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In silver-sequined jacket and shorts over red shirt, Rufus Thomas jump-starts the Memphis Rhythm and Blues Party in Nashville, Tenn. with his trademark Walking the Dog. The party was part of inaugural festivities in January 1995.(Photo: Robert Cohen, The Commercial Appeal)Buy Photo
I’ve always liked nicknames, whether they’re simple and direct (Bruce Springsteen is "The Boss") or inexplicable to the uninitiated (a high school friend of mine was dubbed "Squelcho.")
Some nicknames are descriptive. NBA power forward Karl Malone was "The Mailman" because he "always delivered" when he was on the basketball court.
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Other nicknames are exotic. You’d think a 1940s actress who called herself Acquanetta and starred in a movie titled "Captive Wild Woman" wouldn’t need further glamorization; yet Universal publicists dubbed the studio's latest discovery "The Venezuelan Volcano," even though she was born in South Carolina and raised on the Jersey side of Pennsylvania.
Memphis recording artist, disc jockey, dance craze originator and public personality Rufus Thomas was an entertainer for almost his entire life, so perhaps it's no surprise he attracted nicknames the way his Stax colleague Isaac Hayes collected gold chains and groupies.
Thomas was known as "The World's Oldest Teenager," a sobriquet also claimed by Dick Clark.
He was "The Crown Prince of Dance," although "Clown Prince of Dance" may have been more appropriate, given Thomas' onstage fondness for fuchsia shorts and purple boots.
James Brown was "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," but Thomas was "The Funkiest Man Alive." Doesn't it sound like Thomas was having more fun?
Rufus Thomas was born 100 years ago this Sunday, March 26. The marquee outside the Stax Museum of American Soul Music at 926 E. McLemore trumpets the anniversary: "RUFUS THOMAS — A CENTURY OF FUNK."
That's a lot of funk. The rap section of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" alludes to "the funk of 40,000 years," but — and I mean no disrespect to the (nickname alert) "King of Pop" — if I had to choose one over the other, I'd take Thomas' century of funk and leave Jackson's 400 centuries alone.
Offstage if not always off the record, Thomas, who died on Dec. 15, 2001, could be an acerbic, disputative and bitterly insightful commentator on race relations and racial inequities. But onstage and on the literal record (i.e., the grooved vinyl of his 1960s and 1970s heyday) it's possible that no other Memphis performer, note by note, brought so much happiness to audiences.
To read the titles of the hits, semi-hits, not-hits and buried treasures on the back of a Rufus Thomas compilation album is to be transported to a realm of irresistible grooves, unselfconscious exuberance and crazy comic joy — a place that is part nursery playroom, part backyard barbecue, part "Hee-Haw" cornfield, part sanctified Soulsville church service and part Beale Street Saturday night (with an incomparable bar band that included members of Booker T. & the MG's and the Bar-Kays).
When Stax dubbed Thomas “The Funkiest Man Alive,” they weren’t kidding. If you ever wanted to visit a funky aviary, a funky restaurant, a funky animal shelter or a funky dance class, Thomas is your guide.
The songs? There's "Do the Funky Chicken." "Do the Funky Penguin." "The Funky Bird." "Funky Hot Grits." "Funky Mississippi." "Funky Way." "Funky Robot."
“Do the Double Bump." "(Do the) Push and Pull."
"The Dog." "Walking the Dog.” “Can Your Monkey Do the Dog.” “Stop Kicking My Dog Around.” “Somebody Stole My Dog." "Can't Get Away from This Dog."
"Itch and Scratch." "The Breakdown." "Git On Up and Do It." "Boogie Ain't Nuttin' (But Gettin' Down)." And, yes, "Funkiest Man Alive." (And, by the way, Thomas' 1967 recording "Memphis Train" arrived at No. 4 on The Commercial Appeal's 2014 list of "The 100 Best Songs About Memphis.")>Buy Photo
Rufus Thomas at the WDIA Starlite Revue at the Mid-South Coliseum Saturday evening, July 1, 1972. Thomas took the stage in a shocking pink "hot pants" outfit with cape and roused the audience of 12,000 with his performance. "We do this show each year so that black crippled children will have educational opportunity," he said. "WDIA is the voice of the black community here and the station has sure been good to me." Headliners for the show were Isaac Hayes and B.B. King. (Photo: Robb Mitchell, The Commercial Appeal)
Elvis Presley was "the King" and Isaac Hayes was "Black Moses." Thomas was more an Everyman: Balding, slightly paunchy, a working stiff (he kept his job at a textile manufacturing plant even after finding celebrity). Born in small-town Mississippi, a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, a deejay at WDIA (the nation’s first radio station programmed for African-American audiences), a tap-dancing minstrel company comedian, a Beale Street m.c., father of a musical family (Carla, Marvell and Vaneese) and the only artist to record for all three of Memphis' greatest labels (Sun, Stax and Hi), he was some two decades older than Elvis and Isaac. But he also was a guy who could steal the show from the sexier, hotter-selling competition. (Is there any doubt that his hot pants-cape-and-go-go boots performance is the "WattStax" concert-film showstopper?) When I want to give a gift of Memphis music to a person who is not a music aficionado, and I want to be certain that they're going to love the music when they hear it, I skip Elvis and Isaac and go straight to Rufus.
Esperanto is the name of the artificial language created to promote world harmony, but funk needs no translation. The "A Century of Funk: Rufus Thomas at 100" exhibit now on display at the Stax Museum includes the cover of a vintage Mexican-release compilation album titled "Soul!"; you don't have to be bilingual to recognize that "La Gallina Funky" and "El Pingüino Funky" are Thomas' contributions. Director Jim Jarmusch recognized this when he gave Thomas a cameo in his 1989 made-in-Memphis movie, "Mystery Train." When a pair of young Japanese rockabilly fans arrive at Central Station, the person who greets them is Rufus Thomas. "Thank you," the World's Oldest Teenager tells the young people, in Japanese, as if it were the most natural thing in the whole wide funky world.
Source : http://www.commercialappeal.com/story/entertainment/2017/03/24/beifuss-file-100-years-funk-rufus-thomas-centennial-stax-soul/99464112/