Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rufus Thomas- "Do the Funky Chicken"

One of the great discoveries I made while visiting Memphis is my newfound love for Rufus Thomas. I’ve known of Mr. Thomas for years due to his hit song “Walkin’ the Dog”, and I even got to see him on a package tour with Lou Christie, Shirelles, and several other groups when I was a lad. It wasn’t until I visited the Stax Museum that I heard some of his other music and learned a bit more about him.

Born in Cayce, Miss., Rufus was a performer from an early age taking part in school plays and learning how to tap dance. In 1936, at 19 years old, he left school to take a job with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. His next job was in a textile mill which he didn’t leave for 22 years, long after he became a recording artist and radio personality on WDIA, the “mother station of the Negros” in Memphis.  His radio career began in 1951, and it lead to his first recording, a response to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” called “Bear Cat”. Unfortunately a copyright lawsuit was brought against the record company, Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, nearly bankrupted the label, and as Sam turned his attention to Elvis and other white artists, Rufus was let go from the label.

A few years later Rufus and his daughter Carla Thomas both signed on to record for the fledgling Stax record label, and in 1963, his best known single, “Walkin’ the Dog” reached #5 on the R&B charts and #10 on Rock. While he never had a single reach those heights again, the self described “World’s Oldest Teenager” recorded a string of classic songs including “Can Your Monkey do the Dog”, “The World is Round (But It’s Crooked Everywhere)”, and “Do the Funky Chicken”.

The latter of those songs is what I want to feature today. Not only is it a great funky song, but I found the dance instruction to be compelling and nearly irresistible. Backed by Booker T. and the MG’s, the track demands you get up and groove if you’ve got any soul at all. Listen out for Rufus’ trademark craziness as he goes into the “Second spasm”, “feels so unnecessary”, and his idea of doing something “nasty”. Enjoy and please check out more of Rufus’ great songs.

Editor’s note: There’s some debate around my house why Rufus “feels so unnecessary”. We’ve decided it is either a) the music is so good he doesn’t need to be on it hence “unnecessary” b) it is a shortened phrase that is intended to mean he feels too unnecessarily funky OR c) Rufus Thomas was an existentialist and was making a philosophical statement. I’d love to hear what other folks idea on it is or which one of those makes sense to you.

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