Born Homer Louis Randolph III, 3 June 1927, Paducah, Kentucky
Boots Randolph was Nashville's most prominent sax player and a key element of the Nashville sound. On top of that, he is considered one of the greatest rock n roll saxophonists, along with Plas Johnson, King Curtis and Lee Allen.
Born into a musical family, Randolph learned to play various instruments (ukelele, vibraphone, trombone) before finally settling on the saxophone at age 16. At that time he was living in Evansville, Indiana. While serving Uncle Sam, Boots was privileged to perform with the US Army band. After his discharge in late 1946 he started playing in local clubs in Evansville and later Decatur, Illinois. Jazz was his preferred genre, but in the course of time he learned to play any kind of music. Guitarist James 'Spider' Rich recommended him to Chet Atkins, who was sufficiently impressed by a demo of "Chicken Reel" to sign Randolph to RCA in 1958. Soon he was recording with the elite of the Nashville session men, people like Hank Garland, Bob Moore, Floyd Cramer and Buddy Harman.
Some of the early RCA recordings featured Boots as a singer (and not a bad one at that), for instance the A-side of his first single, "I'm Getting Your Message Baby". It was the second RCA session (on September 8, 1958) that would produce the song most associated with him. Co-written by Boots Randolph and James Rich, "Yakety Sax" is one of the best known saxophone tunes of all time, not in the last place because it became the theme of the long-running Benny Hill Show in the UK. According to Boyd Bennett, Boots developed the song when he played in Bennett's band The Rockets in 1954-55 : "Yakety Sax, he learned to play that because we didn't have a fiddle player and a lot of places we played they wanted to do a square dance. So Boots would do what we called a fiddle breakdown on the sax." RCA credited the first three singles to Randy Randolph, as they already had a sax player Boots Brown (actually jazz man Shorty Rogers). None of the RCA singles - not even "Yakety Sax" - made much noise, saleswise, and the "Yakety Sax" LP (1960) was also overlooked by the record buyers. Dissatisfied with RCA's lack of promotion, Boots accepted an offer from Fred Foster, the owner of Monument Records, to sign with his label, in 1961.
By then Randolph had already built a reputation as a stellar saxophonist, playing behind the likes of Elvis Presley (post-Army), Brenda Lee, Johnny Preston,Chet Atkins, Roy Orbison (who called Boots his good luck charm : "I'd pay him even if he didn't play"), and lots of others. His amazing sax solo in Presley's rendition of "Reconsider Baby" (1960) has been hailed as "the finest sax solo in rock history".
He moved to Nashville permanently in 1961 and plunged into full-time studio work. Monument was a much smaller company than RCA and was able to give Boots the support he needed. A 1963 remake of "Yakety Sax" (more polished than the 1958 original) peaked at # 35 on the Billboard charts and his debut Monument LP, also titled "Yakety Sax", was far more successful than the RCA album. It was as an LP artist that Boots had his greatest success : 13 Monument albums made the LP Top 200 between 1963 and 1972, the highest ranking being "Boots With Strings" (# 36, 1967). After "Yakety Sax", three other Monument singles were minor hits during 1964-67. Boots would stay with Monument until the label folded in 1983. He recorded some 30 albums for the label, often covers of current pop or country hits. While these were aimed at the growing easy listening market, on stage Boots loved to cut looose. At heart he was a rocker, according to Stuart Colman.
At his peak, Randolph averaged 200-300 studio sessions a year for others. Throughout the sixties he remained the first choice as saxophonist for Elvis Presley and also performed on eight soundtracks for Presley's motion pictures. In the 1960s and 1970s Randolph toured with Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer as The Master's Festival of Music and he was also part of the Million Dollar Band on the TV show "Hee Haw". Between 1977 and 1994 he ran his own nightclub in Nashville's Printer's Alley. Before and after that he played regularly at other nightclubs.
Boots Randolph suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on June 25, 2007 and was hospitalized in a coma. Eight days later he died at Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, at the age of eighty. His last project was an album with Billy Swan and Scotty Moore, called "The Mighty Handful", which was released two months after his death.
Official website: http://www.bootsrandolph.com/
CD recommendations :
Acknowledgements : Rich Kienzle, Adam Komorowski (liner notes for Boyd Bennett's Charly CD), Stuart Colman (obituary in Now Dig This 293).
Discography / sessionography :
Dik, April 2013
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