Rufus Thomas for Schlitz Malt Liquor, 1974. Look out for the bull. (SLYT)
Wattstax [SLYT] is a 1973 documentary film about the 1972 Wattstax music festival, held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots. Featuring performances by Isaac Hayes, Albert King, Rufus and Carla Thomas, The Staple Singers, The Emotions, The Bar-Kays, and other greats of soul, R&B, and gospel, Wattstax also incorporates relatively unknown comic Richard Pryor's musings on life for black Americans in 1972, "man-and-woman-on-the-street" interviews, and audience footage. [NSFW] [more inside]
Before hip-hop beefs, there were response records, also known as answer songs, usually replies to well-known songs. There are a few key eras: blues and R&B recorded music in the 1930s through 1950s, including a number of responses to "Work With Me, Annie" (1954), recorded by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, with answers including "Annie had a Baby," and "The Wallflower" by Etta James; and Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" (1953), with a quick response by Louis Innis and Charlie Gore, made a mere week after the original was released, and Rufus Thomas' "Bear Cat" (1953), Sun Records' first hit. Country, rock & roll, doo-wop and pop music picked up where the blues left off, with most activity in the 1950s to 60s. Two examples from this era are "Are You Lonesome To-night" and "Who Put The Bomp," and responses to both. The most well known from the next decade was Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974), a response to Neil Young's "Southern Man" (1970) and "Alabama" (1972). Until the 2000s, no answer songs had charted as high as the original hits. That changed with Frankee's "F.U.R.B. (Fuck You Right Back)" (2004), a response to Eamon's "Fuck It (I Don't Want You Back)" (2003), which was the first answer song to reach number 1 in the UK. Six years later and across the pond, Katy Perry's "California Gurls" was a response to "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z. It was the first answer song to reach No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100. More Responses inside. [more inside]
Rufus Thomas 1917-2001 Since the 11th of September, I've left the radio off a great deal of the time, so it was only today, while listening to Terry Gross's Fresh Air, that I heard Rufus Thomas had died. A performer since he was child comedian and tap dancer with the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels, he also was a famous dj on WDIA in Memphis, the first all-black radio station format in the country, recorded Bear Cat, an answer song to Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog that was an early hit for Sam Phillips' Sun Records and enjoyed a brief second career as the World's Oldest Teenager--singing Walkin' The Dog and Funky Chicken and many duets with daughter Carla--for Stax Records. From minstrel show to medicine show to dj to elder statesman of Memphis soul, his life and career spanned history. I, for one, will miss him.