When Boots Randolph was “tootin’ his horn”, he did more than just play the saxophone. More than just pop out music notes. And that’s why his saxophone sounded like it could sing…could talk…could almost speak to deaf ears! His ability was awesome. His versatile style still has no equal. He brought audiences to their feet ever since the early sixties, when his signature song– “Yakety Sax” — first hit the airwaves. It took off like gangbusters and turned the young musician into a celebrity, probably before some of his friends in the hills of Kentucky could even spell it!
A native of Paducah, Kentucky, Boots…whose real name was Homer Louis Randolph, grew up in the rural community of Cadiz. His father also had the name Homer, and obviously it created confusion ’round home! As a result, young Homer was tagged with the nickname “Boots”…by his brother Bob…not knowing it would one day be that of an International Star! The Randolphs were always a creative clan..rich in musical talent…and their family band initially provided Boots with the first of his opportunities on stage. He learned to play a variety of instruments including ukelele, vibraphone, and trombone, but finally settled on the saxophone at age 16.
Years later he was to make music his career choice while working for Uncle Sam, during which time he was privileged to perform with the US Army Band. After his discharge in 1946, Boots Randolph began putting his “chops” to work professionally. However, it wasn’t until 1961 that he moved to Music City–on the heels of his successful trademark tune–or, as he tells it, “that song (Yakety Sax) is what took me out of the hills of Kentucky and put me in the hills of Tennessee!” The song served a multitude of purposes in kicking off his early career, not only by giving him the prestige of being a hit artist, but also by opening a lot of doors to other performers. Almost instantly, the Sax Man was seriously being sought after as a studio musician, and he was soon “picking saxophone” on recording sessions for numerous stars.
Boots Randolph was the first to ever play sax on recordings with Elvis, and the only one to ever play solo with him, in addition to recording on the soundtracks for eight of his movies. Boots also played on such diverse recordings as Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”, Al Hirt’s “Java”, REO Speedwagon’s “Little Queenie”, and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ ‘Round The Christmas Tree”. In fact, he has a 30-year history of playing on records with her, including “I Want To Be Wanted” and “I’m Sorry”. An array of other artists who have added the Yakety Sax touch to their recordings include Chet Atkins, Buddy Holly, Floyd Cramer, Alabama, Johnny Cash, Richie Cole, Pete Fountain, Tommy Newsom, and Doc Severinsen.
His unique style of sax, coupled with tremendous popularity on Music City sessions in the sixties, made Randolph a major player in creating the now-famous “Nashville Sound”. Without question, its was Randolph’s particular blend of Dixieland jazz….along with some Swingin’ honky-tonk…which helped Nashville music makers turn hillbilly records into a hybrid sound that literally transformed Nashville into the Country Music Capitol of the World!
Throughout his career, Randolph had more calls for his “Saxy” sound at studio sessions than he could handle. While most people only associate Randolph with his self-written, multi-million seller, “Yakety Sax”, he also had other big hits in the form of Gold Records (a half-million in sales) on “The Shadow of Your Smile” in 1966. Plus, he “hit gold” numerous other times through recordings made with others, including “Honey In The Horn”, “Java”, and “Cotton” by Al Hirt, not to mention the countless consecutive Gold records by Elvis. In addition, Randolph had smash hit singles on “Hey, Mr. Sax Man” and “Temptation”. He also has over 40 albums to his credit on the Monument label. On top of that, Randolph spent 15 years touring with The Master’s Festival of Music, which teamed him with fellow instrumentalists Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer.
Another version of that group, called The Million Dollar Band, played for eight years on the Hee Haw Show. Members included Randolph, Atkins, Cramer, Danny Davis, Roy Clark, Jethro Burns, Johnny Gimble, and Charlie McCoy. He took his “Yakety Sax” to numerous network TV shows including the Ed Sullivan Show, Kraft Music Hall, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin Show, Mike Douglas Show, Joey Bishop Show, Steve Lawrence Show, and the Boston Pops. He appeared ten times on the Jimmy Dean Show, and also headlined two network Specials with Pete Fountain and Doc Severinsen. More recently, he made numerous TV appearances on TNN’s Music City Tonight and Prime Time Country.
After performing all across the country in some of the most posh clubs ever built, Boots Randolph took the plunge in 1977…borrowed half-a-million bucks to restore an historic building in Nashville Printer’s Alley…and opened his own dinner club–called Boots Randolph’s. He performed there on a regular basis, and enjoyed a successful run with the club for 17 years, before he called it “quits”. When he closed the club, Randolph had vowed to “go fishing”, but it was barely a year later — in 1996 — when he found himself back in business, pairing up with Danny Davis, as they embarked on a brand new venture in Nashville called The Stardust Theatre, featuring both artists in concert.
Two years later, they each returned to their respective on-the-road schedules. Having headlined at almost every fair, jazz festival, and convention in the country, as well as performing throughout Europe, definitely puts Boots Randolph in the category of being a saxophone player WITH EXPERIENCE!
Over the years, this legendary musician had written chapter after chapter of music history…forever etched in sound… entertaining audiences with the same enthusiasm he had since day one. It was in his blood! Boots was his name and SAX was his game! His horn was a Selmer Super 80 Series II with a Bobby Dukoff D-9 mouthpiece, and a #3 Rico reed.
He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on June 25, 2007 and fell into a in coma from which he never regained consciousness. He died on July 3, 2007 at the age of 80.