Best known for his 1963 recording of "Yakety Sax," which British vaudevillian Benny Hill later used to propel his sight-gag-laden TV sketches with scantily clad young women, Boots Randolph became the consummate music industry professional. Besides playing on his own popular instrumental albums, the Kentucky native was a vital component of the famed Nashville Sound of the 1960s and 1970s, playing hundreds of session dates behind artists as diverse as Al Hirt, Chet Atkins, the 101 Strings Orchestra, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, and Elvis Presley.
Came from Musical Family
Born in Paducah, Kentucky, Homer Louis Randolph III was raised in nearby Cadiz, a rural community. "That was during the Depression years and our musical background was country music basically," he said in a 2004 interview. "My father played a lot of string instruments—violin, and different things. He always encouraged us boys to play something or other that was different from that…. After a few years, I finally wound up with the saxophone." Asked what it was about the saxophone that attracted him, Randolph explained, "The big bands were all the rage when I was coming into music and … I always liked to hear one of the guys stand up and play jazz in front of that big band. That was always intriguing to me. After I got the saxophone, I started listening to more jazz people like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Ben Webster and Don Bias…. The more I listened the more I got involved in it.
Randolph's brother Bob invented the future sax legend's famous stage moniker to avoid household confusion. "The name 'Boots' came as a nickname when I was about 15 or 16 years old. My father is named Homer, but I wasn't a "junior."… [My brother] said, 'We need a catchy name' … it stuck pretty good so we stuck with it."
During his high school years, Randolph and his brother formed a six-piece group and played dances at various army bases, but the young man did not really become serious about the saxophone until he was drafted in 1945 and began playing in the army band.
Initially, Randolph's post-war plans included a day-job at the American Fork and Hoe in Evansville. "They put me to work driving wedges into hammer heads," he told the editors of Country Music: The Encyclopedia. "I hit my fingers and thumbs more than I did the wedges. After four weeks I decided to quit. I reasoned that if I ever hoped to play the sax again I'd need my fingers and thumbs."
Working with various combos throughout the Midwest, Randolph soon learned the key to steady employment was versatility. He luckily found a four-year sit-down gig at a club in Decatur, Illinois, and put his newfound sense of showmanship to work. "When I was playing commercially," he recalled, "I was able to play just about any style…. I felt that way I'd have more opportunities to make a living for me and my family. I did funny hat things. We did parodies. We sang funny songs and goofy stuff, like a comedy combo."
Jethro Burns, of the famed country comedy act Homer & Jethro, saw Randolph's group, and appreciating the high level of technical skill employed, told Chet Atkins at RCA about the young saxophonist. With co-writer James "Spider" Rich, Randolph had already written an early version of "Yakety Sax," titled "Chicken Reel." Atkins heard the tape and encouraged the sax player to come to Nashville and do session work.
Signed by RCA, Randolph was initially billed as Randy Randolph, and actually sang on his first single, "I'm Gettin' Your Message Baby." The disc was unsuccessful, as was his first recording of "Yakety Sax." Randolph recalled that the latter helped his studio career. "When I recorded 'Yakety Sax' in 1958, that helped me to open a lot of doors to the country music side, you might say."
Played on Sessions for Elvis Presley
"Owen Bradley used me sparingly for a lot of his country artists," said Randolph, of his first sessions experiences. "One of 'em for sure was Brenda Lee. I recorded a lot of stuff with Brenda. I recorded the solo on 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree,' which you still hear quite often. Now, on Brenda Lee's stuff, I recorded almost every one of those them bubblegum hits that she had back in those days." He added, "There were some good solos that I played on some of her stuff. I think probably that I played a little different than everybody else and that's what they wanted."
Randolph made a far bigger splash when he was contacted to play on Elvis Presley's first post-army album, Elvis is Back!, where he laid down a gritty blues solo on the remake of Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby." "They knew I was versatile with the different sounds and I got to be the guy they would hire to put on the sessions, but sometimes I'd record only one song all night," Randolph recalled. "They knew that sooner or later he'd run into something that he'd like to put the sax on…. I don't believe anyone played a saxophone solo on one of Elvis's records but me. I played background and baritone sax on a lot of his stuff. It wasn't always real dominant. 'Return to Sender' was one of the biggest things I played baritone sax on. I did it on some other things, like the soundtracks that we did for the movies."
Randolph also got to play on stage with Presley and witness the rock king's impact on an audience firsthand. "That was really exciting!," he declared. "You had 15,000 screaming kids and he had a charisma about him that was just spooky. You couldn't explain it, it was just there."
Greatest Success at Monument Records
Despite his status as a sought-after session player, Randolph's RCA recordings were not big sellers. As a result, he left the label in 1961 and signed with Fred Foster's Monument Records. Still doing session work, he recorded quite often with Roy Orbison, laying down sax parts for such hits as "Mean Woman Blues" and "Oh, Pretty Woman." Recording with the same Nashville A-Team denizens as he had at RCA, Randolph got more attention from the smaller company. As a result, their re-recording of "Yakety Sax" became a dual market hit and a perennial jukebox favorite.
A few of Randolph's subsequent singles garnered good airplay, such as "Hey, Mr. Sax Man," "Temptation," "The Shadow of Your Smile," and the Grammy-nominated "With Love." During Randolph's hot run with Monument, he appeared on such network TV programs as The Jackie Gleason Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and the syndicated Mike Douglas Show. The sax star also made countless appearances on such country music-oriented programs as The Jimmy Dean Show, Country Carnival, Pop Goes the Country, and Hee Haw. He also toured with Atkins, pianist Floyd Cramer, trumpter Danny Davis, Roy Clark, fiddler Johnny Gimble, and harmonica legend Charlie McCoy under the aegis The Master's Festival of Music, which led to a break-out gimmick for Davis. Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass became one of RCA's strongest sellers for a time.
For the Record …
Born Homer Louis Randolph III on June 3, 1927, in Paducah, KY; married Dee Randolph; children: Randy and Linda.
Began playing saxophone at age 16; continued playing sax, trombone, and vibraphone while in the Army, 1945–46; played various Midwestern clubs, mid-to late 1950s; discovered by the country comedy team of Homer & Jethro, 1957; signed with RCA as a recording artist, became part of Nashville's elite session players The A-Team, 1958; signed with Monument Records, 1961; appeared in movie That Tennessee Beat, 1966; appeared on several country music-oriented television programs, 1960s–80s; recorded for Palo Alto, 1983; opened Boots Randolph Club in Nashville, 1977–95; played the Stardust Theater with Danny Davis of Nashville Brass fame, l996–98; toured and lectured part-time, early 2000s.
Awards: Inducted into Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, 2002.
Addresses: Management—Boots Randolph Management, 4780 Lickton Place, Whites Creek, TN 37189. Website—Boots Randolph Official Website: http://www.bootsrandolph.com.
Also a Nightclub Owner
Randolph ended his association with Monument after 1976 and recorded a few one-off LPs for Mercury and CBS. He also tried to cut back on the amount of session work he took on. He opened his own nightclub, Boots Randolph's, in Nashville. The club, located in Nashville's historic Printer's Alley, would be the sax player's home for the next 17 years. He occasionally took time out to play special concert events and TV shows, or make high profile recordings with the likes of Atkins, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, or rock group R.E.O. Speedwagon. After leaving his successful supper club in 1995, Randolph shared a bill with Danny Davis at a theater across from the Opryland Hotel called the Stardust Theater. The shows went well, but Nashville was dying as a live music center.
In the early 2000s Randolph has considered himself semi-retired. Yet he plays dozens of concerts every year with jazz and symphony orchestras, not to mention Elvis Presley tribute shows. At the latter, he routinely makes audiences leap to their feet with his inspired strip club-influenced solo on "Reconsider Baby." Asked if he still loves making music, Randolph grins and replies, "Oh sure! That's my passion. Playing that saxophone is my first love and my passion—maybe outside my family…. I will probably play until my health gets bad and I can't play. I'm 77 so who knows? I still do pretty good."
"Yakety Sax," Monument, 1963.
"Temptation," Monument, 1967.
"The Shadow of Your Smile," Monument, 1967.
"With Love," Monument, 1969.
Yakety Sax, Monument, 1960.
Boots Randolph's Yakety Sax, Monument, 1963.
Hip Boots!, Monument, 1964.
The Yakin' Sax Man, RCA/Camden, 1964.
12 Monstrous Sax Hits, Monument, 1965.
Boots Randolph Play More Yakety Sax!, Monument, 1965.
Sweet Talk, RCA/Camden, 1965.
Boots with Strings, Monument, 1966.
The Fantastic Boots Randolph, Monument, 1966.
Saxsational, Monument, 1967.
Voices and Strings, Monument, 1967.
Boots Randolph with the Knightbridge Strings, Monument, 1968.
Sunday Sax, Monument, 1968.
The Sound of Boots, Monument, 1968.
Boots and Stockings, Monument, 1969.
With Love: The Seductive Sax of Boots Randolph, Monument, 1969.
Yakety Revisited, Monument, 1969.
Hip Boots 1970, Monument, 1970.
Boots with Brass, Monument, 1971.
The World of Boots Randolph, Monument, 1971.
Homer Louis Randolph III, Monument, 1971.
Boots Randolph Plays the Great Hits of Today, Monument, 1972.
Cool Boots, Monument, 1972.
Country Boots, Monument, 1972.
Sentimental Journey, Monument, 1973.
Greatest Hits, Monument, 1976.
Party Boots, Monument, 1976.
Sax Appeal, Mercury, 1977.
V.S.O.P., CBS, 1977.
Yakety Madness, Laserlight, 1992.
Christmas at Boots' Place, Laserlight, 1992.
Live, CBS, 1992.
Greatest Hits, Sound Solutions, 1993.
Yakety Sax, Bear Family, 1994.
The Best of Boots Randolph, Curb, 1997.
Songs for the Spirit, Homeland, 2000.
Yakety Sax and other Instrumental Classics, Power Pak, 2002.
A Christmas Holiday, Homeland, 2002.
Te Deseames Una Feliz Navidad, Delta, 2003.
Yakety Sax, RCR/Cbuj Ent., 2005.
Nashville Standard Time, Hive, 2005.
As session player
(The Nashville All-Stars) After the Riot at Newport, RCA, 1960.
(Elvis Presley) Elvis is Back!, RCA, 1960.
(Homer & Jethro) Homer & Jethro at the Country Club, RCA, 1960.
(Brenda Lee) This is … Brenda, Decca, 1960.
(Scotty Moore) The Guitar that Changed the World, Epic, 1964.
(Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, and Boots Randolph) Chet, Floyd, & Boots, RCA, 1971.
(Ronnie Hawkins) Rock 'n' Roll Resurrection, Monument, 1972.
(REO Speedwagon) R.E.O. 2, Epic, 1972.
(101 Strings Orchestra) Take Me Home Country Roads, RCA, 1973.
(Chet Atkins) Stay Tuned, CBS, 1985.
(Roy Orbison, with Sonny James) RCA Sessions, Bear Family, 1987.
(Roy Orbison) Legendary Roy Orbison, Columbia, 1988.
(John D. Loudermilk) Blue Train, Bear Family, 1989.
(Jerry Lee Lewis) Classic, Bear Family, 1989.
(Elvis Presley) Known Only to Him: Elvis Gospel 1957–1971, RCA, 1989.
(Brenda Lee) Anthology, Vol. 1, MCA, 1991.
(Brenda Lee) Anthology, Vol. 2, MCA, 1991.
(The Collins Kids) Hop, Skip and Jump, Bear Family, 1991.
(Ray Stevens) Lend Me Your Ears, Curb, 1991.
(Al Hirt) Raw Sugar, Sweet Sauce, Sony, 1991.
(Billy "Crash" Craddock) Boom Boom Baby, Bear Family, 1992.
(Johnny Cash) Essential Johnny Cash: 1955–1983, Columbia, 1992.
(Chet Atkins) RCA Years, 1947–1981, RCA, 1992.
(Buddy Holly) Buddy Holly Collection, MCA, 1993.
(Dr. Feelgood) Doctor Is In!, Bear Family, 1993.
(Elvis Presley) Harum Scarum / Girl Happy, RCA, 1993.
(Elvis Presley) Kid Galahad / Girls! Girls! Girls!, RCA, 1993.
(Elvis Presley) Spinout / Double Trouble, RCA, 1993.
(Elvis Presley) Viva Las Vegas / Roustabout, RCA 1993.
(Clarence Frogman Henry) Ain't Got No Home: The Best of Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Chess, 1994.
(Jack Scott) Classic Scott, Bear Family, 1994.
(Elvis Presley) Kissin' Cousins / Clambake / Stay Away Joe, RCA, 1994.
(Elvis Presley) Flaming Star / Wild in the Country / Follow That Dream, RCA, 1995.
(Hank Locklin) PLease Help Me I'm Falling, Bear Family, 1995.
(Ettore Stratta Memphis Symphony Orchestra) Symphonic Elvis, Elektra, 1996.
(Elvis Presley) Blue Hawaii [expanded], RCA, 1997.
(Tommy Jones) Tide Pool, Artifex, 1998.
(Ann-Margret) 1961–1966, Bear Family, 1999.
(Joe Barry) I'm a Fool to Care: The Complete Recordings 1958–1977, Night Train International, 1999.
(The Velvets) Tonight Could Be the Night: The Very Best of the Velvets, Collectables, 1999.
(Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra) Let's Polka 'Round, Rounder, 2003.
(Con Hunley) Sweet Memories, IMMI, 2003.
McCloud, Barry, Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers, Perigree, 1995.
Stambler, Irwin, and Gruelin Landon, Country Music—The Encyclopedia, St. Martin's Griffin, 2000.
"Boots Randolph," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 10, 2005).
"Boots Randolph," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (September 10, 2005).
"Boots Randolph," Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum, http://www.kentuckymuseum.com/hall_of_fame/randolph.htm (September 7, 2005).
"Randy Randolph," RCS Artist Discography, http://www.rcs.law.emory.edu/rcs/artists/r/rand8000.htm (September 10, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Boots Randolph on August 13, 2004, from which quotations used in this entry were drawn.
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