|Day 176: Chet Atkins & Mark Knopfler (Yakety Axe)
August 20, 2022
As regular readers (both of you) of my 365-artists series may know, I am frequently tickled when I can find connections across various media with multiple celebrities in my discussions. Finding Soupy Sales at the end of Day 71, Iggy Pop and "Lust Was Life," was an absolute joy.
Today's is less about a surprise finding (at least for me) but as much about the craziness of classic Country & Western linking to BBC comedy. But there are barely any degrees of separation from Chet Atkins' "Yakety Axe" to Merle Travis to Mark Knopfler to Boots Randolph to Benny Hill.
Boots Randolph is the name many readers may not know here. The title of his signature saxophone song of "Yakety Sax" also probably rings no bells. However, that is because for those of us born between about 1960 and 1980, we knew it as The Benny Hill Theme Song.
I'll stop now while you let the video play in your head, the saucy saxophone licks accompanying a balding old man in a wheelchair chasing a buxom long-haired blonde across the lawn of some uppity British estate. C'mon, you all had some version of that as soon as I mentioned the reference.
Anyway, I stumbled upon all of this when I purchased Neck And Neck, Chet Atkins' album with Mark Knopfler. For the longest time, this was about the only way I could foray into C&W, through some pairing of rock and roller with a classic country star. I didn't know much about Atkins and frankly thought he looked like George W. Bush on the album cover, not a guitar-picking legend.
When I first heard "Yakety Axe," I didn't immediately pick up on the Boots Randolph chord sequence. The light, silly song seemed written for the self-taught Knopfler: "I'm confessin' I never took a lesson/all my notes are a matter of guessin'." "How cool," I thought, "maybe Atkins was self-taught also?"
The lyrics barely consume a minute, the song finishing with 3 minutes of Atkins and Knopfler showing off on their guitars (not that I was upset, it is what I expected from the purchase). However, upon repeated listening, I went back to the lyrics and appreciated the little bit (or maybe the lacking of "two bits") of comedy within it: "living on a shoestring/puttin' off things like a shave and a haircut." It was the lack of that ba-da-bump that made me realize the melody was from Benny Hill.
I raced to look at the composition credits and didn't see Atkins or Knopfler listed, rather Merle Travis ("that Merle Travis?" I wondered) and some dude named Boots Randolph (and James Q. Rich, a name more easily lost to history). Minutes later I had made all the connections to Randolph's song as the unofficial theme for Benny Hill's program (which I just now realized, in researching and tying together threads, ran for almost thirty-five years on the BBC).
That's a lot of longevity, folks. At this point, Knopfler is going on 45 years of making music; Atkins recorded for almost 50 years before he passed away; Travis produced music for 36 years. We don't need no young punks!
Atkins, Chet & Mark Knopfler. "Yakety Axe." Neck And Neck. Columbia, 1990. Link here.
Day 175: 63 Eyes "Never Alone"
Day 177: Young The Giant "God Made Man"
Unfinished list here.