Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Thinking Man's Hillbillies

 They were called the Thinking Man's Hillbillie. I'm not making that up. That's their actual marketing lingo from the 1950s.  Does a thinking man needed a different  kind of hillbilly than anyone else? Henry D. Haynes and Kenneth C. Burns performed as Homer and Jethro just to keep up appearances. In reality they had more in common with Weird Al than Bill Monroe. Their career was largely built on twangy parodies and original silly tunes. My personal favorite is "She Was Bitten On The Udder By An Adder."  You don't get tunes like that any more. Chet Atkins produced many of their recordings.

They were the same age, both born in 1920 with Haynes being a mere month older. They first met at WNOX-AM during a 1936 audition. (Yes, they were both only 16.) They were paired up with the house band, the String Dusters, and earned their nicknames when Program Director Lowell Blanchard forgot their names. By 1939 they were regulars on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance which was broadcast from the Memorial Auditorium in Dayton, Ohio. It was carried locally on WLW-AM. It was a good year to make the leap. Late that year the show relocated to a venue in Kentucky and was picked up by  NBC. Homer & Jethro missed out on some good years there as they were both drafted. They returned to the US afterward and found work at WLW, but were mercilessly purged by new management at WLW in 1948.

 They went on tour for a year and then relocated to Missouri for a year performing regularly on "Corns a Crackin" with Chet Atkins on KWTO-AM. That show eventually evolved into the ABC TV show "The Ozark Jubilee" but they left before it made the leap. They jointed the cast of "The National Barn Dance" on WLS-AM  in 1950 and stuck around  playing silly songs dressed in night gowns for 2 years. They later toured with Spike Jones, which if anything made them even zanier. They had a string of parody hits in the 1950s mostly on RCA.

Haynes died of a heart attack in 1971.  Burns tried to carry on with a new partner but the magic was gone. He started a solo career embracing his longtime love of jazz mandolin. He died in 1989 of prostate cancer. Homer & Jethro were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. With some irony I must point out that the man who forgot their names Lowell Blanchard was inducted in 1977, over 20 years before them.