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Saxophone legend Boots Randolph comes to Fort Wayne

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


The lists of artists saxophonist Boots Randolph has recorded with reads like a “Hit Parade” of pop music from the 50s and early 60s — Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, and some guy named Elvis Presley, among others. If his resume doesn’t ring any bells… well, ask a saxophone player; they’ll tell you who Boots Randolph is. Homer “Boots” Randolph grew up near Cadiz, Kentucky during the depression with a very musical family. Boots cut his musical teeth on the baritone horn and the trombone. In 1943, his father bought a saxophone from a guy he worked with at the shipyards in Evansville. “Of course, I sounded like a scalded dog,” Randolph says. “But I played that thing about eight hours a day. About a year’s time, I was playing in the high school band.” Eventually, Boots moved to Nashville and became one of the city’s most sought-after session musicians, as well as a solo artist in his own right. 1961’s manic “Yakety Sax” is probably his best-known pop hit (it’s used as the “Benny Hill” theme song), but he also scored several jazz hits. Boots will be playing at the Embassy Theater with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic on Saturday, October 15, and speaking as part of IPFW’s Omnibus Lecture Series on Friday, October 14.

FWR: You’ve played a lot of different styles of music over the years. What material are you going to be performing with the Philharmonic?

Boots Randolph: Doing this is a special thing for me. I’ve done a lot of recording, and some of it has strings in the background, some of it has horns, some of it has voices. When we do something like this, it’s like an extension of a lot of my recordings. I can’t afford a 50-piece group when I go out, so I have piano, bass, drums and guitar, and the guitar player is an excellent sax player. We’re going to do a couple small group things, as well as the orchestral thing. But we’ll do what I’m famous for, or known for I guess is a better word. “Yakety Sax” is my leading tune. That was the catalyst for my career as a recording artist, but I’ve had about 40 albums. Some CDs just came out a few years ago. Sounds great, with the digital stuff. My God, some of those early bands from the 30s and the 40s, it would have been great if we could have had some of them on digital. They’re transferring those recordings, but that original sound is not there, ya know. All this stuff they’ve got in the studios now is just scary. What used to cost a million dollars to put all that analog stuff in the studio… my God, now for $50,000 you can buy the best stuff to be had… I did a session yesterday here in Nashville. Just this little studio, but this guy was really good with this stuff. It’s gotten to be so high-tech that it don’t even resemble when I first started recording down here in Nashville.

FWR: Since we’re on the subject, as a guy who has made a lot of records, what do you think about the new recording techniques?

BR: It has to be a good thing. It makes things easier to do, with better results, know what I’m sayin’? Why isn’t that a good thing? Everybody don’t want to lose the past. I’m one of them too. I hear analog and I think, “boy, you can’t get no better than that. It had all the sounds we needed.” But when you stop to think how you’re working things now… back in the late 50s, you couldn’t overdub anything! You could splice, but hell, sometimes the tempos would be different.

FWR: What are you going to talk about at IPFW?

BR: When you’ve lived for 78 years and have come through a lot of musical decades, and played on quite a few hit records, I think it’s probably interesting to hear how some of the things were done, what you did, and why. Members of our band are all experienced session musicians, and we’ll answer questions, and play some. Basically, let the kids hear people who were part of the history of the music industry.

FWR: This is a broad question, but could you give me an idea of your time as a session musician in Nashville back in the 60s? You’ve backed up a lot of famous people…

BR: I used to play at this place called the Blue Bar in Evansville. It was quite a watering trough, know what I mean? A friend from there took me to Nashville where Chet Atkins and a lot of folks were just getting started. I did soundtracks with Elvis Presley. The first thing I did with him, I played baritone sax on “Return to Sender.” I’m the only sax player that’s ever recorded a sax solo on one of Elvis Presley’s tunes — “Reconsider, Baby.” Just a blues thing, you know, but I’m playing sax on it. Another piece of my history was when I recorded “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” with Brenda Lee. Oh, Lord, that’s been played every year! I played baritone sax on Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” and I did some stuff on his albums. People ask me about Buddy Holly. I think Buddy Holly was killed before I got to Nashville, and I think what I did was go overdub some tracks he had made. I never met him. Back in those days, everything was wild n’ wooly, ya know, until the Beatles hit this country and sort of changed the direction, but I got a lot of that stuff in before they came.

FWR: So, basically, when you were playing with these people, it was just another day at work for you?

BR: (laughs) Some of these guys (session musicians) would do three or four sessions a day. I probably averaged maybe one or two a day for a long time. It was sort of a mutual admiration society. The guys that were playing background parts in Nashville — Floyd Kramer, Grady Martin, Hank Garland, different people — they were called the “A Team” back in those days. They were almost bigger stars in Nashville than the people we were recording for. I’d go in and record with young people, and they’d be wanting my autograph. They thought of us as being the stars. But we all lived in the same situation, trying to help each other, trying to make a hit record.

IPFW Omnibus Lecture Series
Friday, 10/14/05, 7:30 pm
Walb Union Ballroom on the IPFW campus. Free event.
Boots Randolph POPS
Philharmonic Pops with Boots Randolph
Saturday, 10/15/05, 8:00 pm
Embassy Theatre
Tickets available at the Embassy Theatre Box Office or by calling 260-744-1700 or online at www.fortwaynephilharmonic.com

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