|Homer and Jethro|
|The Carter Family, June Carter, Spike Jones, Chet Atkins|
|Henry D. Haynes (1936-1971)
Kenneth C. Burns (1936-1972)
Ken Eidson (1972)
Homer and Jethro were the stage names of American country music duo Henry D. "Homer" Haynes (1920-1971) and Kenneth C. "Jethro" Burns (1920-1989), popular from the 1940s through the 1960s on radio and television for their satirical versions of popular songs. Known as the Thinking Man's Hillbillies, they received a Grammy in 1959 and are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Haynes and Burns met in 1936 during a WNOX-AM audition in Knoxville, Tennessee when they were both 16 years old. Known as Junior and Dude (pronounced "dood'-ee"), the pair was rechristened Homer (Haynes) and Jethro (Burns) when WNOX Program Director Lowell Blanchard forgot their nicknames during a 1936 broadcast. In 1939 they became regulars on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance radio program in Renfro Valley, Kentucky.
They were drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II but served separately; they reunited in Knoxville in 1945, and in 1947 they performed on WLW-AM's Midwestern Hayride in Cincinnati. They sang exaggerated hillbilly-styled versions of pop standards as their comedic hook, with Haynes on guitar and Burns on mandolin. They originally recorded for King Records, where they also worked as session musicians backing other artists such as Moon Mullican until a dispute over song credits with label owner Syd Nathan led Nathan to release them from the label. The duo and other stars were fired by new management at WLW in 1948, and after a brief tour, they moved to Springfield, Missouri and performed on KWTO-AM with Chet Atkins, the Carter Family and Slim Wilson.
Signed to the RCA Victor label in 1949, RCA's country A&R man Steve Sholes suggested they switch their comedy to singing parodies of country and pop hits. Most were penned by Burns, the humorist of the pair. Their parody of "Baby It's Cold Outside", recorded with June Carter, became a hit. The song's composer, Frank Loesser, gave them permission to parody the tune with the condition that the label read, "With apologies to Frank Loesser". It led to a spot on WLS-AM in Chicago in 1950, a tour with bandleader Spike Jones and an uncredited appearance on his recording of Pal-Yat-Chee, and a number of successful albums. They also served as backup musicians on a number of late 1940s and early 1950s RCA Victor recordings by Chet Atkins and on many other RCA country sessions in Chicago and Nashville. Atkins was married to Burns' wife's sister.
Taking a cue from other comic talents of the era, most of their humor was directed inward, towards themselves. In several notable exchanges recorded on the live album At the Country Club, they intone that the parade to be given by their fan club had to be canceled because one of the members was ill, and the other had to work. The implication of course being that there were only two members of such a club. Indeed, from the opening introduction, by Hee Haw stalwart Archie Campbell the humor is towards them, rather than at others. Campbell's intro noted, "Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control, the next act showed up." At one point in the evening, Burns remarked to one of the patrons, "Hey, you walking out! Get back in here, you're no better than the rest of them." However, taking a moment to imprint their serious musical talent, they and the other members of the band perform "C-Jam Blues", to the delight of the audience. Burns was also a talented guitarist, able to replicate the hot soloing he did on mandolin on the guitar.
They won a Grammy for Best Comedy Performance - Musical in 1959 for "The Battle of Kookamonga", their parody of Johnny Horton's hit "The Battle of New Orleans". The majority of their recordings were similar parodies of famous old and new popular songs. One example was their treatment of the old romantic song "When You Wore a Tulip" (When you wore a Tulip/A sweet yellow tulip/and I wore a big red rose). While keeping that line of the chorus intact, the duo's version of its verse told of two lovers sleeping in a greenhouse, removing their clothes due to the heat and humidity, and then having to escape when the building caught fire. To cover their nakedness, the couple wore the flowers.
Over time, Homer and Jethro's patter became more sophisticated, giving them access to mainstream audiences on network television and in Las Vegas. On May 12, 1960, they appeared with Johnny Cash on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. In the 1960s they were hired as commercial personalities for Kellogg's Corn Flakes; their "Ooh! That's corny!" television spots gave them exposure beyond country music audiences. One relatively notable gig was in November 1966, when they entertained at the grand opening ceremony for the Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois.
Homer and Jethro made several appearances on The Johnny Cash Show during the 1970-1971 season, though they weren't considered regulars. During one appearance, they reprised their old hit "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with June Carter Cash as part of a skit.
Both were also established jazz musicians, who were deeply influenced by the European gypsy string jazz of Django Reinhardt. A version of Jethro Burns leading the house band on the Mike Douglas Show, playing "Take the A Train," is available on YouTube. Atkins produced many of their later RCA albums including two instrumental jazz efforts: Playing It Straight and It Ain't Necessarily Square. The Reinhardt style continued to influence the duo's work until Haynes' death from a heart attack in 1971.
After Haynes' passing, Burns tried to maintain the duo with a new "Homer", guitarist Ken Eidson, but the effort was short-lived. Burns continued recording and performing solo and with Chicago folk singer Steve Goodman. He died in 1989 from prostate cancer.
Haynes and Burns were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
|1949||"I Feel That Old Age Creeping On"||14||--|
|"Baby, It's Cold Outside" (with June Carter)||9||22|
|"Tennessee Border--No. 2"||14||--|
|1953||"(How Much Is) That Hound Dog in the Window"||2||17|
|1955||"Sifting, Whimpering Sands"/"They Laid Him in the Ground"||--||--|
|1959||"The Battle of Kookamonga"||26||14|
|1960||"Please Help Me, I'm Falling"||--||101|
|1964||"I Want to Hold Your Hand"||49||--|
|1967||"Chet's Tune"||Some of Chet's Friends||38|