Rufus Thomas: Do the Funky Chicken

Stax’s elder statesman hits a funky ‘70s groove

R&B singer Rufus Thomas had been with Stax for over a decade when he recorded this 1970 album. He and daughter Carla had hooked up with Stax’s predecessor, Satellite, as early as 1960, and Rufus scored a Top 10 hit with “Walking the Dog” in 1963. He released a steady stream of singles throughout the 1960s, with only limited success until 1969’s “Do the Funky Chicken.” Though it only rose to #23 on the Pop charts, it was a big hit on soul radio, and the title and dance became lasting totems of ‘70s pop culture. The album from which the single sprang includes other novelty tunes, including a remake of Thomas’ 1953 hit “Bear Cat” and a two-part gospel/funk workout on the nursery rhyme “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”

More interesting than the novelty tunes is an extended take on “Sixty Minute Man” that mixes African-styled chanting, a rough-and-ready vocal and hypnotic bass, guitar and drum figures. The album is an interesting mix of shtick and soul, as the band – mostly likely the Bar-Kays throughout – hits funky instrumental grooves, such as the break on “Let the Good Times Roll,” and the 52-year-old Thomas steps out front to sing and ham it up. At the same time, his straight-up Stax-styled remake of the Valentinos’ “Lookin’ for a Love” proves he could stand still and deliver stirring soul music.

Concord’s reissue adds eight bonus tracks that include pre-LP singles “Funky Mississippi” and “Funky Way” and their B-sides – all backed by Booker T. & The MGs. The bonuses are rounded out by a pair of generic mid-70s two-part funk jams, “Itch and Scratch” and “Boogie Ain’t Nuttin’ (But Gettin’ Down).” Like the other entries in Concord’s Stax reissue series (including The Dramatics’ Watcha See is Watcha Get and Shirley Brown’s Woman to Woman), this has been remastered in 24-bit audio by Joe Tarantino, making this among the best sounding Stax reissues in the digital domain. Fans of Stax, early-70s funk and Rufus Thomas will all find something special here. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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