Rufus and Carla Thomas!

Gary: “This one is for my partner who has a lot of ‘SOUL’.  I will take a look at a father and a daughter, who had careers at different times.  Now father was there at the start with Sam Phillips and Sun records, he was a singer, DJ, writer and producer and also had a very famous son who was a keyboard player.  His daughter has been referred to as the ‘Queen of Memphis Soul’.

Rufus Thomas
(March 27, 1917 – December 15, 2001)



Walking the Dog

1.  Bear Cat/ Sun/ 1953/ Answer to Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog

2. Walking the Dog/ Stax 140/ November 1963/ # 10

3.  Do The Funky Chicken/ Stax 0059/ February 1970/ # 28

4.  (Do The) Push And Pull Part 1/ Stax 0079/ January 1971/ # 25

5.  Hi Heel Sneaker’s (Gary’s Favourite)

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 commercial and artistic peak in middle age, and was a crucial mentor to many important Memphis blues, rock, and soul musicians.

Thomas was already a professional entertainer in the mid-’30s, when he was a comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He recorded music as early as 1941, but really made his mark on the Memphis music scene as a deejay on WDIA, one of the few black-owned stations of the era. He also ran talent shows on Memphis’ famous Beale Street that helped showcase the emerging skills of such influential figures as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Ike Turner, and Roscoe Gordon.

Thomas had his first success as a recording artist in 1953 with “Bear Cat,” a funny answer record to Big Mama Thornton‘s “Hound Dog.” It made #3 on the R&B charts, giving Sun Records its first national hit, though some of the sweetness went out of the triumph after Sun owner Sam Phillips lost a lawsuit for plagiarizing the original Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller tune. Thomas, strangely, would make only one other record for Sun, and recorded only sporadically throughout the rest of the 1950s.

Thomas and his daughter Carla would become the first stars for the Stax label, for whom they recorded a duet in 1959, “‘Cause I Love You” (when the company was still known as Satellite).

In the ’60s, Carla would become one of Stax’s biggest stars. On his own, Rufus wasn’t as successful as his daughter, but issued a steady stream of decent dance/novelty singles.

These were not deep or emotional statements, or meant to be. The accent was on the stripped-down groove and Rufus’ good-time vocals, which didn’t take himself or anything seriously. The biggest by far was “Walking the Dog,” which made the Top Ten in 1963, and was covered by the Rolling Stones on their first album.

Thomas hit his commercial peak in the early ’70s, when “Do the Funky Chicken,” “(Do The) Push and Pull,” and “The Breakdown” all made the R&B Top Five. As the song titles themselves make clear, funk was now driving his sound rather than blues or soul.

Thomas drew upon his vaudeville background to put them over on-stage with fancy footwork that displayed remarkable agility for a man well into his 50s.

The collapse of the Stax label in the mid-’70s meant the end of his career, basically, as it did for many other artists with the company.

In 2001, Rufus Thomas was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Later that year, on December 15, he died at St. Francis hospital in Memphis, TN.

Carla Thomas


Gee Whiz (with Steve Cropper, Dave “Duck” Dunn etc)

Tramp with Paul Shaffer

1.  Gee Whiz (Look at his eyes)/ Atlantic 2086/ February 1961/ #10

2.  B-A-B-Y/ Stax 195/ September 1966/ #14

Otis & Carla

1.  Tramp/ Stax 216/ June 1967/ #26

2.  Knock on Wood/ Stax 228/ September 1967/ #30

Carla Thomas, the daughter of Rufus and Lorene Thomas, was born December 21, 1942, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.

The Thomas family lived in close proximity to the locally celebrated Palace Theater on world-famous Beale Street, as Rufus was the theater’s emcee for their amateur shows. This access not only gave Carla her first taste of the music world but it also provided a springboard for her transformation into the Queen of the Memphis Sound..

In Memphis, the African American centered radio station WDIA sponsored a rotating musical group of high school students called the Teen Town Singers (notable alumni included Anita Louis and Isaac Hayes).

Carla started out her singing career, first performing with  the Teen Town Singers. Although the requirements to join this group stated that the person should be of high school age, Carla became a member in 1952 at the age of 10. She was able to sneak into their ranks thanks to the fact that her father Rufus was an on-air personality for the radio station.

Carla’s first record when she was still attending Hamilton High School in Memphis was a duet with her father, “Cause I Love You

This song, with Carla’s brother Marvell on keyboards, was released in 1960 by Satellite Records (which eventually became Stax Records). Incidentally, the session
musician who played baritone sax was Booker T Jones.

The record drew enough local attention to catch the interest of Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records. He signed a deal with the owners of Satellite Records, to distribute “Cause I Love You” and thus paved the way for Carla’s most famous single the following year, “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)”. Leased to Atlantic Records, the song became a US Top 10 hit.

In 1962, in answer to Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”, Carla released “I’ll Bring It On Home To You“.   “What A Fool I’ve Been” (1963) and “Let Me Be Good To You” (1965) then followed. ‘B-A-B-Y’, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, reached the US R&B Top 3.

Then came a series of duets with Otis Redding, which proclaimed her “Queen of Soul”. An excellent version of Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” introduced the partnership. “Knock On Wood” and “Lovey Dovey” followed before Redding’s premature death.

Carla’s own career was eclipsed as Aretha Franklin assumed her regal mantle. Singles with William Bell and Johnnie Taylor failed to recapture past glories, although the singer stayed with Stax until its bankruptcy in 1975.

Since then Thomas has not recorded, although she tours occasionally with the Stax revival shows, and she appeared, along with her father, at the Porretta Terme Soul Festival in 1991.


4 responses to “Rufus and Carla Thomas!

  1. Jessica Copeland

    Hi Heel Sneaker’s definitely has to be my favorite too! Kept me listening the whole way through.

  2. Pingback: Otis Redding | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  3. Pingback: Song “Walking the Dog” | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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