Rufus Thomas, The Complete Sun Singles

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Classic sides from the clown prince of Memphis music.

Born in 1917, a veteran of minstrel shows and vaudeville and a popular Memphis DJ by the first time he recorded in 1950, Rufus Thomas called himself "The World's Oldest Teenager" right up until his death in 2001. Indeed, he was 36 years old when, after cutting three singles for Sam Phillips that were leased to Chess, he released his first Sun single and earned his first hit. "Bear Cat" was a thinly-veiled rewrite of the Big Mama Thornton R&B hit "Hound Dog," which Elvis later turned into a massive pop hit. Though Phillips lost a plagiarism suit against Thomas 'single, it did hit #3 on the R&B charts, and was a whole lot of fun, what with all the hokey sound effects. The follow-up (and unsuccessful) single "Tiger Man (King of the Jungle)" did indeed have the requisite Tarzan-Goes-to-Beale-Street feel, while the two B-sides were unadorned, straight-up blues — Rufus himself plays elemental piano on "Walkin 'in the Rain" — and nothing special. Rufus would be the first to tell you he wasn't much of a singer, but who cares: he was one of pop music's truest novelty artists, and there will always be room for one of those.