military service, both eventually joined their brothers in Nashville. Late in 1946, they recorded for King Records, and about the same time, they left the Grand Ole Opry and moved to KWKH Shreveport. When The Louisiana Hayride began in 1948, they soon became firm favourites and received so many requests to play outside venues that a second group was formed, which contained Jimmie Osborne and Claude King. Their band, the West Virginia Home Folks, contained several noted instrumentalists, including steel guitarist Shot Jackson and mandolinist Clyde Baum. The four brothers recorded for Columbia Records in April 1947, but in July, Walter left to become a minister. Soon afterwards, Kyle also withdrew from playing, but acted as manager; his place was taken by Tillman Franks.
Johnny and Homer parted acrimoniously late in 1949, which led to them performing on different stations. However, in August 1952, Walter and Johnny reunited at KCRT, Baytown, Texas, for a religious show during which Walter preached and Johnny sang. They recorded for King in 1953 and continued to work together until 1956, when Johnny became a disc jockey in Georgia. During the 60s, Walter was in Birmingham and continued his work as an evangelist and sometimes sang with his wife. She had worked throughout the 50s with Homer, then joined Walter in 1962, and together they performed with bluegrass gospel groups, on occasions collaborating with Johnny. Walter made many solo recordings and duets with Kyle, and in 1967 recorded an album with Homer. Late in 1972, Johnny and Homer recorded an album for Starday. By the mid-70s, Kyle was involved with an air-conditioning business, and Johnny was the general manager of three radio stations owned by Webb Pierce. Homer, having entered the ministry, was the pastor of a church in Roanoke. Walter (sometimes referred to as the Chaplain of Music Row) continued to work as a gospel singer and evangelist and appeared and recorded with his wife Frankie and Dorothy Jo Hope as the Walter Bailes Singers. The Bailes later promoted recordings on their own White Dove label, which included solo material. John Bailes died in 1989, Kyle in 1996, and Walter in 2000.
Quite apart from their own recordings, many other artists have also recorded songs written by the brothers. These include such noted country numbers as "Give Mother My Crown" (Carl And Pearl Butler and Flatt And Scruggs), "The Pale Horse And His Rider" (Hank Williams and Roy Acuff), "Dust On The Bible" (Blue Sky Boys, Johnnie And Jack and Kitty Wells), "Whiskey Is The Devil" (Webb Pierce), "Oh, So Many Years" (Everly Brothers and George Hamilton IV) and "Will The Angels Have A Sweetheart" (Bill Clifton).
The Avenue Of Prayer (Audio Lab 1959)***, Gospel Reunion (Starday 1973)***, I've Got My One Way Ticket (Columbia 1976)****, Johnny And Homer (White Dove 1977)****, Johnny And Homer Volume 2 (White Dove 1977)**, Johnny And Walter (White Dove 1978)***, Yesterday And Today (White Dove 1983)**.
Solo: Homer Bailes Golden Treasures (White Dove)**, Tenderly He Watched (White Dove)***. Walter Bailes Bluegrass Gospel (White Dove)***, It Takes A Lot Of Living To Learn (White Dove)***, Oh So Many Years (Bear Family 2002)****.
Source: Encyclopedia of Popular Music