• The Original Hippies, Homer & Jethro, a 1971 Interview

    Straight Talk About The Business Of Being Funny
    A 1971 Interview: The Original Hippies, Homer & Jethro

    The Original Hippies, Homer & Jethro, appeared in the 1971 issue of Gibson Gazette, Volume 11, No. 1, a small marketing publication when Gibson's headquarters were located at 7373 N. Cicero Ave., Lincolnwood, Illinois. Gibson was owned by Chicago Music Instruments (CMI) up until about 1969 when Ecuadorian Company Limited (ECL), a Panama-based holding company, acquired a majority of CMI shares, and the two companies merged in July of that year.

    The magazine came to us courtesy of Charles Johnson of World Mandolin Headquarters. As we do from time to time, when a significant or historic print article is destined to be lost in time we take the opportunity to record it in digital format for posterity.

    Gibson Gazette first appears in the mid to late 1950s. From the numbering sequence of issues it appears it was likely not published every year. Volume 11 led with this Homer & Jethro feature as the main story of 8 total pages, mostly filled with guitar information. However, the "What's New" section featured brief mentions of the company's new F-5 and F-12 mandolin models (sorry, no prices) and new TB-100 Tenor and RB-250 Mastertone 5-string banjos.

    The interviewer is neither identified nor credited. The opening image for the article is clearly the cover art from Homer & Jethro's famed 1967 jazz album It Ain't Necessarily Square. As with the rest of the issue, no writers or photographers are credited, nor information provide about photos, so we're left to ponder what instruments are being played and who took the photos.

    Text and images are present in the order as they appeared in the magazine. Likely prepared in late 1970 or early 1971, Homer Haynes (Henry D. "Homer" Haynes) passed away August 7, 1971 making this possibly one of the last times he took part in an interview of Homer & Jethro.

    Homer & Jethro

    The Original Hippies, Homer & Jethro - Straight Talk About The Business of Being Funny

    Q. We've heard a lot of conflicting stories about how you and Homer started out. I wonder if you could set us straight?

    JETHRO: It all began in 1932 at Radio Station WNOX, Knoxville, Tenn. We were contestants on an amateur program. I was doing a guitar and mandolin duet with my brother, and Homer was working with a trio. We were 12 years old. And backstage before the show we had a little jam session goin'. The program director, Lowell Blanchard, heard us playing so he picked Homer, me, my brother and another kid and put the four of us together as a quartet. We appeared in the contest and he disqualified us before we started and gave us jobs on the radio station as staff musicians.

    Q. Did you have a name for your group?

    JETHRO: We called ourselves the String Dusters. It was sort of a real pop, swinging group. Later, the same guy that gave us the jobs and gave us the names Homer and Jethro. Homer and Jethro was just kind of a thing we did for kicks.

    Q. How long did the String Dusters stay together?

    JETHRO: Let's see. We broke the group up in about 1936 and started doing Homer and Jethro full-time. That's when we started doing strictly comedy.

    Q. What happened when you struck out as Homer and Jethro?

    JETHRO: Well, we just went from radio station to radio station. Then about 1939 Homer and I decided to go north.

    Q. You decided to visit the Yankees?

    HOMER: Yeah. We started north and we figured we were just going to keep going until we found a job. We stopped in a place called Renfro Valley, Kentucky. They had a show there called the Renfro Valley Barn Dance which was very big in those days. We played and sang a couple of songs for the owner of the station and he told us he'd put us on the show that night to see how we'd do. And at that time we wore real pokey, funny clothes. And we had real long hair.

    Q. You were the original hippies?

    JETHRO: Just about, yeah. I want to tell you something about that later.

    Q. How did your first barn dance appearance go?

    JETHRO: We went out that night and just about stopped the show cold about three different times. When we got through, the boss came out and said, "I want you boys to stick around 'cause we got a couple of shows Monday that are on network and we'll put you on again." We did the two network shows Monday and one of the funniest things I can remember happened that night. The boss came to us and said, "Boys, I think I'm going to hire you. How much money do you want?" And without thinking, I said "$50.00." The old man said, "Fifty Dollars!" He was a little excited and I thought I had asked for too much. So I quick said, "Well, that's for both of us; twenty-five apiece." He calmed down then and said okay. But later on I found out that he had it in his mind to pay us $50.00 apiece.

    Q. I imagine your first big break came in Knoxville when you were hired as staff musicians. But is there any other that stands out in your mind?

    JETHRO: Well, the biggest break we ever had we didn't get to take advantage of, because it came just prior to World War II. We got an offer from Plantation Party in Chicago to become regulars every week. They made us an offer of $750. But I got drafted into the army, and so did Homer.

    Q. What was your first big job after you fellows got out of the service?

    HOMER: We went to Cincy in 1945 to radio station WLW. We worked on the staff there with a lot of good guys: Chet Atkins, Rosemary Clooney, Merle Travis, and a number of other good musicians. We were there for about 2 1/2 years and then we were fired.

    Q. For what reason?

    JETHRO: Well for instance, WLW was, at that time, owned by the Crosely Corporation and they had always gone heavy on country music because it was popular. Then they sold out to AVCO. Well, the first thing AVCO did was to bring in an efficiency expert, and he just fired everybody he could find. In one week he fired Homer and Jethro, Rosemary Clooney, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and Roy Lanin.

    Q. What happened after WLW?

    JETHRO: Well, when that folded up, we went out with a tent show for about six months. We went out on the road and had a ball. Then we went back to Knoxville, radio station WNOX, the same show where we had started out in 1932. This was 1947. We stayed there 3 or 4 months and then all of a sudden we get a call from KWTO in Springfield, Missouri. They wanted to hire us. We knew they had a big Country program there. A lot of stars, Chet Atkins, Slim Wilson, The Carter Family. So we went to Springfield. And that was probably the most fun we ever had anywhere. It was very relaxed. Everybody went fishin'. We had a motto up there that, "We Never Let Work Interfere with Our Fishin'."


    "A song isn't a success until it's been butchered by Homer & Jethro." — Hank Williams


    Q. Where did you go from KWTO?

    HOMER: We went on the road with Spike Jones in 1949. While we were in Chicago, the National Barn Dance people came to us and asked us if we'd come down and perform at the Barn Dance in between shows. As a result of this the Program Director offered us a job. Spike let us out of the contract with no problems. So we did the Barn Dance Show every Saturday night and during the week we worked the Don McNeil Breakfast Club. We left the Barn Dance in 1948. Since then, why, it's just been concert dates, night clubs and recording dates.

    Q. What was your biggest hit?

    HOMER: "Hound Dog In The Winder" was the biggest. And "The Battle of Cucamonga," though it didn't sell as big, won a Grammy Award for us.

    Q. Didn't you ever have a real stinker? Something you wished you hadn't recorded?

    JETHRO: Oh, yeah. Anybody that's ever made a record has had flops. A lot of guys really get up tight about this because they don't like to say that they guessed wrong. We've laughed over the years at some of the bad records we've made.

    Q. Earlier, I mentioned that you two were the original hippies and you said you had something to say about that.

    JETHRO: Yeah. Well, when we went into Renfro Valley, Ky., we had let our hair get longer than usual, but not for any special reason. It was just the fact that we didn't get a haircut when we normally did. So when we did our first appearance on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, when John Leonard saw the outfits we wore, he said, "That's great, don't get your hair cut, that's part of it." We never thought of our long hair as being a funny gimmick. So when we went to work for this guy, he put a clause in our contract saying we could only get two haircuts a year.

    Q. How do songwriters feel about the parodies you do on their songs?

    HOMER: People used to come to us and say, "You shouldn't butcher a Hank Williams' song, because what would Hank think?" Hank, he told us one time, that he didn't think a song was a success until it had been butchered by Homer and Jethro. And he gave us written permission to do any song he had ever written.

    Q. You've known a lot of country artists. Would you go out on a limb and tell me who you think was far and above the best of the lot?

    JETHRO: Hank Williams had something. I don't know what you'd call it, but this guy could turn it out in a song better than anybody I've ever seen. I'm sure there are much better performers and better singers, but he just had something you can't identify, but it's there. There's some tremendous entertainers in country today. But I don't think there's a better entertainer than Roy Clark. He does it all. And he does it well. There are just a lot of great entertainers.

    Q. Is there any type of music you fellows don't like?

    HOMER: Not really. We like any kind of music if it's played well.

    Q. I know that you fellows are great practical jokers. What was one of the funniest?

    JETHRO: Well, the first time that Johnny Cash went on a nationwide tour, we were with him. And Johnny introduced a song he just wrote, called "Don't Take Your Guns To Town." It was a sad song. So every night he sang that for his encore. While he was singing it, Homer and I would stand in the wings and say, "That's pretty funny John. That's a funny, funny song. J.C. would just look straight ahead and keep singing."

    Q. Was that part of the act?

    JETHRO: No, this was off stage. Actually it's a very dramatic song. Johnny would just have them crying and we're over in the wings hecklin' him. And he never once mentioned it. He didn't say, "Don't do it." He just never acknowledged it. So we get down to the last day of the tour in Tampa, Florida. And we had told this M.C. how to introduce us. Just say, "And now the comedy stars from RCA Victor Records, Homer & Jethro." That's all we wanted. So this is the last night and this guy goes out there, his name was Bob Neal, and he must have taken five minutes to tell these people how wonderful we are. Homer and me started to think that maybe something was wrong. So finally he gets down to the part where he says, "Here they are, Homer & Jethro!" and the people start to applaud, and as they do this record of the "Star Spangled Banner" comes on, the loudest you ever heard. Everybody stood up. And we were like half way out to center stage and we just stopped and stood at attention and this record is goin' and goin'. It plays for five minutes. The people are standing very quiet and all we can hear is al' Johnny Cash over in the wings going, "Ho-Ho-Ho-Ho." We never got over it. And Johnny still laughs about it.

    Homer & Jethro

    Q. I know you've played Vegas. How were you accepted there?

    HOMER: Well, when we played there the first time, we wondered whether the stuff we had been doing would go in Vegas. 'Cause all we had heard about were the big fabulous shows they had and how great the comedians were. So instead of trying to rewrite our act, we decided to do the same old cornball stuff we'd been doin', Finally, we went out there on opening night and our opening line was "We are Homer & Jethro, we're not brothers... my brother is living." And you would have thought that it was the funniest thing that had ever been said.

    Q. How old was the material?

    JETHRO: We did these old things that we were doing back in the 30's and just tore the place up. We did so well that the second night instead of being the supporting act, we were the headliners. The papers would say, "The funniest material ever heard on the strip was by two hillbillies over at the Thunderbird."


    "We are Homer & Jethro. We're not brothers. My brother is living."


    Q. Do you guys actually write material in advance, or is a lot of it right off the top of your head?

    HOMER: A lot of it is ad lib. And they're built around the fact that you probably know every joke that was ever put down and can grab a punchline to fit an occasion.

    Q. Do you like club work?

    JETHRO: We love it. It's fun and it keeps you sharp. When you do a club you work every night, two, maybe three shows each night, and you get your timing down just so perfect and you get a chance to try new things.

    Q. Off stage do you two go your own separate ways?

    JETHRO: Yeah we do. We work so much and we're together all the time. When we get off, we just check with each other on the phone once in awhile to make sure we know what we're supposed to be doing.

    Q. Any new records on the way?

    JETHRO: In July our Nashville String Band is comin' out with an album titled Strung Up. It's got some great pickin' on it. We've also got a couple of new comedy things we've recorded. One is "Help Me Make It Through The Night," and also "The Good Times."

    Q. You can tell when a show is good or not, can't you?

    JETHRO: It's not conceit, or ego, it's the fact that you are aware of what you can do and you know when you've done it well. And by the same token, if you do a bad one, nobody has to tell you because you take that home with you, and you worry about it.

    Q. I suppose you've had your bad shows?

    JETHRO: We have our bad nights where we can't do anything right. And these are the funniest things we ever do, because we'll start a show and I'll make a mistake and then Homer will make a mistake and then I'll make one and we know it's goin' to be one of those nights and the lucky thing is that the audience realizes it too. And in place of resenting the fact that we goofed something up, they just kind of get into the spirit of the thing. We know better than to try to correct it because when it starts out bad, it just goes from bad to worse.

    Q. Did you fellows ever resent being called hillbillies?

    JETHRO: We started it, man. When we broke up the quartet, we started doing strictly comedy and we called ourselves hillbillies, because to me it was always a funny sounding thing and it's not puttin' anyone down. To me, hillbillies were always the greatest people in the world.

    Homer and Jethro? They're hokey, corny, hillbilly and great. They are respected by their peers as great comedians as well as being accomplished musicians. And above all, they're two of the nicest, warmest guys this reporter has ever met. Generation Gap? It stops at Homer & Jethro.

    A Few Mandolin Cafe Homer & Jethro Resources

    Comments 15 Comments
    1. BillWilliams's Avatar
      BillWilliams -
      Classic interview - many thanks.
    1. Jeff Mando's Avatar
      Jeff Mando -
      great stuff!
    1. Don Stiernberg's Avatar
      Don Stiernberg -
      Oh my goodness! What great slice of history and Jethrology, chock full of insights into the brilliant artistry, craft, and business of Homer and Jethro. Also chill producing moments as they recount crossing paths with colleagues who were coincidentally also some of the greatest artist/entertainers of the 20th century. And what about the part where they get sent to war, then come back miraculously and pick up right where they left off? That gets me every time...

      Jethro sounds especially proud as he tells the story, as well he should: In 1971 they were complete superstars in all the formats that existed at the time-radio, TV, recordings, touring, and so on. I get a sense of enjoyment from Jethro as he takes us through their unique and circuitous route to that place.

      We also get these photos which may help fill some open spots in Jethro's Mandochronology. Hoping Cafe mandolin historians will weigh in about these...the electric A model that Jethro plays opposite Homer on a 330 or 335 of some sort? I'm guessing the shot was from a trade show or at a Gibson dealership where they appeared and played what was handed to them, although both are known for trying new things throughout their long career. Apparently this pic was from the time of P-90 pickups?

      In another shot Jethro is on an A-5 with two points and oval hole, but it isn't his more famous red one with "Florentine" appointments (F-5 headstock, block fretboard inlays). This piqued my interest and I poked around in the Jethrobilia and found what could be that same mandlin on the cover of "At The Country Club", which is dated as 1960. Perhaps Gibson gave him that one to use as they assembled the custom red one? "Playing It Straight", first of the two masterpiece instrumental LP's, was issued in 1962 and featured the red mandolin. Interesting sequence of events for us mando geeks to contemplate.

      Perhaps the most appropriate image is Mt. Homer and Jethromore on the cover. Placed humorously or not, they certainly deserve honorific status of that level and beyond.

      Thanks again and again to Mandolin Cafe for putting up this inspiring piece of history.
    1. NickR's Avatar
      NickR -
      Always great to read about Homer & Jethro as they were amazing. This sentence: "In one week he fired Homer and Jethro, Rosemary Clooney, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and Roy Lanin."
      I am certain- as he worked with them- and was a brilliant musician, that the last name is Roy Lanham.
    1. jnikora's Avatar
      jnikora -
      I can make a pretty educated guess as to which mandolin Jethro is playing on the Playing it straight album - Big Red. I took lessons from him in 1975 and as far as I could tell, he only owned that and a wide body A50? from the 30s. At the time Jethro had a late 30s L5 but I don't recall what Homer played. Big Red resides with Sam Bush or at least did the last I heard. It had been in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The Washburn came much later. And Jethro did not have much allegiance to Gibson, though the A% was a fine instrument, but then again, I had an A% at the time that I considered a stone and he made it sound good.

      Playing It Straight was released in 1962, It Ain't Necessarily Square in 1967. The mandolin on both covers is Big Red - the A5 custom and I believe all the 2 point A5s were "Florentine" due to the points. The A5 "Florentine" in the third picture is definitely not Big Red and looks like a burst like all the other A5 Florentines. In the fourth picture is the same E150 style that Johnny Gimble played - P90 4 pole pickup and f-holes. Shoulda never sold mine!

      On a lighter note, I was told this story by John Parrot, who played guitar in the quartet with Jethro and Don Stiernberg on mandolins. They had played an outdoor venue in Iowa. After the show a man came up on stage and asked Jethro, "Were you part of Homer & Jethro?" Jethro answered, "I played with him for 39 years!" The man asked, "Didn't one of you die?" and without skipping a beat, Jethro answered, "Is THAT what happened to him?"

    1. mandopops's Avatar
      mandopops -
      Yes, always great to read a Jethro interview. Interesting to have him trace the chronology of his career. I was a Jethro student in the early 70’s. I’m grateful for his guidance & generosity. Here I am still playing almost 50 years later.
      F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives. Jethro proofed that wrong. After Homer passed, Jethro went on to a second career in show biz. Initially, I think he was known as a comedian who played Mandolin. Then he was known as a Mandolin player who was also funny.
      Joe B
    1. Jeroen's Avatar
      Jeroen -
      Thank you for posting this!
    1. Kenny's Avatar
      Kenny -
      Thanks for this! I have a couple [vinyl] LPs by Homer and Jethro that I picked up fifty years ago. Inspired by reading this interview, I believe that I’ll play those today and tomorrow while I’m in the house, hiding from the heat outside.
    1. keith.rogers's Avatar
      keith.rogers -
      Loved reading that. Thanks.
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      If someone desires their own copy of this magazine there's one on eBay at the moment for $20.00. See it here.
    1. Jeffrey Dreves, Jr.'s Avatar
      Jeffrey Dreves, Jr. -
      Great interview. Thank you for sharing it.

      >>So when we did our first appearance on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, when John Leonard saw the outfits we wore, he said, "That's great, don't get your hair cut, that's part of it." We never thought of our long hair as being a funny gimmick. So when we went to work for this guy, he put a clause in our contract saying we could only get two haircuts a year.<<

      This busted me up!
      'John Leonard' = John Lair
    1. KCNelson's Avatar
      KCNelson -
      Read this interview waiting to board a plane this morning, then listened to Homer & Jethro Live ('68), and Back to Back with Tiny Moore. Amazing playing, and the live banter had me cracking up. Looking forward to more!
    1. David Lewis's Avatar
      David Lewis -
      Wonderful. Particularly liked the part about knowing every joke so being able to find something funny every time.
    1. John Soper's Avatar
      John Soper -
      Thanks for posting this, Scott. Boy, if you miss a couple of days on Mandolin Cafe you never know what you're going to miss!
    1. trenthaynes's Avatar
      trenthaynes -
      The Haynes family thanks you for the re-post of tbhis article!