Kenneth “Jethro” Burns was a mandolin player from Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1936, he entered a talent contest at the local radio station, where he met guitarist and singer Henry Haynes, who became his longtime musical partner. The duo adopted the stage name “Homer and Jethro” when the program director forgot their names introducing them on air.
“One night, they were listening to a radio show and a pop singer was doing a broad and fairly denigrating takeoff of a hillbilly singer singing a country tune. The singer’s performance irked Homer & Jethro no end. They decided right then and there that payback was the only logical solution to this kind of insult. They interspersed their act with send-ups of current popular songs, giving them a mock hillbilly rendition. Discovering that their parodies were gaining more attention than their straight material, they opted to become country comics.”
— Alan Cackett
Homer & Jethro began their recording career in 1946 with King Records, but by 1949 had moved to RCA Records, where they enjoyed national success as a preeminent creator of song parodies. The self-deprecating “corn pone” style of country humor became very popular, and the duo enjoyed several appearances on comedy and variety programs throughout the fifties and sixties.
Jethro Burns (1920-1989), mandolin, vocals, songwriter
Bille “Tiny” Moore (1920-1987), electric mandolin, fiddle
Eldon Shamblin (1916-1998), electric guitar
Ray Brown (1926-2002), double bass
Shelly Manne (1920-1984), drums
David “Dawg” Grisman (b. 1945), mandolin, composer
Homer & Jethro’s clever song parodies amuse, but what thrills is the swinging music, and the interplay between Haynes, Burns and guitarist Chet Atkins, Jethro’s brother-in-law. Burns is a wonder on mandolin, generating equal doses of laughter and awe with his speed and sophistication. One of the first great mandolin players in American popular music, Burns inspired a generation of acoustic string musicians with his mastery.
Homer Haynes died suddenly in 1971; a heartbroken Burns settled into a period of semi-retirement, during which he authored instruction books with guitarist Ken Edison. He also performed with folk singer Steve Goodman for several years, as well as many other side projects.
Tiny & Jethro
My favorite musician in the late seventies was mandolinist David Grisman. His structured string jazz drew upon many music styles. For this young student of music, David Grisman offered a fresh and innovative sound, and an entry point into bluegrass and swing jazz. In addition to writing and producing music for his own band, he organized side projects as well, including an album by Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns, mandolin players who experienced success in country & western music. Tiny Moore spent years playing with the country swing band Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys.
Tiny & Jethro’s collaboration is limited to one album. Though both men are typically identified as country musicians, 1979’s Back To Back is best identified as a jazz record. Grisman recruited an outstanding rhythm section to accompany the two mandolin virtuosos. Bassist Ray Brown, guitarist Eldon Shamblin and drummer Shelly Manne join Tiny and Jethro on an eclectic collection of jazz standards, plus a couple of originals. Jethro’s fiery and sharp tones are complimented by the sweet sound of Tiny’s 5-string electric mandolin. Grisman chips in as a third mandolin on a couple of song as well. My father and I went to see Tiny & Jethro with the David Grisman Quintet at the Great American Music Hall shortly after the album’s release.
My father really enjoyed “Out Of Nowhere”; Tiny takes the lead here. For a taste of Jethro’s dexterity, try “Jethro’s Tune”. My favorite is the rendition of Bill Monroe’s “Moonlight Waltz”. Grisman contributes a third mandolin on this beautiful waltz. I chose this song to be the first dance on our wedding day. We practiced dancing the waltz for weeks before the big show.
Jethro Burns Song Notes:
1. Three recommended albums to begin a Jethro Burns collection are:
America’s Butchers: The Weird World of Homer & Jethro
Playing It Straight
Back To Back
2. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “The Huckelbuck” feature a seventeen year old June Carter.
3. “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes (Live)” and “Sixteen Tons – Lullaby Of Bird Dog (Live)” can be found on Homer & Jethro At The Country Club, or the Slaughters The Standards compilation.
Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns Songs:
Moonlight Waltz, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★★★★★
Out Of Nowhere, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★★★
Back to Back, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★★
Diane, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★★
Real Laid Back, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★★
Swing ’39, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★★
Tickle Toe, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★★
In A Mellotone (Take 2), Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★
Jethro’s Tune, Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns ★
Homer & Jethro Songs:
I’m Movin’ On No. 2, Homer & Jethro ★★★
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Homer & Jethro ★★★
Li’l Ole Kiss Of Fire, Homer & Jethro ★★
You Belong To Me No. 2, Homer & Jethro ★★
The Huckle-Buck, Homer & Jethro ★★
She Was Bitten On The Udder By An Adder, Homer & Jethro ★
Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me, Homer & Jethro ★
Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyeballs, Homer & Jethro ★
Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyeballs (Live), Homer & Jethro ★
Sixteen Tons – Lullaby Of Bird Dog (Live), Homer & Jethro ★
Among My Souvenirs, Homer & Jethro ★
Tennessee, Tennessee, Homer & Jethro ★
Nanner Pudding,Homer & Jethro ★
Tico Tico, Homer & Jethro ★
I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover, Homer & Jethro ★
Autumn Leaves, Homer & Jethro ★
Out Of Nowhere, Charlie Parker ★★★★
Out Of Nowhere, Coleman Hawkins & Django Reinhardt ★
Diane, Jack Teagarden ★★★
Swing ’39, Le Quintette Du Hot Club de France ★★
Tickle Toe, Count Basie ★★★
In A Mellotone, Duke Ellington ★★★
I’m Movin’ On, Ray Charles ★★★★
I’m Movin’ On, Hank Snow, The Singing Ranger ★★
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Johnny Mercer, Margaret Whiting & Paul Weston & His Orchestra ★★★
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Ray Charles ★★★★
Kiss Of Fire, Louis Armstrong ★★
You Belong To Me, Jason Wade ★★
Autumn Leaves, Erroll Garner ★★★★★
I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover, Jean Goldkette & His Orchestra ★★
Tico Tico, Charlie Parker ★★
Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me, Pee Wee King ★
Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes, Slim Willet ★★
Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes, Perry Como ★
The Huckle-Buck, Paul Williams ★
The Huckle-Buck, Earl Hooker ★★
Galloping On The Guitar, Chet Atkins ★★
Galloping On the Guitar (Live), Chet Atkins ★★