Classics: Rufus Thomas – Walking The Dog (Stax)
History happens to be so ironical at times. With ‘Walking The Dog’ coming up as a good illustration to this. A song that first saw the light on Stax Records back in 1963. This at a period when the R&B you would hear on the radio stations Stateside was mainly done by White artists. With extra ones of the likes no other than The Rolling Stones eventually givin’ it a push the year after. This while covering it on their eponymous debut-album. And, by that payin’ justice to Rufus Thomas‘ music and eventually bringin’ it to the attention of another audience.
Considered as one of his signature songs with ‘Do The Funky Chicken’ and ‘(Do The) Push And Pull’, ‘Walking The Dog’ (from his album of the name) stands as his biggest hit ever.
A native of Cayle, MS Rufus Thomas, Jr. pretty much had music and entertaining deep in him from his early days. Beginning as a Tap dancer, then a vaudeville performer and an MC in the 30’s, he made himself famous as a radio jock on WDIA in Memphis, TN. And this before and after his music got successful.
An eternal teenager according to many of those who’ve crossed his path, he deliered his debut-single – ‘I’ll Be A Good Boy’ – on Texas-based label Star Talent. Eventually recording of other labels such as Sun and Chess. When not duetting with his daughter Carla on ‘Deep Down Inside’ (Atco). This
before signing with Stax where he achieved most of his successes during the 60’s/70’s period.
‘Walking The Dog’ but also ‘Do The Funky Chicken’ and ‘(Do The) Push And Pull’ pretty much stand as his signature cuts. With ‘Walking The Dog’ comin’ as a cover version the year after – in 1963 – on The Rolling Stones‘ eponymous debut-album. And ‘(Do The) Push And Pull’ being his one and only R&B hit, with production work by the likes of Al Bell and Tom Nixon. Meanwhile ‘The Breakdown’ which saw the light in 1971 would bring Thomas extra attention while climbing at #2 on the R&B charts. This before his performance at the Wattstax concert the year after.
Rufus Thomas had a bunch of less successful hits on Stax before the label collapsed in 1976. He continued to record tough and toured internationally, billing himself as “The World’s Oldest Teenager” and describing himself as “the funkiest man alive”. He eventually ceased DJing at WDIA in 1974 to join WLOK for a certain time. This before returning to WDIA in the mid-80’s to co-host a Blues show.
Unsurprisingly, he played an important part in the Stax reunion of 1988. And the City of Memphis renamed a road off Beale Street as Rufus Thomas Boulevard to commemorate his 80th birthday in 1997.
Rufus Thomas sadly died of heart failure on Dec. 15, 2001 at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, TN. He was 84.