I’m an all night worker
Baby, you are just my speed
I’m an all night worker
Baby, you are just my speed
And if your man don’t have it
I got everything you need

 Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for things to get a little steamy as we welcome Rufus Thomas Jump Back, a 1984 compilation of the man’s singles on Edsel Records.  I picked this up in Chester in 1996, I didn’t know the name but I’d heard a lot of pub bands play a lot of the tunes on it, lots.  There was just something I liked about his expression on the front cover that tweaked me into buying this, that and his immaculately pressed shirt which seems to be held together by a giant safety-pin – not many men could carry that off; Rufus can.

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Rufus lived a big, extrovert life – born into a share cropping family in Memphis, he was a comedian, tap dancer and radio DJ with an afternoon show called ‘Hoot And Holler’ who is credited with discovering BB King as a producer of amateur shows in Memphis.  All this was on top of banging out records, he had Sun Records first ever hit in 1953 and being father to not only Carla Thomas, but Marvell Thomas who played keys on 1537-fave Hot Buttered Soul.  He kept right on going until his passing in 2001 too.

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I think R&B* is largely and unfairly overlooked these days.  If it gets mentioned at all its in connection with the Who and ‘maximum R&B’ and the other invasion bands that souped it up and crashed it back into the USA, to huge popular acclaim – whether because times that had a’changed-ed, or because it was a more palatable proposition to record buyers when packaged in a Caucasian wrapping, I’ll let you decide for yourself.  Jump Back is a damned good reminder of its’ merits.

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The compilation deals with Rufus’ output on Stax Records only, so we’re spared the delights of ‘Do The Funky Penguin’, ‘Tiger Man’, ‘Do The Funky Chicken’ and ‘Bear Cat’, but fear not animal lovers! Here at the 1537-sponsored Rufus Zoo we’ve got a fine, exotic selection of beasts.  Well, 3 dogs and a chicken – admission is non-refundable. Get lost! We get ‘The Dog’, ‘Walking The Dog’ and ‘Can Your Monkey Do The Dog’ and for a bit of a variation ‘Chicken Scratch’.  As always with artists at the time, Stax and Rufus chased down every trend they could possibly find/start, however novelty-sounding it is to our 21st century ears.

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You already know ‘Walking The Dog’, we all do, every bar band ever plays this one – our local one, Kelvin & The Absolute Zeroes, played a damn good version of it.  This is basically the template that all 16 tracks on Jump Back follow, with minor variations, a steady rhythm, some wonderfully greasy horns and Thomas’ vocals being there more for the sound of it, rather than anything he’s actually singing.  The man really does have charisma though, he lends it all a swing and a raunch.

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Much as I love that sound, it’s the deviations from it that, inevitably catch the ear.  First up is the slow, bluesy ‘Fine And Mellow’ which packs far more B than R and teases out some proper emotion from Rufus and some great, slow piano playing from someone**, it made me want to hear more in a similar vein.  Next up is the wonderful ‘Memphis Train’ from 1967, a far more punchy, gritty number with some great sound effects on it too, gotta love those.  This really is my fave track of his, that rhythm! ‘Memphis Train’ really cranks up the R over the B here.  Last stand out for me is the rather saucy ‘All Night Worker’, which I fear may not be about stocking the shelves before the day shift come, except in the crudest metaphorical sense – which makes it great!  This is the track which both the R and B sit it out and the horny & gets to have all the fun.

Walking The Frog? Anyone?
Walking The Frog? Anyone?

Jump Back is a real time capsule and a great reminder of that jumping and pumping R&B sound, although I would rather hear some more grit and feeling, over the novelty hits every time – but that just wasn’t the order of the day.  Anyway, all aboard for Memphis!

Train number one is gone
Train number two is gone
Train number three is been gone
Now how long must I wait for you

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560 Down.

*as in proper sweaty R&B, the uncle of rock and roll NOT hip-hop’s lazy cousin.

**as always in records of the era, there are no names and so I can’t give credit where it’s due.

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