Born on 26 March 1917 in Cayce, Mississippi, Rufus Thomas first hit the stage as a dancer and comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. In 1949 he became a disc jockey at Memphis’ legendary black station, WDIA, where he was a fixture for five decades.
As a singer, Thomas scored Sun Records first national hit with Bear Cat (1953) – a take-off of Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog.
In the 60s and 70s he ruled the R&B dance floor with a string of infectious and influential hits for Stax Records, based on such popular steps of the day as the Dog, the Funky Chicken and the Breakdown.
Calling himself “the world’s oldest teenager”, Thomas was in his forties when he scored his 1963 Top Ten smash hit, Walking The Dog. With its saucy guitar licks and his vocal clowning, the single became a favourite of such rock bands as The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, who both covered it on their debut albums.
Thomas’ other soul-dance classics included Can Your Monkey Do The Dog? (1964), Do The Funky Chicken (1970) and (Do The) Push and Pull, Part 1 (1970). He also recorded with his daughter, Carla, a Stax artist in her own right.
His run of Stax hits ended in the mid-70s, but Thomas – who received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1992 – recorded and toured into his final years.
In 1996 he appeared on Now I Got Worry by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion singing on Chicken Dog.
Rufus Thomas died on 15 December 2001, in a Memphis hospital, of heart failure at the age of 84.