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CHESS 1517; AUGUST 1952



In a hitmaking career that spanned twenty years – coming in the middle of five decades in the public eye as an entertainer – there’s bound to be some records that are below par.

Though in 1952 nobody knew that the majority of Rufus Thomas’s biggest hits and most remembered songs would be largely centered on animals… dogs, (bear) cats, penguins and chickens, largely of the funky variety… here we get the first sign that he wouldn’t do quite as well commercially or artistically when focusing on mere human beings as the song topic.

Maybe if this girl’s name had belonged to his parakeet, box turtle or goldfish it’d have been a different story… and a better record.


You Don’t Treat Me No Good
He’d have been the first to tell you that as “singers” go, Rufus Thomas Jr. was nothing special.

But as entertainers go, he was a rare talent.

In 1952, certainly when it came to the record industry, singing tended to take precedent over merely finding a way – any way – to be engaging. As a result Thomas’s earliest efforts have been about what you’d expect from somebody who fit that description… fairly competent songs delivered with determination and occasional flair, but having not found – or perhaps not been encouraged – to take advantage of his natural showmanship, for the most part they were unmemorable.

His last time out was an exception, but even that had to do more with the rollicking support he received which allowed Rufus to ride the wave they created without having to carry the load himself.

But here with Juanita, a song he wrote himself, Thomas is clearly thinking in terms of creating a vivid presentation worthy of the stage where he already knows he excels as those venues allowed him to show off his humor and utter shamelessness as a performer, someone who would do anything to earn your approval.

Unfortunately for him though a record does not come with visuals and even if it did the ones he’s conjuring up in your mind with this song might cause you to cringe with embarrassment and turn away, if not leave the theater altogether.


What Makes Your Head So Hard?
The lazy piano played by Billy Love that opens this record lasts all of thirty seconds after which there’s virtually nothing worthwhile to be found.

I realize that a run time of a half minute is a little short for a commercial record, but honestly if you were to cut it off then, or maybe loop it a few times if you insist on something longer, you’d have a better product.

But even during that stretch it’s not without its flaws, as Rufus Thomas lets loose with a brief crying jag that is meant to suggest he’s having a breakdown of some sort over this Juanita, giving us some idea without even using words how special she is to him.

To him, mind you, not to us, because once he starts singing we never do find out much about her, other than she left him, or maybe never spent more than five minutes in his presence. If it was because of his singing who can really blame her, as he sounds as if he’s on the brink of being committed for mental instability. It’s one thing to be hurt, even privately cry some, over a girl not reciprocating your love, but he’s gone over the edge and we’re not even sure she knows his name.

The most we get out of him is that he’s being forced to stay away from her, yet he then complains that she spreads her affections to “every man in the neighborhood”.

Okay, let me stop you right there, Rufus. This girl is no good. It’s one thing to let a prospective suitor know you have options, but at a certain point if that person doesn’t commit, or even acknowledge your existence as the case may be here, while sleeping around incessantly, then it’s probably time to move on.

Throughout all of this Thomas clings to her skirt, casting aside his pride, dignity and self-worth for the meager scraps of fleeting attention she may pay him. He cries like a four year old, expecting sympathy – apparently for his blind devotion alone – while revealing nothing tangible that he has to offer this girl which would get her to consider his credentials.

The band, aside from the nice intro, are similarly lacking in inducements for her, as even the sax solo is sluggish and lacking in melodic appeal.

Yeah, I guess the image of a grown man acting like a blubbering infant over not getting to be with the girl he wants might qualify as a striking image to present to the public, but it’s hardly an appealing one without seeing him mewling about in the fetal position as she steps over him to go out with a guy who can put his own pants on and doesn’t carry a pacifier with him wherever he goes.

Come to think of it, other than to make fun of him, maybe that’s not something we want to see even if we could.

No wonder he wound up singing about penguins down the line, at least they could be counted on to hide their emotions better than this.


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