Listen to this song by gravelly-voiced soul patriarch Rufus Thomas. It’s ‘Walkin’ the Dog’, his signature hit from 1964 that became an R&B smash, as well as a popular number among mods and R&B revivalists from the 60s until today.
Rufus Thomas was a giant on the Memphis R&B scene, a stalwart figure along the Beale Street strip from the 1940s. Although he was no musical pioneer, what he did do was to embody the regional scene, and providing a reference point for the type of sound that evolved out of Memphis. And by the mid-60s, he was middle-aged, yet with his biggest hit in front of him.
I just love this little tune; unassuming, kind of silly as in a nonsense rhyme we heard as children, yet imminently funky. Listen to that loping guitar! Listen to that growling baritone sax! And Thomas’ fun-loving vocal just exudes charm. This song is the perfect example of why Stax soul music was so popular, and in many ways it was one of the tracks that established its popularity. This is soul music with the grit of electric blues and the sweltering Sunday morning gospel tradition left in.
Rufus would later explore a purer funk sound by the next decade, heavily sampled by hip-hop artists. And of course, there’s his daughter Carla Thomas, who had a pretty stunning career of her own.
For more information about Rufus Thomas, check out Rufus Thomas on All Music.