If you are old enough to remember the Benny Hill show, after it transferred to Thames Television in 1969, you will know the tune that accompanied the closing chase sequence. Originally recorded in 1963 by its composer, Boots Randolph, the raucous nature of the saxophone notes and the insistent rhythm were an ideal accompaniment to the jerky motion of Hill’s many pursuers. British saxophonist Peter Hughes was responsible for the version used on Hill’s show.
Boots Randolph was a Nashville based session musician who played on recordings by many country and rock artistes during the 60s and later. Hits featuring Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Brenda Lee and REO Speed Wagon all benefited from his distinctive saxophone style. Yakety Sax was Randolph’s updating of a piece originally composed by James Q ‘Spider’ Rich and references a saxophone solo on a 1958 Coasters recording of the Lieber and Stoller song ‘Yakety Yak’.
Another musician who worked alongside Randolph on recordings by Elvis and other Nashville based stars is the country guitarist Chet Atkins. In 1965, Atkins recorded a guitar version of the tune which he called Yakety Axe. Randolph and Atkins sometimes played the tune as a duet during joint TV appearances.
For a short while in the early 1990s I produced a country music record show for a small hospital radio station. A track I played frequently was Jerry Reed’s version of Yakety Axe. Reed was an associate of Atkins, and the latter is on record as saying that Reed helped him work out the fingering for Yakety Axe.
As well as being acknowledged as one of the best country guitar players, Reed was an actor, composer and singer. Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash both recorded songs written by Reed. As an actor in the 1970s, Reed co-starred with Burt Reynolds in several movies, including all three of the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ films for which he also composed the sound track.
In 1990 Atkins was joined by the British guitarist/singer-songwriter Mark Knopfler in a version of Yakety Axe on which Atkins recited verses written by Merl Travis, the man whose style of guitar picking originally inspired Atkins.