- Do the Funky Chicken
- The Funky Bird
- Do the Funky Penguin
- Let the Good Times Roll
- Sixty Minute Man
- Lookin’ for a Love
- Bear Cat
- Old McDonald Had a Farm (Part 1)
- Old McDonald Had a Farm (Part 2)
- Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown
- Soul Food
- Blues In the Basement
- Did You Hear Me
- Funky Mississippi
- So Hard to Get Along With
- Do the Push and Pull
- The Breakdown
- I Want to Hold You
- Itch and Scratch (Part 1)
- Itch and Scratch (Part 2)
- Tiger Man
- Do the Dog
- Walking The Dog
by Candice Chandler (SHS)
Rufus Thomas has contributed much to entertainment around the world. He has entertained people not just with music, but also by using his special talents in shows( like dancing and doing comic routines). Rufus has sung soul, blues, Southern funk, as well as rhythm and blues. Rufus Thomas was born on March 26, 1917, in Cayce, Mississippi, (The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4145-46); although one source says that he was born on March 28, 1917, in Collierville, Tennessee (Popular Music 932). Both sources do agree that he was born into a world of tent shows and vaudeville. Soon after Rufus’s family moved to Memphis, he began his early singing while he attended Booker T. Washington High School.
At the age of thirteen, he frequently worked as a master of ceremonies at amateur shows held in the Palace Theatre on Beale Street. He also worked as a comic in numerous vaudevillian traveling entertainment troupes such as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels Show, the Georgia Dixon Traveling Show, and the Royal American Tent Shows. Thomas returned to Memphis and formed a popular tap dance/scat singing act with Robert Counce, which was known as “Rufus and Bones.” After this performance, he hosted amateur shows at the Palace and Handy Theatres. When B.B. King’s career blossomed, Thomas replaced him as a disc jockey at WDIA radio station. In the early forties, he began to write blues and started his first recordings (Memphis Music Link). Thomas remained in this position until 1974. This position as a disc jockey introduced him to other famous singers.
He knew B.B. King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, and Little Junior Parker (The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4145-46). In the late forties he was performing in several Memphis nightclubs. Two sources mention different dates for his first recording for Star Talent. One source says that Rufus began recording in 1974 on Star Talent, (The G E P M, 4145-46), whereas another source says that Rufus began recording in 1949 on the Star Talent label (Popular Music 932). In 1951, Rufus started recording for Sam Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service. His real first success was the big hit Bear Cat for Sam Phillips’s fledging Sun label in 1953. A couple of months after this, he took guitarist Joe Hill Louis into the studio and brought out the Tiger Man.
Until the late 1970’s. Rufus also appeared with numerous package tours (often touring England and Germany) as well as television shows. The group Con Funk Shun also featured Rufus at the 1973 Wattstax concert at the LA Forum (Memphis Music Link). Rufus later joined Satellite with his daughter Carla in 1960, remaining here until the recording company Satellite became Stax a year later. Rufus remained at Stax until the company collapsed in 1975. He was successful in the ’70’s with Southern funk and recorded Do the Funky Chicken, Do the Push and Pull, and The Breakdown. All three songs made it to the R&B top five.
Since Rufus has been in the music business, he has received several awards. He received three lifetime achievement awards (one from Wings of Change, one from the Beale Street Merchants Association and the first ever bestowed by ASCAP). He also received the W.C. Handy Howlin’ Wolf Award at the Chicago Blues Festival for “Outstanding Blues Performance.”
Rufus Thomas is a local celebrity known for his cross-genre appeal. . Rufus Thomas is considered the world’s oldest living teenager, who shows no signs of slowing down. Soon to be eighty-four years of age, Rufus still makes his way around. He hosted two gigs on Beale Street on New Year’s Eve, 1998; and played in Nashville, New Jersey, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana. He held three concerts at the 1997 Olympics in Atlanta Georgia; his name appeared on several festival headlines; he hosted a reunion of Stax artists and was treated to a star-packed birthday tribute at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis as well as three other full-blown house-rockin’ birthday parties. Thomas flew to Poretta, Italy and wowed the crowd at the annual Soul Festival held in his honor in a park named for him. Rufus was also honored by the city of Memphis, who named a street for him, (which crosses the famous Beale Street) where Thomas spent most of his career (Chambers, Larry Ecko Records).
- 1917- Rufus Thomas was born.
- 1930’s-Rufus Thomas frequently worked as a master of ceremonies and as a comic.
- 1935- Rufus started out performing with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.
- 1940’s-Rufus was performing in several Memphis nightclubs and organizing local talent shows.
- 1949- Rufus kicked off his recording career with I’ll Be A Good Boy On the Star talent Label.
- 1950’s- Rufus put Sun Records on the R&B map.
- 1951- Rufus started cutting sides for Sam Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service, and Rufus got his big break at Sun when Sam Phillips reworked Elvis hit “Hound Dog” into “Bear Cat.”
- 1953- Hound Dog was released.
- 1959- Rufus and daughter Carla recorded a duet Cause I Love you.
- 1960- Rufus becomes more than just a local celebrity.
- 1963- Rufus recorded the single Walking the Dog.
- 1964- Rufus recorded Can Your Monkey Do the Dog and Jump Back.
- 1967- Rufus recorded “Sophisticated Sissy.”
- 1970- Rufus appeared on tours and on television shows and recorded “Do the Funky Chicken.”
- 1971- Rufus recorded the single Doing the Push and Pull Live at PF’s.
- 1973- Rufus was featured at Wattstax concert at the LA Forum.
- 1975- Rufus recorded single Blues in the Basement.
- 1980- Rufus recorded Rufus Thomas.
- 1981- Rufus released an album That Woman is Poison on the Alligator Label.
- 1986- Rufus recorded Rappin Rufus.
- 1992- Rufus recorded “Timeless Funk.”
- 1993- Rufus recorded The Best of The Singles.
- 1997- Rufus held three concerts at the 1997 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
- 1998- Hosted Beale Street New Year’s Eve celebration.
- Rufus Thomas is one of the many artists included in PBS’s American Roots Music series.
- The Smithsonian Mississippi River of Song project includes bio of Rufus Thomas.
- Brown, Ashley. “Rufus Thomas.” Popular Music. Freeport, Long Island. N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish, 1989.932.ML 3470.M36 1989 v.8.
- Chambers, Larry. www.eckorecords
- Larkin, Colin. “Rufus Thomas.” The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. New York, New York: Stockton Press, 1995. 4145-46. Ref ML 102. P66 g84 1995 v.5.
- Memphis Music Link. “Rufus Thomas.” Available at http://www.people.memphis.edu/~pivy/rt.html