Guitarist Chet Atkins and mandolinist Jethro Burns, who perform at Baird Auditorium tonight, are not just two of Nashville's superpickers; they're also brothers-in-law who happen to have been married to identical twin sisters for more than 36 years.
In 1944, Atkins was working at radio station WLW in Cincinnati; it was there that he met Leona Johnson, one of the Johnson Sisters who were performing on the air at the time. He married her in 1945. Burns, who formed the legendary country comedy team of Homer and Jethro in 1932 with Henry (Homer) Haynes, found himself in Cincinnati "after getting out of the Army in 1945. Chet was working there, but I hadn't met him before." Burns was soon paired up with Lois Johnson, the other half of the singing team. Both men have fond memories of the city. "That's where we met 'em and that's where we married 'em," Burns says succinctly; he took the vows in 1946.
Atkins and Burns have often worked together, most notably in the award-winning -- but studio-bound -- Nashville String Band (despite six albums, the Band only gave one public performance). Burns, identified by his answering machine as "The World's Greatest Mandolinist," recently recorded his first strictly solo album, "Tea for One" on the Kaleidoscope label. "It was my idea. I play that way and I wanted to make a record that way."
Each performer will do a solo set before the two come together at concert's end. Burns says he'll follow a tried and true formula: "I'll play, and do some funny things, though I never really know what I'm going to do until I get out there." He certainly doesn't have to worry about finding a tune: He and Atkins share a bottomless reservoir. "It keeps it from getting boring," Atkins says happily. "I've got so many things I can pull out of a hat that I don't really have to put it down on a piece of paper . My only trouble is deciding what key to play in."