Boots Randolph: 1927 to 2007
Along with pianist Floyd Cramer and guitarist Chet Atkins, tenor saxophonist Boots Randolph helped define Nashville as the home of a no-nonsense, casual yet superhuman approach to music-making that still holds today, although in inflated form. As a session man, Randolph was part of an elite group of musicians who labored on hits by Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. As a star, Randolph displayed the chops he’d honed in the U.S. Army Band during World War II, and made a 1963 hit out of an instrumental he called “Yakety Sax”, which writers Randolph and James Rich adapted from King Curtis’ saxophone solo in the Coasters’ 1958 “Yakety Yak”. And as image, Randolph embodied the raffish spirit of the musician who cloistered himself in the service of commerce, but who blew jazz after hours on Nashville’s Printer’s Alley.
Born Homer Louis Randolph III on June 3, 1927, in Paducah, Kentucky, Randolph returned home from the Army and played around Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois throughout the 1950s. He worked his way into Nashville on the strength of “Yakety Sax”, which Atkins liked enough to sign Randolph to RCA later that decade. The original version of “Yakety”, released under Randy Rudolph, didn’t hit, but the tune quickly enough became a standard, and led to records such as 1968’s The Sound Of Boots, which found Randolph easing his way through the likes of “Elusive Butterfly”.
He worked fruitfully with Presley, contributing incisive solos to early-’60s recordings such as “Reconsider Baby”. In the late ’70s he opened Boots Randolph’s in Printer’s Alley, and continued to tour and record. A month before his death, Randolph released A Whole New Ballgame, a record of jazz standards that found him playing in the manner of Ben Webster. He died in Nashville on July 3, following a cerebral hemorrhage.