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Sax legend 'Boots' Randolph, who started in Decatur, dies at 80

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DECATUR - Saxophone player Homer "Boots" Randolph never forgot Decatur.

In fact, the legendary musician played several shows close to his professional launching point in the last five years of his life.

Randolph, whose spirited playing on songs such as "Yakety Sax" made him one of Nashville's top musicians, died Tuesday. He was 80.

Randolph played in Decatur for several years, notably at the Decatur Cocktail Lounge, before being discovered. He worked with Dink Welch and the Kopy Kats from 1948 to 1954. The group was playing Decatur's Parkway Inn in 1952, he recalled in a 2001 interview with the Herald & Review, when a fire destroyed its equipment. The band then moved to the Decatur Cocktail Lounge.

He formed his own band in 1954 and left Decatur in 1957, when his legend began.

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.

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"Yakety Sax" was used on the TV program "The Benny Hill Show" more than two decades after the tune was on the charts.

"It rejuvenated the song," Randolph said in a 1990 interview with The Associated Press. "So many people know it from the show."

He also was part of the Million Dollar Band on the TV show "Hee Haw."

He played regularly in Nashville nightclubs for 30 years. 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.

Randolph regularly returned to Central Illinois. He played Millikin University in 1990 and performed at Taylorville's Nashville North in 2001, 2002 and, most recently, in October.

Randolph suffered a cerebral hemorrhage June 25 and had been hospitalized in a coma. He was taken off a respirator earlier Tuesday, said Betty Hofer, a publicist and spokeswoman for the family.

Discussing his musical style in a 2001 interview, Randolph said, "We were talking the other day and trying to come up with something comparable. There really isn't anybody. When you talk about saxophone players, most of 'em want to be jazz hounds, anymore.

"I just play pretty melodies and once in a while go off on that jazz thing."

Tim Cain can be reached at timcain@herald-review.com or 421-6908. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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