NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Boots Randolph, whose spirited saxophone playing on “Yakety Sax” endeared him to fans for years on Benny Hill’s TV show, died Tuesday. He was 80.
Randolph suffered a cerebral hemorrhage June 25 and had been hospitalized in a coma. He was taken off a respirator at Skyline Medical Center earlier Tuesday, said Betty Hofer, a publicist and spokeswoman for the family.
Randolph played regularly in Nashville nightclubs for 30 years, becoming a tourist draw for the city much like Wayne Newton in Las Vegas and Pete Fountain in New Orleans.
He recorded more than 40 albums and spent 15 years touring with the Festival of Music, teaming with fellow instrumentalists Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer.
As a session musician, he played on Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender,” Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Round the Christmas Tree” and “I’m Sorry,” REO Speedwagon’s “Little Queenie,” Al Hirt’s “Java” and other songs including ones by Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash.
In 1963 he had his biggest solo hit, “Yakety Sax,” which he co-wrote with guitarist James Rich.
“‘Yakety Sax’ will be my trademark,” Randolph said in a 1990 interview with The Associated Press. “I’ll hang my hat on it. It’s kept me alive. Every sax player in the world has tried to play it. Some are good, some are awful.”
“Yakety Sax” was the name of one of his gold albums and became the theme song for “The Benny Hill Show.”
“It rejuvenated the song,” Randolph said in 1990. “So many people know it from the show.”
He also was part of the Million Dollar Band on the TV show “Hee Haw.”
“He not only played just the notes, he caressed them,” said longtime “Hee Haw” co-host Roy Clark. “You could hear the words to his instrumentals.”
Randolph was born Homer Louis Randolph in Paducah, Ky., and grew up in the rural community of Cadiz, Ky., where he learned to play music with his family’s band.
He said he didn’t know where or why he got the nickname “Boots,” although his Web site at the time of his death suggested it was to avoid confusion because he and his father shared the same first name.
Randolph began playing the ukulele and then the trombone, but switched to the tenor sax when his father unexpectedly brought one home.
He graduated from high school in Evansville, Ind., then joined the Army and became a member of the Army Band.
After his discharge, he played primarily jazz at nightclubs for $60 a week. He finally landed a recording contract with RCA in Nashville in 1958 and was hired as a musician for recording sessions.
Randolph had his own nightclub in Nashville’s Printer’s Alley for 17 years, closing it in 1994 because of declining business and to spend more time with his family.
He played regularly at other nightclubs before and after that. He had lived in Nashville since 1961.
Randolph charted 13 albums on the pop charts from 1963 to 1972. His other single hits included “Hey, Mr. Sax Man” in 1964 and “Temptation” in 1967.
“Every time I pick the horn up, it’s more intriguing to me,” he said. “It satisfies my desire to do whatever I do.
“I think I probably get better because I work so much. You get to a point where you can be lackadaisical or nonchalant. But I’m not like that. I worry if I play a tune bad or my horn is not working right.”
Survivors include his wife, a son, a daughter and four grandchildren.