Remembering Rufus Thomas

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Thursday, December 15, 2016
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Remembering Rufus Thomas

15 years ago today, the world said farewell to an R&B legend who really knew his way around canines…or at least that’s the impression you get if you take a look back at Rufus Thomas’s credits as a songwriter and arranger.

The dog motif actually started way back in 1953, when Thomas released the Chess Records single “No More Doggin’ Around,” but he really upped the ante with his 1963 debut album, WALKING THE DOG. “The Dog”? Check. “Walking The Dog”? Check. “Can Your Monkey Do The Dog”? Check. He even followed the album with a single called “Somebody Stole My Dog.”

But Thomas did not limit his tributes to the animal kingdom solely to Canis familiaris. In 1953, he took Sun Records founder Sam Phillips’ suggestion that he record an answer song to “Hound Dog,” which resulted in the single “Bear Cat.” By 1970, he had turned in “Do the Funky Chicken,” a number he switched up slightly in 1972 when he released “Do the Funky Penguin, Parts 1 and 2,” and the following year he streamlined things and offered up “The Funky Bird.” On the inorganic tip, Thomas also released a song called “Funky Robot,” but that’s not really relevant to this particular discussion.

In case you’ve ever wondered but have never known for sure if Rufus and Carla Thomas were related, the answer is a resounding “yes,” as Rufus was actually Carla’s father. They even recorded a few singles together, including “’Cause I Love You,” “Birds and Bees,” “When You Move, You Lose,” and “I Didn’t Believe,” the latter credited to Rufus and Friend. (We don’t know the story behind that, but if you do, please let us know.)

Rufus Thomas was more than just a singer and songwriter. He was also a DJ, one who giddily introduced his shows by saying, "I'm young, I'm loose, I'm full of juice, I got the goose so what's the use. We're feeling gay, though we ain't got a dollar, Rufus is here, so hoot and holler!” First and foremost, though, Thomas was a performer, calling himself variously The World’s Oldest Teenager and The Funkiest Man Alive while dressing himself in outrageous regalia to make his live shows something that those in attendance would never, ever forget.

We’ve compiled a playlist to honor Thomas’s memory, pulling together his WALKING THE DOG album, a few singles, and some covers of his work by other artists. It won’t give you a real feeling for what the Rufus Thomas experience was like, but it’s a start toward showing why he should be remembered.