December 19, 2007
It happened somewhat the same way here
An account from about a year before my discovery:
I was watching a Christmas episode of "Sanford and Son" that I'd TiVOed. After a two-act riff on "A Christmas Carol," grumpy but gold-hearted junkman Fred Sanford decides to attend flinty Aunt Esther's Christmas party after all. Seated at stage-right was a white-haired white guy with a guitar. I was instantly suspicious: in all my years of Sanford And Son scholarship, I'd never seen this guy before. He was assaying the role of Aunt Esther's landlord, though he had no lines and the camera seemed to be ignoring him.
Fred favors the group with "The Christmas Song." But who can pay attention to the vocals? The landlord is ripping it up, trilling over and under and through the whole tune like an Olympic slalom skier on a gold-medal run. No actor he…this was clearly a skilled musician, mingling among the extras like a trained assassin, attracting no notice until it was time to unleash hell.
I leaped straight up from my chair and shouted "Ringer...Ringer!!!" in such a startling volume that my goldfish dropped their Soduku puzzles.
Single-framing through the end credits, I learned that the landlord was played by Herb Ellis.
I found the vocals by Redd Foxx reminiscent of Louis Armstrong enough for a toast. But Ihnatko is right: Herb Ellis was, indeed, "ripping it up."
I leave you with this absolute gem from almost a half-century ago: