Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Get Rhythm

Category: Birthday Tribute

Like all good parents, Henry Alfred Haynes wanted to give his children their hearts' desires. The problem was, the Haynes family was poor. Henry struggled to make ends meet as a baker in Knoxville. When his four-year-old son asked for a guitar in 1924, Henry managed to scrape together parts and build the child a guitar. No doubt he figured it would satisfy the youngster.

Boy, did it. Little Henry grew up to be universally regarded as the definition of a rhythm guitarist. Henry Doyle Haynes was born nine decades ago on July 27.

The love of music was in the family. At their church Henry Sr. directed the choir and his wife, Laura, played the piano. Junior, as he was called, took to his guitar without any concern as to how it looked or how it compared to a store-bought guitar. Before he became a teenager Junior was making good money (for the South in the throes of the Depression) -- $3 a week -- playing guitar at WNOX.

The job would forever change his life and would permanently alter music. While at WNOX Junior started playing in a band with another WNOX musician, Kenneth "Dude" Burns. The two boys, not five months apart in age, developed a personal and professional bond through the music they played together. They also developed an act -- a comedy routine that centered around singing pop songs the way a couple of hillbillies would as they sat around their moonshine still. The act drew more attention than the fact that the two boys, before they could even drive, were outplaying much older musicians. Eventually the comedy act became the act; and, thanks to WNOX's program director Lowell Blanchard, the two boys became known as Homer and Jethro.

Rhythm guitar is a dying art, thanks to the widespread use of drums. In the 30s, the only places you would see drums were in big bands, and occasionally a jazz act. The rhythm fell to various instruments in the band, and that's where Homer Haynes excelled. He could play lead -- he was originally billed on WNOX as "Junior Haynes and his guitar" during The Midday Merry-Go-Round in 1936. However, with Jethro Burns quickly emerging as a mandolin player's mandolin player, Homer became the rhythm guitarist's rhythm guitarist as he laid down the beat behind his partner. The sound they created was unmatched in country music, and remains to this day unparalleled.

Homer enjoys his Corn Flakes

One other thing was unmatched, and that was Homer's sense of humor. Archie Campbell, who watched Homer and Jethro's career from their earliest days on WNOX, had one adjective for Homer's humor: peculiar. When asked why he never played anything but rhythm Homer mischeviously replied, "I'm Catholic."
And as with his partner, Homer found anything and everything to be fair game when it came joke time, and that included himself and his family. He lamented that his middle name "makes me sound like a can of pineapple" (until Jethro tenderly reminded him, "That's Dole, dummy"). On the Live at Vanderbilt U. album he spoke of his inseparable ties to his wife: "I take her with me everywhere I go. She's so ugly I hate to kiss her goodbye." Once during a radio interview Haynes bragged about the fact that he had just "kicked" his older son out of the house while complaining that he couldn't do the same to his ten-year-old twins. A long-running joke was Homer introducing a song by claiming the title was "I miss my wife's cooking -- every chance I get."

There has never been anything in country music that has come close to matching the comedy of Homer and Jethro. Likewise, no genre of music has since seen the likes of the rhythm guitar work that Henry Haynes gave us.

Happy birthday, Homer.

No comments: