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Before Stax - The Complete 50's Recordings

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Album Review

When Rufus Thomas was given the nickname "the World's Oldest Teenager," there was more than a little truth to the statement. By the time Thomas cut his first record in 1950, he was already 33 years old and had been a performer since his high-school days, and he would enjoy his greatest fame in the late '60s and early '70s, sending dance tunes like "Do the Funky Chicken" and "Do the Push and Pull" to the upper reaches of the R&B charts when he was well past 50. Before Stax: The Complete 50's Recordings brings together 20 sides Thomas recorded for Chess, Sun, Meteor, and a handful of other labels between 1950 and 1957, and while there are a few straightforward blues numbers like "I'll Be a Good Boy," "I'm So Worried," and "Double Trouble" (and Thomas' voice is in surprisingly supple form as he tries to make like Nat King Cole or Charles Brown in the early innings), it didn't take long for him to realize that his strong suit was upbeat dance tunes with witty lyrics, and "Beer Bottle Boogie" and "Crazy About My Baby" show he was already getting on the good foot before he scored his first proper hit. Thomas' strong and sassy "answer" to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," "Bear Cat," was a regional smash in 1953, and with Rufus' high-attitude vocals and some slashing guitar work, it's one of the highlights of this disc, though like much of the material here it appears in less than ideal fidelity, and the mastering of some of the early tracks (admittedly rare and hard to find) sounds as if someone at Important Artists tried to clean up the audio with unfortunate results. Still, this collects some elusive and historically important music from one of the true movers and shakers of Memphis R&B, and there's a lot of fun to be had with this set, while giving an underappreciated hero his due.


Born: 26 March 1917 in Cayce, MS

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Few of rock & roll's founding figures are as likable as Rufus Thomas. From the 1940s onward, he has personified Memphis music; his small but witty cameo role in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, a film which satirizes and enshrines the city's role in popular culture, was entirely appropriate. As a recording artist, he wasn't a major innovator, but he could always be depended upon for some good, silly, and/or outrageous fun with his soul dance tunes. He was one of the few rock or soul stars to reach his...
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Before Stax - The Complete 50's Recordings, Rufus Thomas
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