Homer And Jethro: Biography
Known for their homespun humor, Homer and Jethro entertained thousands of Americans during the 1940s and 1950s with their parodies of popular songs.
Henry D. "Homer" Haines was born July 27, 1920, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kenneth C. "Jethro" Burns was born March 10, 1920, in Conasuga, Tennessee. Their career began when they met at a local talent contest when they were both 12. Neither of them won the competition, but the station manager at WNOX in Knoxville formed a studio band, called the String Dusters, for their show "Mid-day Merry-Go-Round." These two boys, who were prone to fooling around, were given their lifelong nicknames at this station. They included some of their antics in their acts, including wearing ill-fitting hayseed costumes and speaking with an exaggerated hillbilly drawl.
By the early 1940's they began singing pop songs with their drawl and joined Renvo Valley Barn Dance in eastern Kentucky. During World War II, Haines served in the Pacific and Burns was stationed in Europe. After the war they worked together on Plantation Party on WLW in Cincinnati. From 1946 to 1948 they recorded "Five Minutes More/Rye Whiskey" and "Over the Rainbow," plus five albums for King Records. They were then signed by RCA Victor and their first hit with this label, performed with June Carter, was a musical spoof of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." They toured the United States with their own tented show. In 1949 they joined a management company run by Spike Jones and toured the country performing with him. When they had a chance to join National Barn Dance on WLS in Chicago, Jones let them out of their contract. They performed on the Chicago show almsot every Saturday night from 1950 to 1958. During the week they appeared on Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, a popular morning show in Chicago. Burns' brother-in-law, Chet Atkins, also used the duo as Nashville studio musicians during the 1950's. Despite the clowning routines, both were superb musicians - Haynes on the guitar and Burns on the mandolin - who also recorded a few jazz albums for RCA Records.
During the 1950's Homer and Jethro abandoned their hillbilly image in favor of casual attire. Although the song paradies continued, their humor became more sophisticated. Their musical talents were appreciated by country music fans and by audiences at Las Vegas clubs. They were Las Vegas supporting acts who soon became headliners as well as regular guests on the Johnny Carson show. A 1953 hit was "How Much Is That Doggie In the Window," a spoof of Patti Page's classic song. "The Battle of Kookamonga" received a Grammy for the Best Humerous Record of 1959. Their last song on the charts was in 1964 with "I Want to Hold Your Hand," which was a humerous version of the well known Beatles song.
During the early 1960s the duo were featured in commercials for Kellogg's Corn Flakes where they uttered their famous lines, "Ooh! That's so corny!" on television commercials. These ads created a new group of fans. After Haines' death of a heart attack in 1971, Burns took a long time getting over his grief. They had been such close friends, personally and professionally, for decades. Eventually Burns performed as a solo instrumentalist until he began a long battle with cancer; he died in 1989. A quote on one of their albums says it best: "Today we feel we have a great future behind us, and we have never let failure go to our heads."