Legendary singer Rufus Thomas signed with Sam Phillips‘ emerging Sun Records today (March 12, 1953).

Just a few days earlier, on March 8, Rufus Thomas entered the studio and recorded his legendary song “Bearcat,” which was an answer to Big Mama Thornton’s record “Hound Dog.”

Rufus Thomas was already a star by the time he began recording for Sun Records, thanks to his hosting job on legendary black-owned Memphis radio station, WDIA.

His career stretched back to the 1930’s, as a comedian with The Rabbit Foot Minstrels.

Rufus Thomas’ sense of humor would carry over to his radio station hosting gig, as well as his recording career, where he was billed as “The World’s Oldest Teenager.”

When he released “Bearcat,” the song hit #3 on the R&B charts, and also gave Sun Records its first national hit.

The joy of having a hit record was quickly erased with a lawsuit by Don Robey, the menacing, Houston, Texas figure, who claimed copyright ownership to the “Hound Dog,” that was actually written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.

The lawsuit slowed down Sam Phillips’ output, and led him to focus on his new signing, Elvis Presley.

Sam Phillips also began focusing on white Rock ‘n Roll stars like Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, while Rufus Thomas parted with the label and went on to even greater heights in the early 1960s’ and 70’s with Memphis-based label Stax.

At Stax, Rufus Thomas also gave the label its first hit with the song “Walking the Dog,” which hit #5 on the R&B charts and #10 on the Pop charts in 1963.

Rufus’ daughter, Carla Thomas also recorded for Stax and hit #10 with her classic “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)” in 1961.


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