Review: Rufus Thomas - Do The Funky Chicken (Stax Remaster)

Funk's elder statesman returns with a classic LP
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Rufus Thomas - Do The Funky Chicken (Stax Remaster)As the 1960s wore on, the Stax label focused on current artists such as Otis Redding and Booker T and the M.G.'s while Rufus Thomas, an early hit maker for the label was being left behind. Now in his early 50s, Thomas had been left off the label's tour of Europe — a move he found insulting — and his 1968 cover of Eddie Floyd's "Funky Mississippi" was recorded for an album that was never released. Undeterred, Thomas returned to the studio in 1969, backed by his son Marvell and members of the Bar-Kays to record his own "Do The Funky Chicken." Based on a dance, it became the title track for his new album and was a big hit for Thomas, hitting number 5 on the R&B charts.

Opening with a chicken call, the song launches into an irresistible funk groove with killer accompaniment from the Memphis horns. Thomas gets so into the music, he uses some of his old disc jockey bits, saying, "Oh I'm feeling it now. I feel so unnecessary. This is the kind of stuff that makes you want to do something nasty, like waste some chicken gravy on your white shirt right down front." The song is at once infectious and comical and totally Thomas.

On "Sixty Minute Man," Thomas mixes a scat vocal over a tribal, swampy rhythm before going into a gritty vocal performance about his performance in the bedroom. If one could mix voodoo with the blues and take it down to the bayou, they'd have this.

Thomas covers himself on "Bear Cat (AKA Hound Dog), a song he first cut for Sun Records in 1953 that was an answer record to Big Mama Thornton's original version of "Hound Dog." Thomas gives it the up-tempo Stax soul treatment here with call-and-response vocals and horns. It's a killer funk track with Thomas making "bear cat" noises over the horn solo.

On "Old Macdonald Had A Farm (Part 1)" and "(Part 2)", Thomas manages to split the famous children's song in two. The first part is a gospel-tinged revival with piano, sparse guitar and a chorus cheering, while the second moves into familiar Stax funk territory. Both are inventive versions of a song most people have heard hundreds of times in its original incarnation.

The CD features a number of bonus tracks, including "Funky Mississippi," which was released as a single in spite of the album it was intended for not coming out. The song lives up to its name as it is one of the funkier tracks on the CD and was of the period lyrically with its line, "Now we don't hippies down in Mississippi, but we funky funky just the same." The mayor of Byhalia, a small town in Mississippi wasn't amused as he didn't get that funky meant good in this case.

Funky is good, however and few did it better than Rufus Thomas. Blending his own unique mix of funk and humor helped Thomas make Do The Funky Chicken one of the best releases of his storied career.