Saturday December 15 12:45 PM ET
Musician Rufus Thomas Dies at 84
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Musician Rufus Thomas, whose ``Bear Cat'' helped
Sun Records get its start and whose ``Funky Chicken'' gave a boost to the Stax Label, died Saturday. He was 84.
Thomas' son, Marvell Thomas, said his father died in St. Francis Hospital. He had been hospitalized since Thanksgiving for a short illness.
``This is the end of an era, and the world will miss him dearly,'' Thomas said.
Rufus Thomas was best known for novelty dance recordings like ``Walking
the Dog,'' ``Do the Funky Chicken'' and ``Push and Pull.''
He began tap dancing on the streets of Memphis for tips and performed in amateur shows in high school.
In the 1940s, Thomas ran his own Beale Street amateur show that attracted B.B. King, Bobby ``Blue'' Bland and many other performers who went on to become famous.
In his declining years, Thomas took on the title of ``Beale Street ambassador''and liked to refer to himself as the world's oldest teen-ager. In 1998, he underwent open-heart surgery at a Memphis hospital.
Thomas was born in Cayce, Miss., in 1917 and grew up in Memphis. In high school, he met Nat D. Williams, a history teacher who organized annualvariety shows.
In the late 1940s, Williams became one of the first black radio personalities in the South.
``Then, a black man on the radio had always been taboo,'' Thomas once told .The Associated Press. ``When they heard that black voice advertising their products, most of the advertisers pulled their ads.''
In 1953, Thomas recorded ``Bear Cat,'' an answer to Big Mama Thornton's
``Hound Dog,'' and it became Sun Record's first hit.
That was before Elvis Presley arrived on the scene to become Sun's
undisputed star. Thomas complained in later years that Sun's black artists were pushed aside after Presley became a hit.
In the 1960s, Thomas became one of the founding performers for Stax
Records, which created what came to be known as ``the Memphis sound,''
with performers like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Sam and Dave.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
(from Tom FREELAND, Oxford, MS)