I’m young, I’m loose, I’m full of juice, I got the goose, so what’s the use? Where’d I lift those lines from? Here’s a hint: they called him The World’s Oldest Teenager… Rufus Thomas.
For starters, he was one of the greatest radio personalities ever. And when Rufus wasn’t on the radio hootin’ and howlin’, he was promotin’, singin’, dancin’, and writing songs. It’s pretty hard to overstate just how important Rufus Thomas was to the Memphis scene. But Rufus had his own killer sound…and a ton of charisma. By the power of his own voice, he was instrumental in getting 2 Memphis record companies off the ground: Sun and Stax. He really struck gold with a string of dance hits all based on one fine creature…the Dog!
“We were working in a nightclub in a little place called Millington, Tennessee, which is about 15, 20 miles out of Memphis. And we were playing some tune, I just can’t remember now, maybe Oop oop a doop. But we had a bass line and it had the rhythm just was flowing. And this girl, she was oh, I guess about 5’8″ - she was wearing a black leather dress and she had a long waist line and she was just sleek in that. She looked so good in it. Well, if you know about how The Dog went, she bent over in front of the bandstand and started doing that dance.
And everybody in the bandstand including me went ape. But we were playing another little tune then and kept the beat going, changed the bass line just a little bit and I started to sing, and the words just came right out, just like that. I had no idea how the words were coming out. They just came and I said, ”Do The Dog, do The Dog, do The Dog, do The Dog. Do the Dog, everybody doing the dog. Do the bird dog, do the hound dog, do the bull dog, just any kind of dog, just do the dog.” And it was a monster record and I started doing it that night and everybody all night long in this club, wanted to hear “The Dog.” And that’s how “The Dog” was started.”
Comedian, radio personality, dancer and singer Rufus Thomas was born March 26, 1917, in Cayce, Mississippi, to a sharecropping family.
Rufus began his career in show business as a teenager, when he joined the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, an all black revue best known for touring the south. For many years afterward he worked in a textile mill, writing some of his best songs while at work in the factory, and keeping his job until his tracks had become bona fide hits.
He hosted the amateur show on Beale Street, where he discovered many blues and r&b artists, including the young BB King. Around this time he became one of the most celebrated on air personalities of the era, working for WDIA, one of the first radio stations in the US to hire an all black staff. He also began to tour the Memphis area himself, coming up with the dance steps, like the Funky Chicken and the Dog, that would gain him fame and become his trademark.
His recording career began in 1953, when he cut an answer song to Big Mama Thornton’s Houng Dog for Sun Records. It was the label’s first hit, though a copyright infringement suit came fast on its heels. Though Rufus’ relationship with Sun records was short lived, he didn’t let it get him down. In 1960, a new Memphis record company called Satellite Records opened its doors, and Rufus persuaded the label to cut a duet featuring his daughter Carla. The song “Cause I Love You,” was the label’s first real hit. Satellite would change it’s name to Stax Records, and Rufus’ career was made.
Rufus continued to perform long after his heyday in the ‘60s and 70’s. One of the most charismatic artists of the rhythm and blues age, Thomas passed away on December 15, 2001.