Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I have often been teased, especially as a child, for my uncommon name.

So it came as quite a surprise when a pal told me there is mention of an Ephraim in a popular old song.

He unfortunately knew nothing at all about the song, but I am hoping you do.
—Ephraim Fuller, Eddyville, Ky.

DEAR EPHRAIM: I do, and so shall you.

In fact, there are at least twice as many songs containing your name as your pal thought.

First and most familiar is “Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee.”

Written in 1912, this Dixieland classic honors the 1860s Confederate paddle-steamer, Robert E. Lee.

The lyrical portion of interest to you is:

“Way down on the levee in old Alabamy, there's daddy and mammy, there's Ephraim and Sammy.”

Many recordings exist of this tune, two very good ones being by Dean Martin (1956), and Louis Jordan with His Tympany Five (1940).

Of historical interest is Dino's ode to the famed Mississippi river boat being among the tracks on “Swingin' Down Yonder” (Capitol T-576). With its dozen tunes about the South, this 1955 collection ranks as one of the very first concept albums.

Besides “Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee,” you and your ol' pal Sammy are again mentioned in “Down Yonder.”

This familiar piano stomper refers to you guys in nearly identical lyrics, except this time you're waitin' somewhere down yonder instead of for a ride on the Robert E. Lee:

“There's daddy and mammy, there's Ephraim and Sammy, waitin' down yonder for me.”

Most popular versions of “Down Yonder” are instrumentals (Del Wood; Ethel Smith; Joe “Fingers” Carr; Johnny and the Hurricanes; etc.), but Champ Butler's 1951 hit is a vocal in which Ephraim and Sammy get mentioned twice.

Not to be confused with “Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee” is a completely different song with a very similar title: “Sailing on the Robert E. Lee,” a 1932 hit for Ray Noble and His Orchestra.

With stops announced in Natchez, Memphis, and St. Louis, this tune makes its up-the-river journey while naming neither Ephraim nor Sammy.

DEAR JERRY: As you know, Boots Randolph, one of the most famous saxophone players in popular music history, died July 3rd.

Most of the obituaries I read list a few of the big stars on whose hits Boots played, along with a special note that he is the only person to play on sessions for both Elvis and Buddy Holly.

We know of his many years with Elvis, but when did he record with Buddy Holly?

Just the geography alone makes this seem unlikely — Nashville-based Randolph working in west Texas.

Come to think of it, not many Holly songs even have a sax.
—Arnie Bautista, Lakeland, Fla.

DEAR ARNIE: You are to be applauded for catching that widely-reported flub.

It is also true that horns, sax or otherwise, are very rarely heard on Buddy's tracks.

However, Boots need not have traveled to Texas to hook up with Buddy. In 1956, when Holly recorded for Decca, the sessions all took place at Owen Bradley's Barn in Nashville.

Most Holly historians now believe the saxophonist on “Modern Don Juan” (November '56 session) to be E.R. McMillin — a sax and clarinet session man who also worked with Bobby Bare, Hank Snow, and numerous jazz artists.

Two far better-known sax players used by Buddy Holly are King Curtis (“Reminscing”) and Sam “The Man” Taylor (“Early in the Morning”).

IZ ZAT SO? The importance of the saxophone, especially tenor sax, to R&B and R&R music in the 1950s cannot be overstated.

Yet the decade's biggest star, Elvis Presley, very, very rarely used a sax in the '50s. The few on which he does are tunes made for film soundtracks, mostly “King Creole.”

On April 3, 1960, at RCA's Studio B in Nashville, Boots Randolph joined the session band for the first time. The track on which he debuts is “Like a Baby, and the first hit single featuring Boots is “I Feel So Bad,” from the summer of '61.

One of the most recognizable 1.5 seconds in Pop music history is Randolph's rousing opening on “Return to Sender.”

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page