My first meeting with Boots Randolph occurred when my father, the late comedian Ralph Smith, was recording a comedy album at Boots’ legendary Printer’s Alley nightclub in 1980 in Nashville. Meeting and hearing Boots live for the first time, I was blown away by him and his band! Later that year, Fred Foster from Monument Records hired me to play bass on Boots’ last project for the label, “Dedication.”
By the time I met Boots, he had already been one of the top tenor sax players in every conceivable popular music category you might think of, such as country, rock’n’roll, blues, pop, gospel and swing jazz, for decades. Most people only associate Randolph with his self-written, 1963 multi-million seller of "Yakety Sax", but he also had other big hits such as "The Shadow of Your Smile" in 1966.Boots Randolph was the also first to ever play sax on recordings with Elvis Presley, starting in 1960 on Elvis’ comeback album “Elvis is Back!”, and the only one to ever play solo with him. In addition he played sax on the soundtracks for eight of his movies. Boots also played with Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer. His further session credits included such diverse, classic recordings as Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman", Al Hirt's "Java", REO Speedwagon's "Little Queenie", Brenda Lee's "Rockin' 'Round The Christmas Tree", and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Turn On Your Lovelight”.
Without question, it was Boots’ particular muscular blend of Dixieland Jazz, along with some swingin’ Honky Tonk which helped Nashville music makers turn from regional hillbilly records to the hybrid country / pop which transformed Nashville into the Country Music capital of the world!
Fast forward to 1996 — an opportunity to “sub” on Boots’ band one night led to him offering me the job full-time. I have since produced several CDs for Boots through the last eleven years, and this latest offering is something truly special! Through the years, Boots always had a “concept” in mind when he began a new project. Together, we have done classic Nashville songs, a Christmas album, and a gospel project.
One day driving to Boots’ home to talk about a new recording, it hit me. Boots is 79 years old, he has cut nearly fifty albums, he is playing as well as he has ever played-who needs a concept? Let’s just record a group of Boots’ favorite standards from the Great American Songbook, tunes he had never recorded previously. Well, there’s a concept for you!
We discussed a few songs, and got together at the studio to “see if anything would happen.” Well did it ever! The first session opened a floodgate, and we soon had fourteen songs that we really wanted to record.
Boots is fond of calling great standards “evergreens”, and that describes the titles represented here. It seems like the last few years have produced a glut of artists recording the great standards, so what could we bring to the table that would be new and unique.
The answer is in the artist himself. Boots is one of the most distinctive sounding instrumentalists in the history of modern music. He has proven to be a special interpreter of great melodies. He possesses one of the most imitated and respected “tones” in the business.
On every song in this collection, you will hear a master musician deliver the melody in a way that only Boots can, and you will hear the most adventurous jazz solos that Boots has recorded to date. His legion of fans will get a huge dose of Boots’ horn on this project, with no apologies. Our drummer, Ray Von Rotz, reminded us that we didn’t need to cheat the boss out of any choruses on these songs, and we didn’t. We tackled some very difficult music, both harmonically and technically. On “Take Me out to the Ballgame” it is Boots who really cooks on a couple of choruses—first take I might add-while the rest of us burned some serious calories trying to stay in the same ballpark with Boots!
Fans always ask Boots if he has a favorite sax player. They want to know who his influences were, and why he became the sax player he is today. Boots then mentions the huge names in the jazz sax world, players like Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker. However, he also never fails to mention Don Byas. As we started picking material for this recording, Boots brought in a copy of Don Byas playing a great tune called “Candy.” I was floored. Byas plays the song brilliantly. His time is incredible. His note choice is flawless. His tone is incredibly “contemporary” for his time period.
I have been lucky enough to have worked with many top sax players in music today. Bill Evans, the great sax player from Miles Davis’s 1980’s bands, and Kirk Whalum are some of the most respected tenor sax players in the current crop of new jazz stars. Kirk actually told me that one of the reasons he made the move to Nashville years back was “to breathe the same air that Boots did.” So in the same way that these young musicians revere Boots, Boots is giving something back on this record.
The band on this album is very special. Ray Von Rotz has been with Boots well over twenty years. A great musician, and versatile drummer, Ray found his niche with Boots. Nobody plays this material like Ray. He never ceases to be musical at any tempo or style. Steve Willets joined the band five years ago. He is not only a tremendous pianist, but also a fabulous singer, and an encyclopedia of the jazz idiom. He brings incredible energy to the stage and studio. His “time” is just wonderful and he is a great arranger. My brother Roddy Smith is the guitarist on the project. He has been on several of Boots’ projects in the past, and began performing live with the group in 2006. He plays great tasty rhythm as well as some beautiful, bluesy, soulful solos here. I, Tim Smith, played the bass on the record, as I also do on Boots live shows. His music never ceases to challenge me. I have to admit, I spend most of my time playing Boots’ music with a smile on my face. He always brings his “A game”, as Tiger Woods says. He is a true example of being a pro musician. We can’t wait to start the next record!
- Tim Smith
Recorded February-April 2006 at The Groovehouse, Nashville by Tim Smith. Mixed by Phil Magnotti at Silvermine Studios, Norwalk, CT. Produced by Tim Smith. Co-produced by Boots Randolph, Ray Von Rotz, Steve Willets, and Roddy Smith. Photography : Ray Baldino. Package Design : 3 & Co, New York. www.threeandco.com Executive producer : Joachim “Jochen” Becker.