"ROCKIN' RUFUS"
INTERVIEW BY STEVE KELEMEN

Back in the 1950's we called Rockabilly - A country boy trying to do Rock'n'Roll. It sounded too country to be R&R, but it had a good wholesome upbeat sound like Charlie Feathers and Carl Perkins. It sounded real good. In those days R&R was an up tempo blues song like Elvis did. As far as I'm concerned he started R&R. I don't know who named it R&R, but he's the one who started it. He had a song as you may remember called "That's Alright Mama" and on the other side "Blue Moon of Kentucky". I've been listening to those old blues forever and I really enjoyed it. Something really touched my heart. I was from Memphis - the home of the blues and daddy played blues on the fiddle. You don't hear many people playing blues on the fiddle. That really sunk into me and I have to say that the blues played a big part in R&R.

When Elvis sang that first song he sounded like a black man and some of us didn't know the difference to begin with. I remember I was over on the South Parkway when I first heard Elvis singing "That's Alright Mama". The time just stood still. It knocked my socks off. I went home and told mom and dad about hearing this man singing on the radio. it was music for the young people in those days because they didn't have music until R&R came along. It gave us a chance to change music for the whole world and accept something different from what had been done for so many years. I understood it right off. Now Rockabilly is the country style upbeat because it didn't have the real blues background. As far as Elvis, I really didn't want to bother anybody. I was around Bill Black and Scotty Moore and did not ask any of those guys to introduce me to Elvis. I would have liked to have met him. i didn't actually meet him but one day I could have. I was working uptown at Howersteins. Elvis was going with Barbara Hearn who worked there. One day he was waiting for her and when I got off work he was standing in the ally and I was going to walk up to him and tell him that I recorded with Sun Records also. But when I walked up to him I just stopped and said (to myself) no, I'm not going to say nothin' to that man. Everybody's wearing him to death. I'm just going to leave him alone. And I just walked away. I saw him a time or two after that and on some of his early outdoor shows in Memphis.


Charlie Feathers used to tell me things about him mainly more comical than the fact. He talked about what him and Elvis did and I'd get a big laugh out of it. He thought a lot of Elvis. I used Scotty and Bill to play for me on a couple of the first records that I had. I had 3 recortds altogether some 45 years ago. The first record was "No Chance" b/w "Love Gone". I wrote "No Chance". "Love Gone" was written by my cousins the Stratmans. Alan Stratman was a great fiddle player and played for a living all his life. I think he was a world champion fiddler. Anyway, it was his daughters who wrote "Love Gone" which was originally a poem. They just gave me the poem and I made it into a song. I put the melody to it, that's all I did. I always thought it was good. It didn't come out exactly how I wanted it to because I didn't know how to get it that way.



We went to the studio in those days and just pretty much went ahead without knowing much about sound. If Scotty and I had taken time to work it out or I had listened a little better, I'm sure we could have made it a little different. I remember we did "Love Gone" in a waltz 3-4 time and it should have really been done in a 4-4 time. I will say that Bob Deckermen who played steel on it did a really fine job. I remember it played on a jukebox down in Memphis for over a year and sold a few thousand copies. I remember someone saying - "'That song of yours ain't country'. It ain't R&R. It ain't nothing'". It kind of hurt my feelings a little bit. Then I got to thinking about it and said well that makes it different, don't it. So I didn't feel bad about it later on. In those days a lot of people were coming out with records. You had to have a distributor to put out a record to have anyone hear it. They would buy a few and put them in jukeboxes and on the radio. When we went to St. Louis no one wanted to hear it because they had too many records they were trying to push. Slim Wallace said we'll just listen to it. They listened, took it and distributed it. I was surprised because it sold a few hundred copies a day until everyone who heard it brought up all the copies.

Now about the second record "Rockin' Rugus" b/w "What's The Use". My cousin Alen wrote "What's The Use" and I wrote "Rockin' Rufus". They were done with Ace Cannon (his real name is Johnny). He made an impression on me because he was such a good player. I said well, I'm going to write a song about this sax player and I got him to play on it. Stan Kessler played the bass on it. Scotty Moore played the guitar and I don't remember who played drums. It was kind of a Honky tonk song with the sax on it. It was half country and half rockabilly.

As far as shows, I played on - I was just young and didn't know how to make a career out of it. If someone wanted me to play guitar - that's what I did. I remember playing guitar at ellis Auditorium in Memphis with Charlie Feathers, Ferlin Husky and Jerry Lee Lewis. I never had been in front of those many people before. I was scared to death and can't remember playing but Charlie said I played just fine. Jerry Lee came out ready to give all and tore his shirt off. A policeman had to come on and drag him off. Charlie laughed about that.

I met Charlie Feathers when I was about 19. I played guitar for him for about 15 years. He strictly had his own ideas about music. People told me to go on my own without Charlie but he was teaching me some stuff especially about sound. He had some real good ideas, I thought. Later he made more of a name for himself. I really miss Charlie and will keep on missing him. There was only one Charlie Feathers. He was quite a character. He was one of the best actual comedians I've ever heard in my life. He said the whole reason for the Civil War was that the South cut off the Yankee's supply of grits. I wrote "Jungle Fever" that did. He wanted something that was just right for him or he wouldn't do your songs. He wrote bridge part for "Jungle Fever." The record did pretty good for him.

At one time I had the Martin guitar that he Elvis use on "Mystery Train. Me and Charlie use to play begind Tommy Tucker in a club in West Memphis for a while. Charlie played the bass, I played the guitar and Tommy played rhythm guitar and sang.

I've been recording for years and years at the house. My wife's a good singer and I have two sons who want to do some recording with me.




Rockabilly Hall of Fame