Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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HOMER and JETHRO

(Homer b Henry D. Haynes, 29 July 1917, Knoxville TN, d 7 August 1971; Jethro b Kenneth C. Burns, 10 March 1923, Knoxville; d 4 Feb. 1989) Country comedy team and noted Nashville session musicians. They began in their early teens on local radio, then to the Renfro Valley Barn Dance (TN) '38. They were split up during WWII, Homer serving in Europe, Jethro in Pacific ('I was the unsung hero. They wouldn't let me sing'). They regrouped upon discharge, joined a Spike Jones touring show briefly, then Chicago's National Barn Dance through the '50s and also regulars on the popular Don McNeil Breakfast Club morning radio show: they made the Chicago area home base. They recorded for King '46-8, then were signed by Steve Sholes to RCA from '48.

Their dead-pan send-ups of country and pop songs were backed up by solid musicianship (Homer on a solid rhythm guitar, Jethro's excellent mandolin and banjo). A radio announcer who didn't remember their names dubbed them Homer & Jethro; they were call the thinking man's hillbillies. their first hit was 'Baby It's Cold Outside' with June Carter '49: the composer got the joke, and allowed them to send up his Oscar-winning song provided they printed on the record label 'With apologies to Frank Loesser'. '(How Much Is) That Hound Dog In The Winder' was no. 2 in the country chart '53; other entries included 'Hernando's Hideaway' '54, 'The Battle Of Kookamonga' '59 (no. 14 pop chart, a parody of Johnny Horton hit 'The Battle Of New Orleans'), Beatle take-off 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'; other discs got juke-box and airplay even when they didn't chart: 'Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyeballs', 'The Ballad Of Davy Crew-Cut'. Many TV spots included the Tonight show; when Johnny Carson asked Homer why he chewed chewing gum he replied, 'What the hell else you gonna do with it?' They did popular adverts for Kellogg's Corn Flakes on radio and TV in the '60s, an album was called Ooh! That's Corny after their gag catchphrase. When they were nominated to the Country Music Hall of Fame '85, Jethro was asked what the irreverent Homer would have said about it and he speculated: 'It's about time ... It couldn't happen to nicer people. We certainly deserve it.' Other albums included Musical Madness '56, Barefoot Ballads '58, The Worst Of Homer And Jethro '58, Songs My Mother Never Sang '61, Songs For The 'Out' Crowd '67, Nothing Like An Old Hippie '68, many others.

After Homer's death Jethro played sessions, clubs, festivals all over North America and toured for eleven years with Steve Goodman; his solo mandolin album was Tea For One on Kaleidoscope; also Jethro Burns and Live on Flying Fish, and Swing Low, Sweet Mandolin on Acoustic Disc. But Chet Atkins at RCA, who was Jethro's brother-in-law, had produced them on two straight-ahead albums, Playing It Straight and It Ain't Necessarily Square. They didn't sell and were soon out of print; they have been combined on a Japanese CD which is very hard to find, and they are as good as the best string jazz ever recorded.