Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Homer and Jethro - Cool Crazy Xmas

All right, all right…here's an entire album that will never be re-issued. And YOU don't have a turntable anymore anyway. And if this album miraculously DID get re-issued, YOU wouldn't think it was worth $9.99 on iTunes or half that at eMusic.

So here, free...the always under-appreciated Homer and Jethro. Homer (or Jethro) once said, "We were too corny for sophisticated people, and too sophisticated for corny people." Quite so.

But even so, the duo averaged two albums a year for a decade, and actually had a hit single (a forgettable parody of "Battle of New Orleans"). During the great Hillbilly Sitcom Scare of the early 60's ("Beverly Hillbillies," "Green Acres," "Andy Griffith Show," "Petticoat Junction") they made some good money doing singing commercials for a brand of corn flakes. They even issued a few albums alluding to this success, with Jethro dressed up as "Cornfucius."

In the late 60's, CBS, citing "demographics," began to kill off their rural comedies. Sure, these shows were popular, but CBS didn't want to be known as the old fogey network catering to Middle America. They wanted a cool, urban image, and to get ads aimed at 20-somethings. CBS was even aiming their guns at "Gunsmoke" while greasing the floor under Jack Benny, Red Skelton and the hillbilly sitcoms. Columbia Records and other labels were likewise cleaning house, and ridding themselves of the Patti Page-type artists who were clogging the middle of the road and needing to give way to the fast lane of rock music.

Around this time, and only 55, Homer Haynes dropped dead of a heart attack. Thus, H&J were spared the ignominy of being dropped from their label. The audience for country was narrowing (and already crossover-country was becoming popular) and in the duo's case, trends in music made it more difficult to have hits with song parodies. There weren't that many songs everybody knew, or cared to hear corn-ified. Could Homer and Jethro do versions of "I am the Walrus" and "Stairway to Heaven?" Hmmm….

Jethro Burns gave up after a new partner and "The New Homer and Jethro" failed to interest anyone. A highly respected mandolin player, he later guested on various bluegrass albums and even made his own straight solo discs. He didn't live to see the name of "Homer and Jethro" become revered and respected, with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He didn't live to see a boxed set collecting all their tracks with a bonus DVD and a big 12x12 annotated booklet. If he was alive today…he STILL wouldn't have seen any of that! The duo remains, like deep-fried Oreos, an acquired taste. The duo remains a favorite only among the musically ill. And for that, my poor heart is as heavy as a bucket of liver.

Homer and Jethro Crazy Xmas Album


Timmy said...

O! Oh0-Oh..Oh! Oh, oh, oh!
tahnk YOU.............!

Tim Edwards said...

I have several of the H&J Christmas album songs on 45's. Same songs, but completely different recordings. They are more "corn-fed" and not nearly as "slick" in their arrangements and production. "Santy Baby", "Night After Christmas" and "Santy Baby" come to mind, but I have a few others, too. They're RCA promo 45's. Must have decided they needed a more "commercial" release for the LP! I notice this too on Capitol Records -- especially on the "Ol Rockin' Ern" LP from Tennessee Ernie Ford. The 45's of the same tunes have much more edge and grit than the slicked up versions on the LP.

Ill Folks said...

Interesting point. I think the difference here is age. "Santy Baby" was I think recorded in 1954, when H&J were firmly C&W artists. Some dozen years later, they were older, more mellow "crossover" stylists and that hard edge was gone.

Actually that happened to many others. There's a big difference between the traditional George Jones of 1956 ("Why Baby Why" on Mercury) and the deeper voiced, mellower string-laden stuff he did for producer Billy Sherrill some 20 years later (including his comeback hit "He Stopped Loving Her Today")