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CHESS 1492; JANUARY 1952



In a career that lasted a half century, Rufus Thomas’s reputation was built somewhat on his gimmicky nature. Though the songs themselves comfortably hit all the musical markers of their respective eras and styles, the subject matters were often a little outlandish.

His biggest hits were dance songs named after animals – dogs, chickens and penguins among them – and even a decade earlier he rose to prominence with tunes about bear cats and tiger men, giving the impression that he was more suited to be a zookeeper than a singer.

Later on he was a man in his fifties wearing pink hot pants and go-go boots on stage, dubbed The World’s Oldest Teenager, and as a result there was always a sense that he wasn’t to be taken seriously, no matter how good the records were.

But the idea that Rufus Thomas couldn’t have been successful just tearing things up as a vocalist with no quirky asides might be put to rest with a record like this.


Real Gone
As most of the Sam Phillips cult are well aware, it would be Rufus Thomas who gave Sun Records – still a few months away from its own arrival when this record came out – its first national hit in 1953, but that was not his first time dealing with the engaging disc jockey, emcee and part-time singer.

Because of its open door policy anyone could walk into the Memphis Recording Studio off the street and conceivably walk out with a record they made, and the ever enterprising Thomas wasn’t about to be left out.

He cut two sessions in 1951 for Phillips, the top side of this – No More Dogging Around – coming from the second of them, from October, but Chess paired it up with the best song Thomas had laid down to date from his first session back in May.

What the hold up was, especially when neither side of the first Chess release from that summer was worth all that much, is anybody’s guess, but Crazy About You Baby – while arguably fairly generic by nature – was exactly what was stirring rock fans’ interest more and more.

Fast paced with rambunctious vocals, a deep instrumental groove and wild solos, this is the freewheeling sound of Memphis rock ‘n’ roll coming into its own.

While it wasn’t a hit, the excitement found here was a portend of things to come from the city not to mention the artist cutting it. At 34 years old Thomas may have already been a long in the tooth for taking a shot at rock ‘n’ roll stardom, but wasn’t going to let a little thing like a few numbers on a birth certificate keep him from joining in the fun.


I Bring My Money Home
The musicians are hardly household names but maybe that’s for the best because what they’re laying down here is the very thing we’ve wanted to hear more of but were always unable to because there was never anyone recording the kind of wild after-hours parties where a band would play until the sun came up while the revelers drank, danced and screwed – not necessarily at the same time – for hours on end.

Studio records in general may try and reflect that kind of atmosphere but they rarely seem to fully recreate it, but these guys have down pat. This is rock ‘n’ roll at breakneck speed, hang on for dear life kind of music that is designed to get your heart pumping, legs moving and head spinning.

Billy Love’s piano is at the center of it all, showing that when he wasn’t being enlisted by Sam Phillips to pretend he was Jackie Brenston in one of the more disgraceful acts of record company malfeasance to date, he was a damn good barrelhouse pianist. It may be crude, but it’s entirely effective in launching the song into orbit. Whoever the guitarist is he’s just as hepped up on some kind of go-go juice and it’s up to the saxophones to serve as an anchor during the frantic vocal sections to keep the record from flying off the turntable.

The sax solos during the break are, if anything, the weakest part of Crazy About You Baby, though their job isn’t made any easier by what preceded it. Should they try and match that exhilarating balls to the wall style the whole record might implode, so Herman Green on tenor tries a different tactic, using more of a stuttering progression that eventually gets pretty wild but is relatively calm compared to what Love is doing behind him.

As for Rufus Thomas, he’s having a ball during all of this mayhem acting as the instigator, racing through the vocals at top speed while still somehow maintaining a sense of control. He may have always claimed he was nothing more than a passable singer, but he’s selling himself short here because this requires a firm hand to know just how hard to step on the gas and when to let up.

The best example of the latter comes with the unexpected move he throws in during the bridge when he pumps the brakes on the line “You say you’ve been sufferin’ from an achin’ head” simply by dropping down rather than going up on the last word, a manuever which keeps the song from spiraling out of control even more.

All in all he shows an intuitive understanding of how to make this self-penned song come together. High art it may not be, but at one o’clock in the morning as you catch your second wind you sure won’t be complaining. When Houston Stokes delivers that intoxicating drum break heading into the home stretch of the song you’ll be glad you’re front and center for what they’re dishing out.


Wild About You
One of the things that should already be apparent after more than 1,750 rock songs in the genre’s first four years, and which will certainly go on to be seen countless times in the years to come, is how certain infectious records that seem to have a hit sound wind up stirring little or no interest, while the same label, or sometimes the same artist, winds up with hits that can’t hold a candle to the ones like this that missed.

We’re still a ways off from Rufus Thomas getting that first hit for Sam Phillips and don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say that future smash wasn’t the best thing he cut on Rufus Thomas at that point, not when Crazy About You Baby was still glowing like a meteorite in a hayfield outside the city limits.

Of course as it turns out this record won’t be the best of their work together either, but all of that means is now that Memphis is finally jumping on the bandwagon and trying their hand at rock ‘n’ roll, the city that far too often tries claiming it was rock’s birthplace shows that they might just have something of value to offer us after all.

It’s only fitting I suppose that Rufus Thomas, the Musical Mayor of the city if you will, was the local act intent on spreading the word to the rest of the country.


(Visit the Artist page of Rufus Thomas for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)