Boots Randolph Dead at 80


Boots Randoph photo courtesy of

July 2, 2007 — The reports that Boots Randolph, Nashville’s most celebrated saxophonist and a member of the city’s vaunted "A-Team" of session musicians, died this afternoon after suffering a subdural hematoma last week. He was 80.

Mr. Randolph played a major role in the development of the Nashville Sound, where his always soulful playing galvanized popular recordings by the likes of Elvis Presley and Eddy Arnold.

As singular as his work as a sideman was, however, Mr. Randolph was best known for his 1963 hit "Yakety Sax," a juking instrumental inspired by King Curtis’ saxophone solo on the Coasters’ 1958 R&B smash "Yakety Yak."

Written with guitarist James "Spider" Rich, Mr. Randolph’s record later became the theme song of the long-running British comedy The Benny Hill Show.

"Chicken pickin’ saxophone" is how Country Music Hall of Famer and fellow A-Team member Harold Bradley described the short, spluttering notes that hooked "Yakety Sax."

Mr. Randolph, too, invoked rural imagery to describe his playing, routinely joking from the stage that he was "the world’s only hillbilly saxophonist."

Brenda Lee, discussing Mr. Randolph’s swinging solo on her 1960 hit "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree," said, "I don’t care who has recorded that song since, they all copied him."

From his salacious wailing on Elvis’ 1960 recording of "Reconsider Baby" to the staccato riff he played on Roy Orbison’s "Oh, Pretty Woman," Mr. Randolph’s contributions indeed were inimitable.

Born in Paducah, Ky., in 1927, Mr. Randolph grew up playing ukulele and trombone in his family’s band, which supplemented their household income with public performances during the Depression. He didn’t take up the saxophone until he was in high school.

Mr. Randolph's big break came after he sent a tape of "Yakety Sax" to Chet Atkins, then the head of RCA Records in Nashville. Atkins liked what he heard and hired Mr. Randolph to do session work for such artists as Perry Como and Homer & Jethro.

Atkins also signed him to a solo contract but it wasn’t until Mr. Randolph moved to the fledging Monument label that his career took off. He became a regular on the "Grand Ole Opry" and was a frequent guest on such network TV programs as "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson."

In 1977 he opened his famous Boot Randolph’s nightclub in Printer’s Alley, a popular tourist attraction until it closed in 1994.

Mr. Randolph is survived by Dee Randolph, his wife of 59 years, his son Randy Randolph and daughter Linda O’Neal, all of Nashville.

Funeral services are pending. A memorial service will be conducted by the Nashville Association of Musicians Local 257 at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Boots Randolph Scholarship Fund, Blair School of Music, U.S. Bank, 600 South Main Street, Goodlettsville, TN 37072.