CD Review of Rufus Huff by Rufus Huff
Rufus Huff: Rufus Huff
Recommended if you like
ZZ Top, Edgar Winter,
Kentucky Headhunters
Rufus Huff: Rufus Huff

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD


f a Skynyrd fan held a gun to one's head, there are at least 75 reasons to hate Rufus Huff. Let's name the top five: First, they play crappy 1970s hard rock along the ZZ Top/Bad Company fault line that already died a slow death, for good reason; second, Southern rock is about as in fashion as mullets; third, what the hell is country master and Kentucky Headhunters founder Greg Martin doing playing and producing this stuff? – he's out of his element; fourth, did we mention the heavy blues-rock riffs these guys play are staler than the Ho-Ho's in Ricard Simmons' vending machine? And fifth, these guys are goshdarned ugly, even uglier than me. And that's saying a lot.

Ah, but. The album sounds so good. Crisp, well-rehearsed, and well-produced, like the lost ZZ Top album that should have been El Loco except Billy Gibbons & Co. got too cute with the sonic effects and juvenile, sexual double entendres. Rufus Huff is an archetypical late-'70s rock album, despite its 2009 release date. It's immediately apparent that these guys – who first played together in a 2005 jam session – immediately can out-Molly Hatchet Molly Hatchet and out-Thin Lizzy Thin Lizzy, right out of the box with their debut. In fact, put side by side with ZZ Top, they'd give the venerable old Texans a run for their money, with scorching covers of blues standards like "I Ain't Superstitious" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" in a bashing, synth-free, rock-power-trio mode (even though Rufus Huff is technically a quartet, the sound is straight power-trio with Jarrod England only singing and Greg Martin only on guitar – roles typically combined in a power trio). I swear, the Rufus Huff original "Shirley's" must have been an outtake from Deguello. If I had a nickel for all the 1980s records from dying classic rock acts I had to endure that sucked more than Rufus Huff, I'd have enough money to buy Aldo Nova. Not just the catalog, the entire person. "Aldo, can you fold my laundry, then whip out another rendition of 'Fantasy'? Thanks, bro."

Kentucky Headhunters fans who came to the band via the Nashville establishment might not have heard this little-known chapter of the band's history that gets us from Pickin' On Nashville to Rufus Huff: In 1980, Kentucky Headhunters precursor Itchy Brother signed to Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label. Of course, any Zep head with a brain cell left can complete the story, the Cliff's Notes of which go something like this: Martin and the Young Bros. sign, John Bonham croaks, Swan Song goes belly up, no record completed, end of story. Itchy Brother sounded a bit more heavy than country to Jimmy Page's ears, one would think, and Rufus Huff represents some unfinished business.

Part of what makes this record tick – and sound so good – is its spontaneity. Most of it was recorded live in the studio, and some tracks (including "Schoolgirl") were declared finished upon the first take. These are players who not only are pros, but have the entire hard-rock canon of 1970s classic rock ingrained into their cuticles. That means they can shift gears from ZZ Top-style blues rock in "13 Daze," "Got to Have Her," and "Run Rufus Run" – the life story of the fictional moonshine runner after whom the band took its name – to hot-as-hell Edgar Winter funk in three sharp cuts, "The Bottom," "El Lago," and the aptly titled "Funky Junk."

Any male who came of age in the 1970s or 1980s will hear this stuff and be instantly transformed into a testosterone-charged 15-year-old on the prowl for cheap beer and smokes, guaranteed. It's not a dumb nostalgia trip, it's the real thing. If it came out in 1979, Rufus Huff would have sold four million LPs and made the Uriah Heeps and BTO's of the day seem like wimps, it's such hot, tasty rawwwwk. But as it stands, Martin & Co. will have to settle for us old guys busting out the denim jackets and playing it on our iPods. Fierce electric blues, good as it is, only plays to a small crowd. Lucky are you to appreciate this serving.

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