One of the Starmaker discs featured Rufus's fellow WDIA disc jockey and announcer, A. C. Moohah' Williams, who had the ''Wheelin'' On Beale show. Williams was still a biology teacher
at Manassas High School when he started at WDIA in 1949, but he soon became the first full time black employee of the station working on promotion and organisation of events as well as hosting shows. He set up the Teen Town Singers group that changed personnel
each year to include the best talent from all seven of the local black High Schools.
We have included his recordings, because it features a band of musicians led by tenor
saxophonist Bill Fort that often worked with Rufus Thomas, and because it adds another chapter to the 'Answer' song saga in Memphis.
Moohah's comical song ''All Shook
Out'' seems to have been the 'Answer' to Faye Adams' number one rhythm and blues hit ''Shake A Hand'' on Herald. Adams' disc had entered the charts that August and stayed for five months.
In their response, Moohah and Mattis had clearly taken the blueprint from ''Bear Cat'', perhaps hoping that Starmaker could be launched into serious competition with Sun. The song may also have had secondary reference to the glad-handing
that went on during the annual WDIA Goodwill Revue.
''All Shook Out'' and its other side, ''Candy'', were both driving rhythm and blues honkers in the tradition of Wynonie
Harris, Roy Brown and other blues shouters. ''All Shook Out'' opens deceptively slowly but soon stomps along in support of Moohah's nonsense lyric about the perils of hand shaking. There is a storming sax solo midway by Bill Fort and his tight band propels
the whole performance with piano and drums to the fore. Actually the song was not Moohah's but was written by David James Mattis, as was the flipside. On the record, ''Candy'' is about the girl who sweet-talks Moohah out of his mind. but David James said he
originally wrote the song about his dog.
Moohah's recordings were issued on Starmaker 501 among the new rhythm and blues releases at the end of November, just in time
for the Goodwill Revue. There was also a Starmaker 502 which contained two blues ballads by Memphis band singer Dick Cole recording under the name Danny Day. ''You Scare Me'' and ''Wishing'', issued at the same time. There was also one gospel release by Bessie
Griffin, '' Too Close To Heaven'', Starmaker 101, but these three seem to be all that the label issued. David James told researcher George Moonoogian that the label failed because a WDIA secretary was too zealous in chasing up debts and threatened all his
distributor contacts with legal action. Mattis was not the only one to try to get into the rhythm and blues record business in Memphis in the middle 1950s. B.B. King had the Blues Boy Kingdom label and there was another short-lived label called Tan Town Records
that issued recordings by the popular Spirit of Memphis Quartet and others.
Rufus Thomas spent 1954 and most of the next two years entrenched in his radio work and personal
appearances and he did not record again until the end of 1956. He retained some kind of a national profile, being featured in the trade press occasionally. He was mentioned as part of the publicity for the 1954 and 1955 Goodwill Revues but he had no record
to promote at a Revue until 1956 when he joined Meteor Records, owned by Lester Bihari and situated in a black neighbourhood of Memphis.
Little is known about the short-lived
Meteor episode and only two titles have survived from the session or sessions Rufus made at their rudimentary studio on Chelsea Avenue. Nevertheless Meteor 5039, which coupled ''The Easy Livin' Plan'' and ''I'm Steady Holding On'' is a mighty record. As far
as people can remember the band was basically the musicians who played with Rufus regularly around Memphis, billed usually as the Bearcats. They included tenor saxophonists Evelyn Young, who had been on the Star Talent disc, and Harvey Simmons, along with
a rhythm section of Lewis Steinberg on bass and Jeff Greyer on drums. The band sets up a storming shuffle as Rufus delivers a clever lyric about how to live life on the ''The Easy Livin' Plan''. The almost chanted list of the teachers, preachers, and the gambling
men, the chauffeurs, stenographer girls, and Alabama bound sisters in the corner, all living life to the full, is an unforgettable moment in rhythm and blues lyricism. In contrast the slower paced ''I'm Steady Holding On'' is at once both a boastful and plaintive
blues. Rufus told Peter Guralnick. ''I wrote one of the first songs that Bobby Bland ever sung: 'I got a new kind of loving that other men cant catch on/While they losing out I'm steady holding on'. It was a good tune. Bobby sang it on the Amateur Show and
won first prize''.
Jim Stewart was a bank teller and part-time country fiddle player when he set up Satellite Records in Memphis in 1958 with his sister, Estelle Axton.
They started with country music and then had an rhythm and blues group record by the Vel Tones that Rufus played on WDIA in 1959. Then on day in the spring of 1960, Rufus turned up at Stewart's new studio on McLemore Avenue pitching a song written by his daughter,
Carla. ''Cause I Love You'' was recorded as a duet by Rufus and Carla and it became a small hit on Satellite 102 that summer. Carla's song ''Gee Whiz'' became a top ten rhythm and blues and popular hit the following year, by when the label had become Stax
In January 1963 Stax released Rufus Thomas singing ''The Dog'', a dance tune he'd worked up after watching a girl dancing at a show in Millington. Tennessee.
The song made number 22 in the rhythm and blues charts and was followed the next year by ''Walking The Dog'', a number five rhythm and blues hit that also made the popular top ten in November 1963. It had taken ten years, but the entertaining man with the
animal songs was back - and bigger than ever.
Rufus had other hits at Stax, but often said he didn't really fit into their operation. ''I wasn't happy with the material
they kept coming up with. They are great guys but they can't write or produce the song I need. The MGs are incredibly talented musicians but they have their style and they tended to imprint it too heavily on my recordings''. Nevertheless, in 1970 he had another
number five rhythm and blues hit with another improvised dance tune, this time made up at a club in Covington, Tennessee, titled ''Do The Funky Chicken''. Then at the start of 1971 Rufus registered his first number one rhythm and blues hit with ''Do The Push
And Pull''. It was followed with the almost as successful number two hit ''The Breakdown''. He continued to register smaller hits well into the 1970s, twenty-five years after he had started his recording career, and to make well-received CD albums for many
years after that.
On the back of his1960s hits, Rufus started to take his entertaining show out of Memphis, including to Europe. In December 1964 he was playing the Flamingo
Club in London and the Kilburn State Ballroom , safe in the knowledge that he had a radio job to go back to. He credits WDIAs program director, David James Mattis, for this: ''He let me go out on Saturdays and Friday nights and make air told me to go, and
when I came back I would always have my job there waiting for me. I could go on tour, and when I came back I knew everything was all right. Without David James just probably I would never have gotten where I got''.
Rufus played increasingly to white and mixed audiences and, despite his deep roots in Beale Street and his sceticism about the way black artists were disadvantaged. he genuinely was happy to tell Peter Guralnick:
''College audiences are the greatest audiences in the world. I must have played every fraternity house there was in the South. When we played Ole Miss they'd send the girls home at midnight, and then we'd tell nasty jokes and all that stuff. Oh man, we used
to have some good times down there in Oxford''. He told Neil Slaven in 1996, ''When I'm on stage and I look out there at that audience, I don't see colour. I see people packet in a place, there to see me. There is not a greater satisfaction in the world''.
However, he added, ''There is no telling how far I could have gone, had I been a white boy. I've always said that. I'm not bitter, I want you to know, but it does bother you''.
continued on Memphis radio with WDIA, then WLOK, and then WDIA again into the 1990s. He became the keeper of the blues flame, but he was open to other music. "I played it all on my show. My family and I were raised on the Grand Ole Opry. Every Saturday night
we'd run home to catch the Opry on the radio. So you can understand why I played Elvis Presley and I was the only black jock in the city that was playing the Beatles and Rolling Stones when they came out''. Rufus appeared in various movies, from ''Wattstax''
in 1973 to ''Great Balls Of Fire'' in 1989 and ''Only The Strong Survive'', a D. A. Pennebaker film about rhythm and blues musicians. Pennebaker said: ''You knew he was an old person, but he acted like a 16 year old. He was always full of funny takes on things
and he always gave the impression he was a goofball. But when he talked about the music, you realised he knew a lot''.
''His pipes remain as convincing as the rusty hinges
on an old barn door, said a reviewer when Rufus appeared in London in 1986, and those pipes continued to make make records. After Stax, Rufus was with u number of labels including Alligator in the 1980s and High Stacks in the 1990s.
At age 81, in 1998, Rufus had triple bypass heart surgery and was fitted with a pacemaker. His publicist at High Stacks Records said: ''When he went back in for tests before Christmas, he was
so full of energy that hospitalising him was like putting a rabbit in a box. The other patients have the benefit of his great smile and his constant jokes."
to contribute to life and music in Memphis for another three years, enjoying his loves of baseball, ice cream, and black music, and embodying the philosophies he had dispensed to interviewers over the years. He had told Neil Slaven, "You stop when you get
old - and who's old? I've been to the school of hard knocks for all these years and that's where it comes from - Sidewalk University''. He told Louis Cantor, ''I've always worked several jobs to try to make ends meet. And every time I think I've got my ends
to meet, somebody comes up and moves the ends''. Talking of his music, he told Roger St. Pierr: "My stuff has got to be simple, direct. I figure that if you can whistle, dance, sing, , hum, pop your fingers, it's just got to be a bigger hit.'
Thinking about his life as a black entertainer whose career developed beyond what he might have imagined , but at the same time feeling constricted by his colour, Rufus conceded. "I've gained
quite a bit of popularity, and when I die people are going to know about me. This is fine. But they could know about me a little better. I know I make good music. Good music that everybody likes."
Around Thanksgiving time in 2001, Rufus Thomas was hospitalised again and he died on December 15, in St Francis Hospital in Memphis, aged 84. National newspapers marked the passing of the self-dubbed "World's Oldest Teenager," and the 'New
York Times' called Rufus ''the jovial patriarch of Memphis soul", Towards the end of his life, Rufus had become the official ''Ambassador To Beale Street''. Stax biographies talked about his flawless timing and innate skill in connecting to all people, his
dedication to the craft of entertaining, his ability to put people at ease, and how he helped others. Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist spoke about Rufus as an ambassador of unity: "He taught us not to see the world in black or white but in shades of blues''.
Memphis renamed Hernando Street as Rufus Thomas Boulevard, and he had his own car parking space near the site of the old Palace Theater. City mayor Willie Herenton described how he got the space: ''I had lunch with Rufus at a local cafe. And you know he had
an ego, and he came to me and said, you the mayor; well I need a parking space'. So we got him his space''.
Rufus no doubt enjoyed the mischief of making the mayor jump
through hoops. ''You gotta have fun in life'', he once said. "Music to me is fun. You see me and you'll see how much fun I have with it. More, I'll bet, than anybody else''.