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Rufus Thomas (Born 17th March, 1917)

PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2017 11:12 am
by john poole
Rufus Thomas, born one hundred years ago today - 17th March, 1917 in Cayce, Missipppi [died 15th December, 2001]

As "Mr. Swing" in 1950 - 'Beer Bottle Boogie' with Bobby Plater's Orchestra (members of Lionel Hampton's band)

As Rufus Thomas Jr. - 'Tiger Man (King of the Jungle) (Sun; 1953) Joe Hill Louis song
Floyd Murphy - guitar

Appearing in a 1980s German Memphis Soul documentary, from 1:30 lip-syncing his 1963 recording of 'Walking the Dog' with canine assistance alongside (I guess) the Mississippi.

And in the 1950s on WDIA, Memphis - the station he continued to broadcast on for decades, here he's advertising Pink Pussycat Wine

Previously on SotW - appearing on Ready Steady Go! in 1964 -

From Record Mirror, 1971 -

REHEARSALS at Top of the Pops. A man who looks close to 50 years old goes up to a taller, younger man in dark glasses.

"Hello, Stevie."

"Hey, man."

"You know who I am?"

"Who the hell is this?"

"Come on, Stevie, you know who I am."

"I've heard that voice before."

"Sure you have. Come on, Stevie, you can do it."

The young man shakes his head.

"Do you know anything about dogs?"

"Oh, hell! Rufus Thomas!"

Rufus Thomas, who made his first record in 1940, his first hit in 1953, his second hit in 1962, his third in '63, his fourth last year, has his fifth just coming up to the boil now. Just as one generation decides that it has grown out of his novelty dance things, along comes another to discover them.

Fortunately, Rufus doesn't depend too heavily on the whims of record buyers; apart from making records, he also plays them, as a disc jockey on WDIA in Memphis. So is he a disc jockey who sings, or a singer who is also a disc jockey?

"Well, I consider myself an entertainer first, not really a singer. No, with a voice like this, you couldn't really say I was a singer." He drops his voice so far down his throat that you would have to agree that he couldn't be a singer.

"But I was on stage long before I started on radio, since I was about 14. And I came into radio in 1950, and I've been in radio ever since. But I was doing nightclubs, and I was a tap dancer, all this sort of thing, prior to going into radio.

"I worked mostly in local night clubs, in Memphis. But there was one theatre show every week, 'Amateur Night on Beale Street', at the Palace Theatre. Everybody used to come and do the show, B.B. King would come up, and every time he'd come up to make an appearance, he'd get a dollar. That was it. So all of 'em used to come up, to get that one dollar, Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Bobby Bland. Of course, I didn't make much more – as MC for the whole night, I got five dollars. I did that job for eleven years, which is a long time to do the same job, every week.

"I had the one o'clock show on WDIA, and Maurice Hulbert, Jr., they called him 'Hot Rod', he had a programme starting at three in the afternoon called Sepia Swing Club. Well, Hot Rod left to go to Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, where at one time he had shows in all three cities, and he'd be commuting between them; and B. B. King took over the 'Sepia Swing Club'.

"Then BB's records started to come up, like 'Three O'Clock In The Morning', and he used to make gigs at night, and I don't know exactly what happened, but I guess the radio station told him he had to decide, to be here or be out there, and he did the right thing, he chose out there. Well, when he left the three o'clock spot, I took over. Which is where I've been ever since, and I think WDIA must be one of the finest stations in the world."

In 1953, Rufus cut an answer record to Willie Mae Thornton's 'Hound Dog' for the recently-formed Memphis label, Sun. 'Bear-Cat', written by Sun's owner Sam Phillips, became a big R&B hit, but it didn't make much difference to Rufus' career. He continued to do local gigs, the dee-jay show, and his regular job in a textile factory.

Right up to 1963, when 'Walking The Dog' made the pop charts and created a demand for appearances across the country, Rufus was working in the factory. "I went on at 6.30 in the morning, came off at 2.30. That gave me time to get to WDIA for the three o'clock show. I'd get off that, go home and get something to eat, and be back at the radio station for two hours from 9.30. And then sometimes I had gigs at weekends, so I wouldn't get in until four, four-thirty in the morning. I'd just hit that bed. But I'd be back at work at 6.30, even if I did sometimes fall asleep on the job."

Sam Phillips had Rufus record another disc for Sun, the less successful 'Tiger Man', but in 1954 there was that famous session with Elvis, and from then on Sam Phillips suddenly lost interest to the blues.

The man who first played Presley's 'That's All Right' on the radio was Dewey Phillips, disc jockey on WHBQ in Memphis. "He had the night-time show, 'Red, Hot, and Blue', which was programmed primarily to the black audience. To me, Dewey was as important in the South as that fellow up in New York – no, Cleveland – Alan Freed."

Did Rufus resent the success that Presley had, often with the same songs that black singers had previously recorded, but which had not the same kind of radio-play?

"No, he was good for the industry, he generated an interest that black artists hadn't been able to do. I remember hearing his version of 'Good Rockin' Tonight'. The feeling of it came from Wynonie Harris' version. Roy Brown did it first, but Presley seemed to get his from Wynonie's, although I always got a better feeling from Roy Brown.

"In fact Roy Brown was my blues artist. He was terrific: 'Rocks is my pillow, the highway is my bed'. Somebody was telling me Roy has a new record out, 'Love For Sale', somebody heard it in Atlanta. Oh, he was my idol. He was a shouter, a screamer. But he always screamed in tune. Then Wynonie came, with a different kind of beat, a kind of shuffle to it, and he made a change, and that was where Presley was getting his inspiration.

"You know, the blues is really my music. I haven't done as many blues as I would have liked. What I have in mind to do when I get back there, and I might have to raise all kinds of hell to get it, is to record something with Albert King. He's one of the finest blues guitarists on the scene today, with BB. Albert is with Stax, and what I want is to do an album, or a 45, with Rufus and Albert: Rufus sings, Albert plays, blues.

"Stax have not wanted to record me doing the blues, and what I have done, I've sort of snuck in. I did 'The Night Time Is The Right Time' with Carla, 'Did You Ever Love A Woman', which was on the backside of 'The Dog', and 'Fine And Mellow', on the back of 'Walking The Dog'.

"'Fine And Mellow' was a beautiful blues, but they wouldn't let it stay there, they pulled it back in and put out a tune that I had written, 'You Said', because what they were looking for at the time was money for their own publishing. But ooh, I loved 'Fine And Mellow'."

But, while inside Rufus Thomas is a blues singer waiting to climb out, what we get is a man who throws himself into a dance rhythm with more energy and less inhibition than almost any singer making records. Ignoring any temptations to be sophisticated or dignified, he makes whatever noises seem right at the time, relying on the musicians to put as much into the music as he puts into the singing.

"I used the Bar-Kays for 'Push And Pull'. I could have had the M.G.'s, but I needed younger men, who play with more fire."

It's the third time Rufus Thomas has noticed a dance, done a song to go with it, and made an international craze out of it. He saw a girl doing The Dog in 1962, and got a couple of its from it; then last year he took advantage of another dance called The Chicken, made it funky, got another hit. This time, he heard (and played on his programme) 'Push And Pull (The Tom Jones)' by The U-DWI Peoples Paraphernalia, and figured that a simpler arrangement could get the dance over better. Looks like it did.

© Charlie Gillett, 1971

Re: Rufus Thomas (Born 17th March, 1917)

PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2017 1:02 pm
by NormanD
Thanks for all these links, John. I thought the article at the end was the best thing I've read about Rufus Thomas, the man, his music, and his times. Then I read the name at the end, and was not surprised by its quality.

Re: Rufus Thomas (Born 17th March, 1917)

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 6:37 pm
by alister prince
Thanks John. Norman is right about CGs article too.
Document issued a 20 track CD covering Rufus' output between 1950 and 1957 - ''Rufus Thomas - Tiger Man' (DOCD 5683).

Re: Rufus Thomas (Born 17th March, 1917)

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2017 8:26 pm
by richardh
It's good to find the Forum still going.
Aly's reference to Document's RT anthology inspires me to invite thoughts about single artist anthologies; I've got a Chuck Berry double CD ('Gold') in my car player at the moment, for fairly obvious reasons, and I'm struck by the fact that fifty or so tracks doesn't seem lacking in variety, whereas I have other discs that rarely get a dedicated listen because a CD-length compilation feels like Too Much of a Good Thing. The Document disc gets a pass because of the label's academic/completist mission, but as I buy fewer CDs these days I've tried to wean myself off wanting those 'collected works' , in favour of the kind of Various Artist anthologies of which Charlie was the master. I guess that, if you mostly listen to your music through a computer/harddrive setup, then the shuffle function may counter indigestibility, but then you do without a skilled compiler sequencing your listening for you.
Having said that, I broke my rule at Christmas by asking for a ridiculously cheap 10-CD Charlie Parker boxset!