Category Archives: Chaka Khan

‘Ask Rufus’ At 40: Lifting You Up With An Everlasting Love

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Ask Rufus was actually the original name of the band-named from an article in Popular Mechanics. It was a long road from their original lead singer Paulette McWilliams to her young friend Chaka Khan taking over. On January 19th,1977 that original name for Rufus was used for the title of their fifth studio album. Personally,I wasn’t sure if I much enjoyed it after first picking the vinyl up at a Boston record store in 2001. Perhaps the terrible quality of the record played into it. Especially upon hearing it on CD some years later,the album revealed itself as perhaps the bands strongest album from a musical standpoint.

Ask Rufus doesn’t exactly sound like the four that came before it. Some of that was intentional. As Chaka Khan once said,it was her an her husband’s Richard’s attempt to “do away with the leathers,feathers and wild child act”. She wanted to focus on the band and her vocal ability. Its also the type of album that can engender many personal memories for people. Its actually an album that inspired me to begin writing my own song lyrics with jazz/funk music in mind. In his book  Mo Meta Blues, Questlove gave his own personal story about it,and I quote:

My parents were going to do an extended trip. When they told me how long they’d be away, the string breakdown of “Egyptian Song” came on. And then the story got sadder. In Louisiana, my aunt Karen met a man, and they decided to get married. She took the record with her.”

There are many things I could say about Ask Rufus after having over 16 years experience with the album. One major recent revelation was my boyfriend Scott listening to the album with me for the first time and mentioning the first side’s closer “Everlasting Love” resembling George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”. Usually a more vocally focused music listener,I deeply appreciate Scott’s musical observation on that. Of course eight years ago on Amazon.com,I managed to get a hold on the musical vibe of the album on my review there-which of course I will now re-share with you.


Rufus And Chaka Khan,aside from CK’s amazing and influential singing have always been just mildly underrated as musicians. In the years after the debut,especially with the style of the previous Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan their style had been growing from that of a conventional 70’s funk band to what they became with this album.By far this would have to be described as Rufus’s artistic pinnacle and is today justly revered. It is here that Rufus made the transformation to being a fully sophisticated band with brilliant songwriting,fully mature and reflective lyrics and plenty of jazz influences.

With a couple minor exceptions this album showcases Rufus sticking with a mid tempo jazzy soul/funk sound and a great deal of sultry. Not only is it solid proof that funk doesn’t have to be a non-stop rhythm barrage to groove like mad but it features songs that all sound like mini classics.”At Midnight” is the main uptempo song here.The production is far from slick and features probably the best use of synthesizer on a mid period Rufus Recording-the simple beat sounds deceptively like disco but on the breakdown it’s perfectly clear that it isn’t.

Lyrically it’s clear that Chaka,who participates very strongly as a writer here is content on reflecting on how her own complicated marriage and personal life at the at time is effecting her feelings on her own womanhood-strong emphasizing emotional involvement.”Close The Door” is one mournful example;Chaka’s tortured voice and the spare backdrop just drips with melancholy of the soul.

The superb orchestration of Claire Fischer (cousin of the bands drummer Andre Fischer) not only makes that tune so wonderful but dominates the equally mournful instrumental “A Slow Screw Against The Wall”;the briefly funk blowout of “A Flat Fry”,featuring Ron Wood is pretty much the last tune of that type you’ll find here.The memorable and singable “Earth Song” features a cryptic lyric that,if understood sums up Chaka’s lyrical involvement here as she sings,”Stars/what a mystical woman you’ve made me” and on “Everlasting Love” we’re introduced into a deceptively musically simple vision of romance and sensuality.

“Hollywood” is…well almost an uptempo song because it’s so sprightly even as it looks at the effect fame and surroundings of luxury effect people.”Magic In Your Eyes” is yet another excellent romantic moment whereas “Better Days”,co-written by Chaka’s then husband Richard Holland reflects on a possible optimistic future for the then faltering couple.As for the music,let’s just say I think Dido was highly influenced by this song when she did her hit song Thank You ovet two decades later. The title of “Egyptian Song” sounds like the song and lyrics will be very complicated and they are.

 

From the melody down to it’s lyrics it reflects on Chaka’s journey to discover her racial identity that was evidently at that point still very much a part of her life. Here you here a very different kind of Rufus,challenging themselves all around to be a band to contend with a very different kind of groove for a very different kind of funk. There is little likelihood you’ll ever come across an album in Rufus catalog or anyone else’s that sounds quite like this.And that really says an awful lot for this.


Today,I have Ask Rufus on both CD and a far superior vinyl copy that included the original poster. Whether or streaming this album or hearing it via any physical media, no changes in technology will take away what Rufus accomplished on this album.  As I recently learned, it was the first and only platinum album. Perhaps their change in approach to a jazzier,more mature groove had something to do with that. Andre Fischer would be ejected from the group after this album. And it ended up being a dry run for both the bands future career as session aces and Chaka’s solo career that was right around the corner for her.

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Filed under Chaka Khan, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan

Record Store Stories: Happy 64th Birthday To Chaka Khan, Plus Rufus’s ‘Street Player’s Vinyl LP Goodies

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Chaka Khan hit yet another personal rough patch last year so it seems. Thought she had to cancel her concert tour to re-enter rehab,she has reached 64 without succumbing to last years “funkapocalypse” of musical artists deaths. Though her solo career has been an amazing progression,there will always be something a bit magical to me about her grooves with Rufus. Especially in the mid 70’s to early 80’s. The scope of evolution from their blues/rock oriented early sound to a uniquely produced jazzy funk sound in their later years really came into focus on their 1978-just prior to Chaka going solo. The name of that album was Street Player.

This album marked the moment when David “Hawk” Wolinski became an official member of the band. And their one and only album featuring Andre Fischer’s successor in drummer Richard “Moon” Calhoun. This is not a story about this album however. Its about being in my town of birth-Waterville,Maine. And visiting a record store there with my boyfriend Scott called Record Connection. This record store is somewhat nationally famous so it seems. And between its full priced records and dollar bin vinyl,there is always something unique to be found at this place.

Whilst visiting there last time,I found a copy of Street Player on vinyl for 4 bucks. I had a CD copy but the cover had gone missing and I always loved the gate fold of the band playing B-ball. Upon getting the album out into my mom’s car,I found something very exciting. It was a press kit filled with official promo photos and information sheets. It revealed an amazing on the spot type history of Rufus,Chaka Khan and their musical position by the late 70’s. For Chaka’s birthday celebration,I’m going to post this material here to speak for itself in regard to the band,its perceptions and those of their record label.


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-Happy 64th birthday CK!

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Filed under Chaka Khan, Rufus

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Be Bop Medley” by Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan’s very musical essence could be summed up through jazz. It was listening to Billie Holiday growing up in a family of visual artists that inspired her whole vocal approach. As a late 60’s counter culturally inclined teenager,she became involved with organizations such as the Black Panthers as well as Affro Arts out of her native Chicago. She encountered folks who’d later be members of both Sun Ra’s Arkestra and Earth Wind & Fire through Affro Arts. And this was all before she teamed up with a band known as Ask Rufus,and went on to enormous success as a leader singer and eventually a solo artist. So from jazz to rock to funk,Chaka never strayed from what inspired her.

Now in my late teens,there was one piece of vinyl of Chaka’s that I suppose would be referred to as a grail by the modern vinyl collecting community. It was her self titled 1982 album. While the least commercially potent of her early/mid 80’s Warner Bros. albums produced by Arif Mardin,it was known as being among the most unique and funkiest of her solo records.I personally found the vinyl in Boston. Eventually I managed to purchase the rare CD import offline. The album itself is a masterpiece of brittle yet cinematic electro funk. Chaka’s solo albums generally contained at least one musical tribute to her love for jazz. And on here it was perhaps her most defining one in”Be Bop Medley”.

A powerful drum kicks off with Chaka’s screaming vocalese before a chanking rhythm guitar strums along. A Vocoder kicks into a sturdy 4/4 dance rhythm with a synth bass scaling down. That’s the rhythmic element linking each part of the medley. The Hot House part of it has a metallic synth playing the chordal pattern whereas a Arabic style Fender Rhodes solo segues into “East Of Suez” along with some spirited percussion. An electric sitar begins the frantic synth bass take on Epistrophy whereas Yardbird Suite and has Chaka duetting with the Vocorder. Con Alma slows the song briefly to a swinging ballad tempo as a sax led Giant Steps finds Chaka scatting her way out of the song.

Having listened to this particular song over and over again for fourteen years now,this is one of the most instrumentally intricate and futurist examples of jazz/funk in the 80’s. It showcases once and for all that the electro funk movement did not represent a great to the funk genre. As Miles Davis-later a friend and collaborator of Chaka’s might’ve said, all quality music needs is the best caliber of instrumentalists. Steve Ferrone,Will Lee,Hiram Bullock and especially Robbie Buchanan’s rhythmic synth bass absolutely burn on this song musically. Plus her jumps from melody,harmony to chordal based singing-changing pitch and speed on a whim,make this perhaps Chaka’s most defining solo number.

Another significant musical element to this is how Chaka and the musicians playing with her on this showcase how much the instrumental innovations of be bop carry over into the funk era. It’s a stripped down,synthesizer derived naked funk that provides the main groove of this song that’s present throughout. It protects the beat much as Max Roach might’ve with Charlie Parker. Showcasing the evolution of bop from Bird,Dizzy and Monk on through John Coltrane is accomplished here by Chaka’s lead voice being the horn like voice,and her backups being much like string orchestrations. So also on a purely musical level,this paved the way for a possible whole new level of funk for the early 80’s.

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Filed under 1980's, Arif Mardin, be bop, Chaka Khan, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, drums, electro funk, Fender Rhodes, Hiram Bullock, Jazz, jazz funk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, percussion, Robbie Buchanan, Saxophone, scat singing, Steve Ferrone, synth bass, Thelonious Monk, Uncategorized, Warner Bros., Will Lee

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/8/2015: “Have A Good Time” by Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan

From the moment it showed up in the record racks of Borders Books & Music 20 years ago or so? This self titled 1975 album by Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan leaped out at me. From the cover featuring the sweaty cartoon lips to the showing Khan,covered in a feathered leather outfit, sprawled out in a lip shaped easy chair? The imagery evoked an instantly funky and playful sexuality. Ended up picking up the album (along with it’s two predecessors) through the BMG Music Club. It ended up on near constant rotation during the summer of 1997.

Lately the talks between myself and Henrique has been focusing a great deal on the classic 70’s funk bands who had very few members,yet had very phat grooves and general sounds. And invariably Rufus would up being mentioned constantly in these conversations. While browsing through what I’ve written hear? It’s come to my attention that no song by Rufus has ever gotten a proper overview on this blog. Could not think of a better song to remedy that with than another conversation piece between myself and Henrique: the 1975 jam “Have A Good Time”.

It gets moving right out of the box with a chunky,bluesy bass/guitar interaction between Tony Maiden and Bobby Watson. The sustained organ solo of Kevin Murphy chimes in along with Chaka and the backup singers creating a wail of vocalese. The music breaks in and out between the opening bass/guitar exchanges,the stop/start drumming of Andre Fischer and the fanfares of the Tower Of Power horn section. The bridge features a spirited sax solo before another refrain-the song fading out with the band singing “everybody have a good time” in harmony to a rocked up,bassy guitar solo.

One of the things this song brings out is that even during the original funk era? Most have become rather fixated on the successful hit singles. And not concentrated on the albums as a whole the way they might for jazz and rock. In fact? Funk represents uptempo soul’s most album oriented sub genre. And to me? This is one song that proves it. Again,the instrumental sound is based primarily on four instruments-with horns added for good measure. And it’s a groove of a kind that can smoke both in the studio and onstage. The power of the song and it’s positive thinking message of “who said this party’s over?” makes it a less than sung “united funk” era classic.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Andre Fischer, bass guitar, Bobby Waton, Chaka Khan, Claire Fischer, classic funk, Funk, Funk Bass, funk guitar, funk/rock, Kevin Murphy, organ, Rufus, Tony Maiden, Tower Of Power

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 4/25/2015: ‘Shine’ by Average White Band

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Like Earth Wind & Fire did a year earlier with their I Am this album finds AWB hooking up with David Foster. This truly should have represented a new beginning for the band as they add a heavy modern production gloss and strong song craft to their already established heavy funk sound. Every song on this album is extremely strong and, with some good promotion could have been enormous pop hits even stateside.

Uptempo tunes such as “Our Time Has Come”,”Let’s Go Around Again”,”Help Is On The Way”,the title track and the original version of “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”,made famous a year later in a brilliant version by Chaka Khan from her album of the same name,also worth getting. Being the kind of musicians that they are AWB cannot help but throw down at least one funky instrumental in the personification of “Into The Night”,marrying the bands chunky,rhythmic groove with Foster’s production sheen. This is also home to two of the best ballads the group ever made in “For You,For Love” and “If Love Only Lasts For One Night”.

Now there’s a double album version of this that contains bonus tracks,all five of which are as great as the rest of the album. A like minded cover of Boz Scagg’s classic “Miss Sun” is great of course as is the more electo-funk minded dance cut “Kiss Me”. There’s also another great ballad in “Growing Pains” and the peppy “Love Gives,Love Takes Away”. Another successful marrying of the bands natural grooves with Fosters style comes along in the chunky and catchy “Love Won’t Get In The Way” followed by a smoking long version of “Let’s Go Round Again”.

Overall “Shine” finds AWB successfully modernizing their classic sound without sacrificing what made them so great in the past. And the lead and back round vocals certainly have a power and soul that were only hinted at on earlier recordings. Steve Ferrone really stretches out on some incredibly funky drumming here. This is definitely a pop-funk masterpiece of the 1979-1980 era of the genre and is yet another in a long list of lost true classics.

Originally Written December 17th,2007

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, Chaka Khan, David Foster, Funk, Music Reviewing, pop funk, Steve Ferrone, West Coast

Funky Firsts: Andre’s Look Back On Key Moments Of Putting The Grooves On His Record Racks

Reading the autobiography of Amir Questlove Thompson entitled Mo Meta Blues has been very inspirational to the way in which I present my blog. Especially in the fact the book presents interstitial chapters between the main ones. These shorter chapters illustrate classic funk and soul albums Questlove heard growing up. As well as how they intertwined with different events in his personal life. This has long had me brainstorming about a similar concept as to how this music has been involved with my own life story.

There’s no particular rhythm or reason here. This isn’t a list of all of my first exposures to specific artists. Nor is it just musical events that personally impacted me. It includes both,yet what I’m focusing on here is all about the synergy of life and this particular art form and how it effected my outlook on music. All the way up to this blog here. There’s going to be a mixture of different stories and emotions here. And of course some important things might not get covered-possibly to be done as they come back to mind on another,similar post. But for now? Enjoy these stories!

First Album I Purchased On Cassette Tape

Music Of My Mind

I’d been listening to Stevie Wonder for many years before this. But I was deep into a literary research through the All Music Guide and read a description of this album as being Wonder’s first artistic breakthrough but that compared to what came after quote on quote “it paled just slightly”. Often times writing can cloud a music’s listener’s judgement on the auditory musical experience. At the time however? That’s exactly how I felt about this album. Musically my tastes and understanding had to grow into this album,rather than the album accommodate me.

First Album I Purchased On CD

The Jacksons

Actually this is by no means the first CD I ever owned. But it was the first one I purchased with my own money. 1994-1995 was ‘the year of the Jackson’s’ as it were for my life. The story of how the brothers signed to Epic Records to gain creative control was really fascinating me,something I was feeling inwardly as an artistic adolescent. So one day I was browsing the old Strawberries Records with my friend Joseph Stone and came across this album for $9.99. That’s just what I had in my wallet. For the next few weeks? Felt like “Think Happy”,”Show You The Way To Go”,”Enjoy Yourself”,”Living Together” and “Style Of Life” were the only songs I wanted to hear. And all were (and still are) very positively effecting on my day to day life.

First New Music I Purchased Through A Record Club

Isley Brothers Mission To Please

Turns out in writing this? I discovered several important musical firsts for me in the year 1996. While an active member of the BMG Record Club? They offered a featured selection that,if purchased at full price,would allow you to get a number of free CD’s.  This was one of them. I was reading a lot about the Isley Brother’s in Rickey Vincent’s book Funk at the time. And his description of the Isley’s as “the epitome of funky manhood” made this an easy choice. At the time? I was not keen on contemporary R&B at all. But something about the vibe R.Kelly created for this album is still appealing to me.

First Album Recommended To Me

Travelling Without Moving

Technically it was my mother who ended up purchasing this album. But I remember she and I had taken a rather long bike ride to Strawberries. And ran into a friendly young sales associate named Jeb. We got into a conversation about P-Funk and George Clinton. He mentioned in the conversation that a new band who were in a similar funk vein were Jamiroquai. And this was their newest album out. At the time I didn’t see how this had any resemblance to P-Funk at all. Of course I had yet to hear The Electric Spanking Of War Babies. Still as a channeling of psychedelia with the live instrumental boogie funk sound began a continuing interest in newly recorded funk music.

First Multi Album Set I Ever Had

Emancipation

1996-1997 was when I was seeking out any and all things Prince related. From his own music to his famous (and infamous) protegee’s. Seeing Prince and than wife Mayte on Oprah performing songs from this album,talking about his art and life,went right along with the appeal of this album. It is such a sprawling 3 CD set that,to this very day,I have yet to have heard the entire album. Something that I intend to change in the very near future.

First Piece Of Used Vinyl I Remember Purchasing

Earth, Wind & Fire - Faces

When Dr. Records was still in it’s original basement location in the college town of Orono,Maine? I remember having $5 dollars in my pocket and seeing this album on vinyl-yet again at just the right price. Had been collecting EWF’s 70’s classic on cassette tape already and was at this point upgrading to CD’s. This one was a bit expensive for me at the time. But the vinyl of this album was a different story. On the way home from the store? I remember feeling the raised gold letters of the bands name on the cover,and staring at the random photographs of people on the inner sleeve-not to mention the members of the band members and the Phenix Horns,which were proudly stated on the vinyl sleeves. The happiest surprise was to get home to find the album also contained the original poster of the band in full EWF regalia. Still have the poster,later picked up the CD but none of it eclipses the excitement of that 15 minute car ride home from picking this up as a vinyl album. Almost a brief history in how a classic funk band presents itself.

First CD I Purchased After The New Millennia

Alicia Keys

After the arrival of the year 2000,in those 500 or so days between then and 9/11? I kept feeling like the world of futurism was just about ready to happen. Flying electric cars,sustainable ergonomic homes,all of it. Another exciting event during the winter and spring of 2001 was seeing the face of this 19 year old singer/songwriter/musician from NYC who was about to break out almost exactly the same manner as Whitney Houston had, with Clive Davis and the whole deal. In all honesty? The albums contents were so far removed from my musical journey at that time,it didn’t quite live up it’s hype for me. In a lot of ways it still doesn’t.  But it succeeded in whetting my musical appetite for a promising new and popular musician. Something that was extremely rare in an era saturated with performers.

First CD I Purchased Online

Imagination Body Talk

Even at the time,the years 2002-2003 were weary and sad times with the dashed hopes of the immediate post 9/11 era. Interestingly enough,this was a time when I began exploring psychedelic 60’s classic rock and fusion more as well. The roots of this discovery was when I heard the song “Flashback” on a compilation belonging to my families late friend Janie Galvin called Pure Disco. It was by a British trio called Imagination. Loved the songs stripped down electronic groove. But it was when I’d just gotten online for the first time at the local public library computer.  Discovered that this album was kind of famous in post disco circles. My quest to order a CD copy led me to sign up for my first checking account so I could get a used copy off of Amazon. Body Talk turned out to be an excellent album. And was also the beginning of the end of my days as a member of the already fading mail order record clubs.

Biggest Surprise I Discovered In A Used Vinyl Record Store

Ghetto Blaster

It was on a ride home with my father after purchasing our first Toyota that I first heard the Crusaders. It was actually my first exposure to a complete jazz-funk band. One day I was crate digging at a now defunct record shop in Camden Maine called Wild Rufus. And there was this album for a dollar. On the back,it had a photo of Leon Ndugu Chancler with the band rather than Stix Hooper. Was deep into Ndugu at the time with my involvement with DJ/musician Nigel Hall,and our mutual interest in 70’s George Duke. So that actually peaked my interest as well. I had no idea the Crusaders were making records in the mid 80’s. So hearing them with a more synthesizer driven electro funk style was a very happy surprise for me,and probably my turntable as well.

First CD I Reviewed Online

Parliament (1978) - Motor Booty Affair (A)

For reasons that I don’t fully understand? Amazon.com forced me to create a totally new account with them when I couldn’t remember the password to my first one. So the reviews on that first profile are still floating around out there. So this is only my first Amazon review on this new account,the one I continue to use up to this very day. I remember posting the review on December 3rd,2004. That was also around the same time my family got it’s first PC,a Toshiba laptop to be specific. So this was also my first time dealing with that computers joint Windows account system

Link to original Motor Booty Affair review here*

First Time Hearing Questlove As A Producer

Al Green Lay It Down

Now the main reason I’m talking about this is because Questlove’s writing directly inspired this blog post. Prior to 2008? I knew of Amir not by name,or nickname. Only as the guy with the pick in his fro who drummed for The Roots. And I felt a lot of their music was rather bland for my personal tastes at the time. When my friend Henrique told me this man,named Questlove,was producing a comeback album for Al Green? I was skeptical. What I didn’t know was that Questlove was a session drummer at heart. And rather then make his own record here? He produced a total Al Green record-directly in the Willie Mitchell mold.  This significantly broadened my admiration and respect for Questlove. And for that matter other hip-hop live instrumentalists/producers who could tailor make records for iconic artists they respected and admired.

First Funny Music Buying Twist Of Fate

Rufus Stompin At The Savvoy

This could be a very long story. But it still makes me laugh at the absurdity of it all so will endeavor to condense it. 18 or so years ago when I was first getting into Rufus & Chaka Khan? I kept noticing this double CD on sale at Borders Books & Music in Bangor. With it’s $30 dollar price tag? I never gave it any thought,knowing only it was essentially a live album from the early 80’s. While that store always shuffled stock? This CD remained there at this same price into the new millennium. Finally in 2011 Borders closed down shop nationally. And all their stock,including CD’s,went on drastic mark down. I went there and bought a lot. Even saw other double CD sets marked down to $15 or less. Sure enough? Still this particular album seemed like the only one that never went on sale even at the bitter end.

Flash forward to about five years later. I’d noticed that this album was commanding prices well upwards in the double digits on Amazon and ebay.  And used no less. So one day a month or so ago while checking the website of my local record store Bullmoose? I noticed one of the stores had a used copy of this CD for under $10. So I picked it up. And as of today it’s one of my very favorite Rufus albums-with powerful live performances and great funk and jazz based studio tracks. So for an album that for almost two decades an album whose pretense in my life seemed to engender either reluctance or regret? A very happy musical experience came out of it in the end.

 


You might notice that the firsts indicated in this blog come primarily out of one spectrum of music. This wasn’t deliberate exactly. During my time online? I noticed many nostalgia based Top 10,20,50 music lists. With all kinds of subtexts. Still most people’s important experiences with music came from awkward moments with their peer group in terms of context. And the music that tends to be part of their journey is invariably punk or alternative rock of some variety. Occasionally even soul,jazz and blues too. And there’s absolutely nothing to be condemned about that. Any way that brings one to the joy of music has great meaning.

This blog actually extends into the very root of this blog. One can browse for info on the funk genre  and it’s offshoot musical children (such as disco and fusion) online. And they will album reviews,songs posted,downloads and a good deal of nostalgic comedy. But both Henrique and myself observed a void. One where there was litttle to no serious,well rounded online journalism on funk to the degree writers such as Rickey Vincent had done in the literary world. My aim with posts such as this is to help give the funk music spectrum the level of analyzation  and respect rock and jazz have received on the internet. And hopefully these personal stories will do so in an enlightening and amusing manner!

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2008, 2015, Al Green, Alicia Keys, Amazon.com, Chaka Khan, classic funk, crate digging, Crusaders, Disco, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, Fusion, George Clinton, George Duke, Imagination, Isley Brothers, Jamiroquai, Joe Sample, Late 70's Funk, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nigel Hall, Prince, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Questlove, R.Kelly, The Roots

Andre’s Amazon Archive 4/11/2015: ‘So Excited (Expanded Edition)’ by Pointer Sisters

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I had this album for a long time on vinyl and while it was in excellent shape when I got,it wasn’t after a time. Reason being is because I used to play it from beginning to end over and over again because this happens to be one of those pop albums (honestly another in this style that comes to mind is Pet Sounds) where once you start it it’s likely you won’t want to skip cuts because these well crafted little pop-soul mini masterpieces just flow so well from one to the other your either dancing and/or singing along so much you just won’t want to be bothered shutting it off. And on CD this album is made even better (if Amazon allowed ten stars I’d give this eight to be honest) because you simply don’t have to switch sides. As with all albums some cuts are less perfect than others but when the weakest cuts are merely very good,one knows something greats going on.

Predating their major league success with Break Out by exactly one year this album expands on the sleek mixture of live musicianship,extremely rich vocal harmonies and dashes of synthesizers in just the right places. It is far,far from the heavy electronic production if the next album but up to this point qualifies as their slickest. The title track (the single version without of course the drum intro at the beginning)as well as “See How The Love Goes”,”Heart To Heart” and a very close to the original rendering of Prince’s “I Feel For You” two years before Chaka Khan’s famous hit version (the liners claim the Sisters considering Chaka’s the far superior version) all blend that 80’s pop/new wave sound of reverbed rhythm guitars and keyboard lines with some wonderfully soulful pop melodies. And those are actually the WEAKER cuts if you can imagine it.

“All Of You” is a sleek mixture of dreamy mid tempo Latin pop/funk and a modern country/pop type refrain-the combination works great and it’s easily one of the albums highlights. “Heart Beat”,a Ruth Pointer sung number and I find her voice one of the most husky and unique next to Mavis Staples and is definitely one of those “hits that never were” type of songs,again with that new wave/funk pop flavor. Now for SERIOUS GROOVES “If You Want To Get Back Your Lady” is a hefty naked funk gem,again with plenty of that country refrain on the vocal only and even a synthesized reference to “Purple Haze” towards the end I never noticed before. There’s also a remix as part of the bonuses that really extends the rhythmic aspect of the groove. Ditto for the title track. “American Music” is kind of a self homage to their own melting pot outlook on pop and has this retro soul/pop shuffle to it-sort of a slicker “Should I Do It”. Again I ask why this wonderful and highly consistent album hadn’t made it to CD before this. But I suppose the important thing is it’s here now and a strong reminder of just how high quality and consistent the Pointer Sisters were during this most successful time for them.

Originally Posted On May 16th,2011

Link to original review here*

Visit the BBR Records site here for more expanded and remastered funk and soul titles:

http://www.cherryred.co.uk/bigbreak.asp

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Anita Pointer, Big Break Records, Chaka Khan, Funk, June Pointer, Music Reviewing, naked funk, Pointer Sisters, pop funk, Prince, reissues, Richard Perry, Ruth Pointer, soul pop, Synth Pop

Chaka Khan: A Tribute To Lead Singer & A Funky Diva

Chaka Khan by Andre'

Today Yvette Marie Stevens,known to much of the world as Chaka Khan,celebrates her 62nd year of life. As for her place in my life? It was very much the way Chaka’s voice sounds: the entire spectrum of life expressed in a physically improvisational revelry. Started out hearing her on what amounts to a musical related PSA staring James Earl Jones called Genius On The Black Side singing her first solo hit “I’m Every Woman”. Than a mid 90’s compilation of my mom’s entitled Epiphany really peaked my interest. And I was off and running. Rufus,Chaka solo? Whatever album I could find on CD or vinyl,I picked it up.

Chaka’s music is exciting yes,not to mention funky as one wants to be. She also proudly comes at her art from a very jazzy standpoint. With a poetic lyrical style informed by the black American liberation end of women’s liberation. And she certainly had no difficulty liberating her own playful sexiness. Aside from wishing her a happy birthday? The best way I can honor this ladies music is showcase my reviews of the albums she’s been a part of. Both as the lead singer/songwriter of the very talented band Rufus,as well as on her own working with some of the finest session players around. So here’s my own best of Chaka Khan & Rufus,as a funky woman making album length statements.

Rufus:

Rufuzised (1974)

Story goes that an interesting encounter with the Amazing Kreskin himself revealed that “Tell Me Something Good” from Rufus’s sophomore album Rags to Rufus would succeed beyond the bands wildest dreams. This came as a shock since apparently Kreskin hadn’t even known the name of the album the song came from. This apparently anticipated the song becoming the iconic funk classic it is today,and making Rufus’s career and Chaka Khan a household name. Of course what happened after that Ron Stockert,Dennis Belfield and Al Ciner all decided to split from Rufus-main reason being that they felt uncomfortable with Chaka’s name being singled out as a part of the groups name: “Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan”. They were succeeded by Tony Maiden,an extremely strong vocal/guitar presence who helped give the group a strong anchor. Bass player Bobby Watson also entered the picture along with the jazz keyboard player -the late Nate Morgan. Not only did this make the and a complete biracial unit,but also became the version of Rufus which embarked on an extended tour which lasted for most of the next three years. It was a wild and crazy life on the road for the Rufus and Chaka blitz at this point. Yet in 1974 they managed to find the time to get into the studio and complete their third studio album. And their first with their best known lineup as well.

“Once You Get Started” opens the album with strong bass/guitar heavy funk-accented by melodic synthesizer and a quick tempo which finds Chaka’s incomparable vocal instrument and Tony Maiden’s powerfully dynamic singing voice trading off verses throughout. “Somebody’s Watching You” is a uniquely amazing number-starting out as tight rhythm guitar riff before building into a funky swing on the refrain before going into a funky chorus as Chaka does her vocal thing with a lyric dealing with excessive materialism. “Pack’d My Bags” is another epic powerhouse that opens with Morgan’s spiraling jazz piano solo before going into a sweetly reflective soul ballad about the breakup of a family that again launches into hardcore funk on the chorus. “Your Smile” is a dynamically soulful ballad with a strong country-soul melody-again featuring the “symphony of Chaka” effect as she typically performs her own back up/choir vocals. The title song is an instrumental,as it was on the previous album but this features Tony Maiden singing through a talk box and the addition of horns and a more strident beat give this number its might. “I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone)” is a strong lyrical Afrocentric take on feminism with a slow crawling,blues oriented funk groove. “Right Is Right” and “Half Moon” are both frenetic,danceable jazz-funk jams while the future Brenda Russell penned the jazzily melodic,string accented uptempo soul of “Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)”. The album ends with the smoldering,sensuous Moog bass led jazzy funk of “Stop On By”-with Chaka and Tony again trading off female/male vocal licks.

In many basic ways,this stands as one of Rufus’s most musically complete albums. Their first two records both had a very garagey production flavor that,while the instrumental flavor was based deeply in funk and soul,had the raggedy quality that a lot of rock ‘n roll bands prefer to have. The production approach on this particular album is completely different. With the addition of Clare Fischer,uncle of the bands drummer Andre’ as an arranger the presence of strings and horns on this albums makes a huge difference in that regard. On the other hand Fischer is able to add orchestration without interfering with the basic rhythm section Rufus provided. As a matter of fact, on the majority of this album that is all that you hear playing in addition to Chaka’s singing. Tony Maiden’s guitar playing style is also far more based in jazz and funk. His sound is much cleaner, and his plays with lines with a beautifully melodic fluidity that is flexible enough to be just as intense as it needs to be. Because one of the major musical commonalities binding Chaka Khan and the members of Rufus together was a love for jazz, that particular style of bass/guitar playing and drumming are emphasized strongly here throughout. You can certainly here on this album how members of Rufus would eventually go on to become some of the most renowned session musicians of the late 70’s/early 80’s. Though her relationship with the band would sour in later years? The marriage of Rufus and Chaka Khan was,at this point a magically funky match if there ever was one.

Ask Rufus (1977)

Rufus And Chaka Khan,aside from CK’s amazing and influencial singing have always been just mildly underrated as musicians. In the years after the debut,especially with the style of the previous Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan their style had been growing from that of a conventional 70’s funk band to what they became with this album.By far this would have to be described as Rufus’s artistic pinnacle and is today justly revered. It is here that Rufus made the transformation to being a fully sophisticated band with brilliant songwriting,fully mature and reflective lyrics and plenty of jazz influences. With a couple minor exceptions this album showcases Rufus sticking with a midtempo jazzy soul/funk sound and a great deal of sudlty. Not only is it solid proof that funk doesn’t have to be a non-stop rhythm barrage to groove like mad but it features songs that all sound like mini classics.

“At Midnight” is the main uptempo song here.The production is far from slick and features probably the best use of synthesizer on a mid period Rufus Recording-the simple beat sounds deceptively like disco but on the breakdown it’s perfectly clear that it isn’t. Lyrically it’s clear that Chaka,who participates very strongly as a writer here is content on reflecting on how her own complicated marriaged and personal life at the at time is effecting her feelings on her own womanhood-strong emphasizing emotional involvement.”Close The Door” is one mournful example;Chaka’s tortured voice and the spare backdrop just drips with meloncaughly of the soul.The superb orchestration of Claire Fischer (cousin of the bands drummer Andre Fischer) not only makes that tune so wonderful but dominates the equally mournful instrumental “A Slow Screw Against The Wall”;the briefly funk blowout of “A Flat Fry”,featuring Ron Wood is pretty much the last tune of that type you’ll find here.The memorable and singable “Earth Song” features a cryptic lyric that,if understood sums up Chaka’s lyrical involvement here as she sings,”Stars/what a mystical woman you’ve made me” and on “Everlasting Love” we’re introduced into a deceptively musically simple vision of romance and sensuality.

“Hollywood” is…well almost an uptempo song because it’s so sprightly even as it looks at the effect fame and surroundings of luxary effect people.”Magic In Your Eyes” is yet another excellent romantic moment whereas “Better Days”,co-written by Chaka’s then husband Richard Holland reflects on a possible optimisitc future for the then faltering couple.As for the music,let’s just say I think Dido was highly influenced by this song when she did her hit song Thank You ovet two decades later. The title of “Egyptian Song” sounds like the song and lyrics will be very complicated and they are. From the melody down to it’s lyrics it reflects on Chaka’s journey to discover her racial identity that was evidently at that point still very much a part of her life. Here you here a very different kind of Rufus,challanging themselves all around to be a band to contend with a very different kind of groove for a very different kind of funk. There is little likelyhood you’ll ever come across an album in Rufus catalog or anyone else’s that sounds quite like this.And that really says an awful lot for this.

Masterjam (1979)

By 1979,the relationship between the now burgeoning solo artist Chaka Khan and the band Rufus was beginning to seriously decay. Sadly the sex and drugs cliches of the pop music world had began to catch up with Chaka. The band had even opted to record without her the previous year for their album Numbers(sadly their only album that has never been on CD as far as I can tell) while simultaneously introducing their new drummer John Robinson. It was from here that Rufus hooked back up with a rather beleaguered Chaka and set their sites on the production guidance of Quincy Jones-whose stable of musicians included the Brothers Johnson and Jerry Hey’s Seawind Horns. Rufus’s bassist Bobby Watson had already played bass for MJ on his smash funk/pop triumph Rock With You earlier in the year. Sensing that perhaps their sound could use a make over,it was Quincy who ended up producing this eighth Rufus album-even as Chaka Khan’s interest in the band was severely on the wane.

“Do You Love What You Feel” as well as the title song are both extremely indicative of the Rufus/Quincy collaboration. Both are high octane,Afro-Latin drum/percussion heavy pop hook filled danceable funk songs with that Quincy Jones/Rod Temperton-style horn/string packed late 70’s disco era funk sound written all over them from top to bottom. On both Chaka’s vocals and Tony Maiden’s clean rocking guitar riffs are at their most powerful and energetic. “Any Love” and especially a remake of the old Quincy/Leon Ware collaboration “Boby Heat”-with its extended percussive intro both more strongly reflect the 4 on the floor disco era. Some might even complain some of the bass lines identify them as more polka than funk at the root. However the bluesy bass/guitar interaction and especially Chaka’s vocals tell another side of that story. “Heaven Bound” and “Live In Me” are both slickly sensual midtempo numbers with a much heavier melodic funk orientation. The pretty straight up hard funk groove of “What Am I Missing” finds Chaka lamenting how the blitz of her life at that time was beginning to shelter her from fulfillment.

“Walk The Rockaway” is definitely on the heavier funk side of the disco era-with a thick rhythmic blend of percussion,guitar,bass and horns where Tony declares proudly “everybody’s got their own way of moving/it don’t matter as long as your grooving”. Wonderful metaphor for life wouldn’t you say? Patti Austin and Peggy Lipton Jones co-wrote “I’m Dancing For Your Love” with the band-a very impressive soul/funk/pop number with a strong Michael McDonald/Doobie Brothers attitude about it. In a lot of ways,this is my favorite album by Rufus. Every song is quite different from the other. And the funk,pop-jazz and disco era elements are all presented in the most high quality and rhythmically powerful way possible. By virtue of the music itself and those involved in making it,this album is creatively Rufus’s Off the Wall-an album possessed of the most dignified and classy funk and dance grooves it was dressed for big success. Though it was,producing the bands only two music videos that I know of for the first and final track,this was not exactly a reboot of Rufus & Chaka Khan as a band. She was back to her solo career in a years time. And her and Rufus gradually broke apart within the next several years. But even if this was the cap off to an era,it was one serious “masterjam” to go out on for sure!

Chaka Khan:

Naughty (1980)

Rufus’s 1979 album Masterjam was not the official finale for Rufus & Chaka Khan. But according to the lady herself,it was the last time she recorded an entire album in the studio with them. With her personal life continuing to spiral out of control in a dizzying array of a mutually abusive marriage,two children and epic proportions drug abuse Chaka began focusing on her career seemingly as an effort to lose herself in a form of musical sublimation. Continuing on at Warner Brothers with Arif Mardin at the helm and Ashford & Simpson penning many of the songs,Chaka also found herself at the disposal of yet more excellent singers and musicians such as Steve Ferrone,Marcus Miller and with him of course the late great Luther Vandross. Where sometimes album cover art reflects the music within to near perfection this albums cover,including a similarly dressed photo of Chaka’s almost lookalike than 6 year old daughter Milini,it was a superb window to what would come.

“Clouds” is the complete flipside of “I’m Every Woman” from her debut Chaka-a much slower and funkier number that’s still disco friendly but somewhat more emotionally fearful. Very much in the duel lyrical nature of classic soul really. The bubbling melodic bass synthesizer groove of “Get Ready,”Get Set” represents some of the most powerful,unique and sensually alluring funk on this album. “Move Me No Mountain” is a favorite of mine on here-a hard groove adult contemporary type re-imagining of a standard full of Chaka’s trademark vocal passion and ability. “The sweetly composed jazzy ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Take You Away” segues into the fan faring funk/pop of the title song. “Too Much Love” is an amazing mix of rocking,dancefloor read Latin funk with more than enough energy to spare while “All Night’s All Right” represents the hardest funk on this album-sounding very much like an early 70’s Rufus track. “Papillon” is a bumping,mid tempo soul oriented groove with a pretty melody and featuring the vocals of both Vandross and a young Whitney Houston. “What You Did” and “Our Loves In Danger” are both two more dance friendly pop/funk numbers defined again by Chaka’s singing.

This album is one of my favorite Chaka Khan albums,perhaps my very favorite. The reason for that is it’s consistency. While her iconic solo debut had many powerful and funky moments,the production and general sound of the songs had a somewhat jarring flavor. They sounded as if they were produced at very different times and places. This album,though actually very diverse sounds like a totally coherent album session of songs that were instrumentally and conceptually designed to flow together from beginning to end. It was where Chaka Khan’s solo identity emerged as being capable of delivering genuine album statements as opposed to smash dance singles. The musicianship and production on this album is absolutely impeccable. And with all the studio techniques used on Chaka’s voice her-from her renowned concept of doing her own back-round vocals to different echo plexes,her vocals are only even more enhanced by everything that touches it. Neither the musicians nor Chaka herself are drowned out by anyone behind the console. This is a great example of a sleek pop/funk/post disco sound where everything was just coming to a wonderful and successful musical head.

What ‘Cha Gonna Do For Me (1981)

Sometimes there’s a point in an artists career,and they never know exactly where there comes a time when there is a perfect match of musicianship,production,songwriting and vocals that just come together. This is also one of those cases where the album art actually says a lot about the sort of music contained within. We see a beaming,airbrushed Chaka looking enraptured with life and having just experienced a revelry of excitement. And that’s exactly the same feeling I got after listening to this album. After two albums that placed Chaka in something of an urban,late 70’s disco-funk context here Chaka is fully back to the power and vitality of her Rufus days. Her voice is an instrument that’s part of the band,part of the song and fully involved in the entire musical experience. She never overwhelms the music and it never overwhelms her but…..it in a way is ALL overwhelming. The arrangements are dramatic,cosmic,surprising and give me goosebumps just listening to the very involving virtuosity of what’s here.

This album has more electronic textures than before but they’re used in the classiest possible way and you can really hear Chaka’s noted high musical standards oozing out of every song. Billy Preston really bumps up the production to the N’th degree on the hard hitting,bass keyboard/horn led version of “We Can Work At Out” that has Chaka as pretty much the rest of the orchestra as it were.It comes to an abrupt start and you feel as if you’ve heard a whole album but….it goes on. Then you come to the urban fusion-jazz dynamics of the title song where Chaka’s voice is yearning,searching,imagining and give you to feel she’s living the song she’s singing and she very likely was. “I Know You,I Live You” really kicks it out with one of the catchiest latin funk jams I’ve ever heard;after Chaka’s done her thing vocally on the song it kicks into this amazing reverbed bass/drum interaction before she’s right back in action. “Any Old Sunday” is the more relaxed of the tunes here,not a ballad but more of an interpretive piece for Chaka. “We Got Each Other”,sung with her brother Mark who obviously shares her tremendous vocal instrument is another reverb heavy sonic funk monster finding Chaka absolutely BAKED HIGH on love alone and singing in the most euphoric way one can imagine.

“And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)”…well lets just say if nothing else here was that great this alone would make it a classic. With Stevie Wonder’s brooding bass keyboard leading the way as Chaka takes her improvisational instrument right to the heart of the song. “Night Moods” says it all here as the only ballad-the musical again some of the most beautifully euphoric,non sentimental tribute to romance imaginable as Chaka goes from sensual,uncertain and moody at the change of a note and it’s one of those handful of ballads that just punches you right out. “Heed The Warning” is this amazing,spiky keyboard led funk-rock jam that anyone with a heart will get instant goosebumps from. And…well aside from an honorable mention for the breezy disco-funk of “Fate” I cannot really say anymore about this album because just thinking about this music overwhelms me some. For anyone now who sees the key to making successful funk and R&B lies in unadorned,un-produced “real” instrumentation and understated vocals this album stands as an important reminder of how important the right kind of production flourishes and a strong voice with the ability to act as it’s own musical instrument to creating truly magical funk and R&B that shimmers,sparkles and truly withstands the test of time.

Chaka Khan (1982)

Over the years there’s been quite a little artist cult that’s developed surrounding this album. Many music review books I’ve read name dropped it again and again as being a crownign achievment of her early career and the album even won her a grammy. All the same it would up being the most obscure Chaka Khan album during the CD reissue era. It’s never been issued domestically and even Chaka’s compilation Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 doesn’t include any of it’s songs. Having heard it on CD for the first time I have to say that in many ways this album very much lives up to all the hype surrounding it;one of the few albums that actually does so. One of the main reasons for that is that album sounds like nothing else in her vast catalog. This came out around the same time Chaka joined back up with Rufus for a reunion tour and interestingly enough this album is among the more consistantly funk oriented of her solo albums.

Earlier recordings were open ended explorations of soul,pop-jazz,funk and disco yet this album features a somewhat electronic,bassy,thrusting sound that is very much in keeping with electro-funk style of the era but at the same time is still distinctly Chaka Khan. Her group of musicians on this album including Robbie Buchannon,Will Lee,Hiram Bullock as well as AWB members Hamish Stuart and Steve Ferrone absolutely cook musically throughout the album and that results in every song containing some of the finest vocal performances of Khan’s career,marked by the fact she’s relying more on strengh here than scaling up and down as is her trademark singing style. “Tearin’ It Up” pulls this all together right from the start with Chaka and the bassy synth funk of the groove all in a deep framework. The Rick James duet of “Slow Dancin'” and the pounding,epic “Twisted” emphasizes a slower groove than was common during the naked funk era and that is much to Chaka’s credit as she understands funk by it’s nature tends to be a tad of a slower music to start with. The majority of the tunes here are uptempo however including th cowboy/funk send up “Best In The West”,complete with fiddle solo and one of those hooky melodies Chaka seemed to be able to so easily turn out during her earlier Arif Mardin era.

Much has been said about “Be Bop Medley” and trust me;it’s all deserved. She links a medly of her be-bop era favorites,everything from Monk’s “Epistrophy” and Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” in and around this fast paced,bass synthesizer led naked funk jam and the music and melodies all work with eachother wonderfully. In this case she does do more vocal scaling but it’s needed;she does really well with jazz composition and this song really takes the cake. Her powerhouse version of “Got To Be There” and “So Not To Worry” are the slower tunes here but are more midtempo than ballads and are the more relaxed,organically textured of the tunes here. “Pass It On (A Sure Thing)” is another uptempo funk scorcher to the end the album off on. In terms of funk music construction and intense musical dynamics there are very few albums I can think of offhand that match it. It is still a shame that today the only CD version of this album comes from the boxed set Original Album Series:Chaka/Chaka Khan/I Feel For You/Naughty/What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me. If you don’t have any Chaka Khan albums,pick that up without a second thought. But if you only are missing this one,this CD edition is essential to pick up if you find it reasonably because it represents an important creative step in her musical development as a solo artist.


Well there’s my written tribute(s) to Rufus and Chaka Khan,both together and apart. Very thankful I could be alive during a time when her musical career was still in peak shape!

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Filed under Andre Fischer, Arif Mardin, Bobby Waton, Chaka Khan, Claire Fischer, David Wolinsku, John Robinson, Kevin Murphy, Quincy Jones., Rufus, Tony Maiden