Rufus Thomas – Complete Recorded Works (1950-1957) – ‘Tiger Man’
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In 1950 Rufus Thomas was performing at a north Memphis club called “Currie`s Club Tropicana” when he was approached by Dallas record man Jessie Erickson who asked if he could record Rufus and his band. An agreement was made and the first four tracks on this CD are the result of that meeting, although only the first two titles were issued.
Three of the titles are “woman trouble” songs, and the fourth Who`s That Chick is the celebration of a probable Beale Street beauty, and all her attributes, as she walks down the street. The small band features some mellow guitar from Robert Carter, and fine strong tenor sax from Evelyn Young , the lady who later joined B.B.King,s Orchestra, but Jesse Erickson`s tiny Dallas based Star Talent label was unfortunately going nowhere and the record sank without trace, presumably selling a few copies in Memphis and Dallas only.
During the summer of 1950, Rufus travelled at least as far as Nashville, with Bobby Plater`s Orchestra, and recorded for the Nashville-based Bullet label. The record being issued as by “Mr Swing” presumably to avoid any problems with Jesse Erickson. These titles used a bigger band with four horns and had reasonably sophisticated R & B arrangements by Plater, but they too were to become blues obscurities, not even credited to Rufus until 1996 when they were played to Rufus “blind” and he was asked if he knew the singer, “Hey, that’s me!”, he said, having not heard them himself for decades.
His next move was to Chess, which should have meant hits, but sadly none of his three issues made any real dent in the R & B Charts, although all were good sides. All were recorded at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios. The first four titles use a small band, again with sharp arrangements and a little sophistication, Night Working Blues being recycled later on Stax as a dance number. The strangely titled Why Did You Dee Gee was, according to Rufus, dedicated to one “Doris Genius”, although he didn’t remember her by 1996.
The final two Chess titles and the two unissued use Rosco Gordon`s band and have that beautifully primitive, dirty sound Rosco generates with his percussive piano and the honking guttural baritone sax of Richard Sanders. Juanita shows off Rufus at his wonderful best. If there can be such a thing as a comedy blues, then this is it. And after that sobbing gem: “No more pistols, no more knives, no more messin’ around with wives. Man, I’m off that stuff.”
Rufus’ next issue was to be on the Sun label. Recorded in the same studio but this time guitar-dominated, when Sam Phillips got the idea to cut an answer record to Big Mama Thornton’s huge 1953 R & B hit ‘Hound Dog’. All of the Sun sides are far more downhome in style than any of his earlier records and feature Joe Hill Louis and Floyd Murphy playing powerful guitar. Bear Cat was to be Sun’s first real hit and also their first lawsuit, when Don Robey of Peacock Records, Houston, Texas sued Phillips for plagiarising his Hound Dog hit.
It was to be three years before Rufus would record again, this time for Meteor Records, the Memphis branch of the L.A-based RMP/Modern record company. The session included both Evelyn Young, sax player from his very first record and Louis Steinberg, who was to go on to be part of Booker T and the MGs, the core of the Stax sound which Rufus was to be a big part of. This Meteor 45 made only ripples and was to be his last record for several years before his daughter Carla and he gave Stax their first hits and Rufus was to follow on with many more on Stax including another remake of the Meteor title I’m Steady Holding On.