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CHESS 1466; JULY 1951

 
 

 

When Leonard Chess stole the writing credit for the top side of this record and gave it to a friend of his – not for the last time either – it was par for the course.

This IS the independent record biz after all where every single label owner was a criminal in a rayon shirt.

But while we’ve come to expect this sort of sleazy activity from these no-goodniks, even THEY drew the line somewhere…

This is where… and so Rufus Thomas Jr. got to keep the writing credit for the inexplicable song you see in front of you today because Leonard Chess had to know this one wasn’t worth getting his hands dirty over.
 

 

Darkness In My Door
Heading into this I didn’t know what it meant either, so don’t feel bad if you’re in the dark on this bewildering title.

Going over the possibilities in your mind before the needle drops you say to yourself that it might mean any number of things… there was a Detroit jazz label that started in 1951 by that name, but Rufus Thomas was from Memphis and didn’t sing jazz, nor did he play it on his radio show on WDIA, so we can probably eliminate that.

The most prevalent answer for those of you who went to college is it’s the short way to refer to the girls who pledge Delta Gamma sorority, but Rufus was in his thirties by now and shouldn’t be hanging around sorority girls anyway, so that one’s out.

Today there’s plenty of online outlets using this name and this specific spelling of the “word” (if that’s what you want to call it), but I’m pretty sure the internet didn’t exist in 1951 so we can let Rufus off the hook for picking it up that way.

I guess all there is to do is actually listen to Why Did You Deegee and hope that Thomas is nice enough to explain it to us and not leave us hanging.

Then again, if it’s some top secret spy stuff, just keep it to yourself, we don’t want to get pulled into any international incidents over the B-side of a record that few people heard at the time anyway.
 


 
 

Why Did You Do It?
The mystery over the word itself has one positive when it comes to listening to this record and that’s it distracts you from the musical arrangement which is atrocious.

We’ve praised Sam Phillips, who recorded this in Memphis and leased it to Chess, for his skills as a technical engineer, but he shows here he had no musical aptitude whatsoever at this point because a competent producer would’ve stopped the tapes, gone on the studio floor and demanded all of the musicians submit to a urine test on the spot, because it’s obvious they’re all on something here.

Nothing is working in conjunction with anything else. This is a train wreck of an arrangement from top to bottom. For the majority of the record it sounds as if they’re all searching for the right key like some grumbling building manager who was woken up at 3 in the morning to unlock a door to hunt around for a missing cat.

The guitar is playing a song the horns have never heard before while the piano is oblivious to both parties. Though the pace is far too slow for Thomas to really be comfortable singing – ballads or mournful laments were never his specialty – the problems here for the most part aren’t of his making. The song may not have been entirely salvageable without hiring more skilled musicians, but the production decisions only draw attention to everything that’s wrong about this.

Rather than try mixing these instruments together and hope for a muddied sound to disguise the incompetence of the arranger, Phillips makes sure each one is heard loud and clear, although you’ll note that Why Did You DeeGee is not one of the records he went out of his way to take undue credit for in the ensuing years.

But hey, let’s give him the plaudits he yearned for and assume that it was intent all along to come up with the most atonal record possible because he might just take first prize in the contest. Good job, Sam.

In spite of the brutal sound they collectively produce, Thomas comes across as marginally better than the musicians he’s backed by, imparting the song with some genuine feeling. His vocal itself does what it sets out to do, even if you question whether what he’s trying get across is worth the effort to craft a song about in the first place… which brings us back to the subject at hand.

Or should I say brings us back to trying to decipher the subject at hand.
 

Please Tell Me The Reason Why
When you write a song, the title might not be the MOST important thing about it, but it’s certainly not the least important at any rate.

That’s what catches your eye, that’s what people will refer to when requesting it and it is what hints at the content of the record to give prospective listeners some idea of what it entails.

As a title Why Did You Deegee works on one level… eliciting curiosity. Heck, that’s the most pressing issue of the entire review!

So to that end the song itself has to reveal the meaning in clear terms and to be fair it does that. Yet Thomas’s big revelation amounts to… her name.

That’s it, that’s the big mystery. Her name is Deegee. Not Dee Dee, but Deegee… one word.

I think it’s safe to say we’re a little let down. Not that Deegee is a bad name per say, (honestly it might be better than Rufus), but rather it’s anticlimactic. Instead of being some slang, or maybe a code word for something illicit that you want to slip past the censors (Did you see Rufus and Dee Dee deegeeing together over in the corner?), it winds up being completely irrelevant to the song.

Had he named this “Why Did You, Baby?”, we’d go into the song not expecting anything – and since we’d get virtually nothing out of the record that’d be entirely appropriate, I suppose. But the way the title is printed, without even a comma, it sets you up for something they have no intention on ever delivering.
 


 

I’ve Cried So Much About You Deegee
There’ll be few artists over the next couple of decades around here who will be more interesting to discuss than Rufus Thomas.

The man was one of the most unlikely rock stars who ever graced a stage and each time you’d think he was about to retire and take his dog for a walk (you better have gotten that pun or you’ll miss the next two for sure) he’d jump back and slip into his hot pants and dance the funky chicken on a stage with people not even born when this record came out.

So it’s safe to say that we’re fans of Rufus and because his vocals here are effective enough we’d probably normally spare him the indignity of the lowest grade we hand out despite the fact that the band on Why Did You DeeGee is so bad that the musician’s union is disavowing them to the trade papers as we speak.

But sometimes you have to be a little bit cruel to get a message across unfortunately and the message today is don’t deegee around with us in the future.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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