Rufus Thomas was a veteran performer by the time he scored his biggest hit single, “Do The Funky Chicken.” In fact, he was 53 years old when the song went to number one on the R&B chart in 1970. He called himself “the world’s oldest teenager,” and was entertaining audiences right up until his death in 2001, at the age of 84. As part of the Stax Remasters series, Rufus’ Do The Funky Chicken album has just been re-released, and it is one hell of a party record.
Rufus specialized in something of a one-man soul review format, with horns blaring, a funky beat, comical lyrics, and plenty of shout-outs. To this end, Do The Funky Chicken is definitive. Leading off with the title track, the record is non-stop fun in a way that was quite unlike the typical radio fare of the day. “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Lookin’ For A Love,” and “Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown,” all have that tight, in-the-pocket swing that had not been heard on vinyl since the glory days of the late fifties and early sixties. Think “Shout,” or “Soul Man,” and you will get an idea of what Rufus was all about.
He was first and foremost a showman though, and there is plenty of “show” on this album to be sure. His two-part re-imagining of “Old McDonald Had A Farm” is a case in point. “Part 1 is done as a slow, gospel inflected introduction, while Part 2 goes for the funky jugular. Rufus also revisits his own past with a new version of “Bear Cat,” which he originally recorded for Sun in 1953. The song was an “answer” to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” which later became a massive pop hit for Elvis.
In addition to the eleven tunes contained on the original 1970 album, the CD includes eight bonus tracks. These run the gamut from his 1968 “Funky Mississippi,” to his final Stax single in 1974 “Boogie Ain’t Nuttin’ (But Getting’ Down).” Rufus Thomas was a one of a kind performer, old school before such a thing even existed, and Do The Funky Chicken finds him in top form.