PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Rufus Thomas: Do The Funky Chicken

Rufus Thomas's finest achievement gets the reissue treatment and proves to stand the test of time.

Rufus Thomas

Do The Funky Chicken

Label: Stax
US Release Date: 2011-09-13
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10

Rufus Thomas is the most overlooked, under-appreciated artist to ever come from the Stax imprint. Period. Done. End of story. There isn't a single other artist who recorded at 926 East McLemore Avenue in the 1960s and 1970s that was as dismissed, discounted and disrespected as the man who gave Stax its first real hit with "Cause I Love You" in the '60s.

Why? Well, it's a combination of reasons, really. Thomas's knack for absurdity combined with his insistence upon gravitating toward novelty songs are probably the two most prominent factors. It's hard to take an artist who penned four singles with such titles as "The Dog", "Walking The Dog", "Can Your Monkey Do The Dog" and "Somebody Stole My Dog" as serious as you would take, say, an Otis Redding or a Sam and Dave, two legendary acts that helped build Stax up to the legendary status it ultimately achieved.

But that doesn't mean Thomas's talents should be ignored. As the years went on, the singer became somewhat of an elder statesman for the Memphis label. His daughter Carla became a star that shone so bright, some argue she eclipsed her father. His son Marvell played keyboards on some of the most classic soul/R&B tunes ever recorded. And his third child, Vaneese, reportedly spends her time these days recording vocal tracks for commercials.

Though even with all that in mind, his influence and impact on soul music as a whole has been criminally undermined by the heavy hitters that came to prominence during his heyday. Sure, working nonsensical dances into the hook of some earlier recordings might have worked against his quest for superstardom, but it also didn't help that he had to compete with some of the greatest voices American music has ever provided. It wasn't that Thomas didn't have talent. It was just that he was surrounded with artists who ended up going down in the annals of music history as some of the best voices and/or performers to ever get on a stage.

Luckily for soul/funk/R&B music fans everywhere, though, Stax's Remasters Series has decided to give Thomas and his crown achievement, Do The Funky Chicken, the reissue treatment, reminding us all that Rufus Thomas's work deserves to be discussed when considering some of the best music Memphis ever produced. In addition to the 11 tracks the original release provided is a plethora of singles Thomas released between 1968 and 1974. "Funky Mississippi", which was originally backed with "So Hard To Get Along With", is one example of two lost gems that appear on this reissue. "Funky Way", both parts of the underrated "Itch And Scratch" and "Boogie Ain't Nuthin'", and "I Want To Hold You" all pop out of the stereo system here with a 24-bit remastering job, giving life to songs some casual fans may have already considered dead for decades.

Then, of course, there's the original set of tunes. These offerings combine to form a record author Rob Bowman says is "clearly Thomas's finest album" in the extensive liner notes coupled with this re-release and Bowman should know. His Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story Of Stax Records is the authority on all things Stax Records.

"Do The Funky Chicken", "Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown" and "Lookin' For A Love" prove to age with grace as the tracks feature signature guest spots from such legendary acts as the Memphis Horns and Ollie And The Nightingales, among others. "Bear Cat", Thomas's somewhat lesser-known response to Big Mama Thornton's legendary "Hound Dog", is everything that made Thomas the illustrious figure he proved to be: silly, fun, soulful and funky.

The original album's best two moments, though, come as a bit of a shock to those who may be unfamiliar with Rufus and his wacky ways. The crooner's two-part rendition of "Old McDonald Had A Farm" is utterly classic. While the former 3:44 is a gospel-tinged, palpably soulful rendition of a long-standing children's anthem that is smothered in feeling and heart, the second movement's up-tempo funk is shockingly successful. The playful nature of the latter's performance contrasts brilliantly with the first's drawn-out vocal pattern. It's just not something a lot of artists could pull off well.

But Thomas does. And in fact, he exceeds "well" and blasts the performance into the "great" stratosphere. It's the quintessential example of why Rufus Thomas should matter way more than he already does when pondering the fabric of Stax Records: he was willing to take chances. Some people mistake that mindset for foolishness. Some people mistake that knack for fun as childish. Thomas, on the other hand, used that mindset as a platform to realize his fullest potential, no matter how wacky he may have seemed.

"I come from Beale Street in Memphis," Thomas writes in the original album's liner notes that appear in this re-release. "Set out to be a top notch entertainer. I ain't lying -- that's what I am." Indeed, that's what he was (Thomas died in 2001). Do The Funky Chicken is the finest example of a unique combination of a desire to entertain and an amount of musical talent that made such a thing actually work. It's exactly what Rufus Thomas stood for and it's most definitely what he excelled at the most.

Yeah, he may have been under-appreciated. But this collection should be enough to make sure none of us make that unforgivable mistake of over-looking him ever again.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.