Tag Archives: Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan

‘Street Player’ At 40: Rufus & Chaka Khan At The Crossroads Of Funk

Street Player followed the Ask Rufus album in 1978 with Chaka and the band finding themselves facing new territory. Drummer Andre’ Fischer had departed due to a falling out with Chaka involving her alcoholic and micromanaging husband Richard. Chaka was also moving towards the solo career that seemed inevitable after three of the original band members left in 1974. Not only that, but the band were now without a drummer. While they searched for a more permanent replacement, the band bought in former Leon Russell session drummer Richard “Moon Calhoun for this particular session.

As keyboard player Nate Morgan departed during that same time, David “Hawk” Wolinski, who had co-written the previous albums “Hollywood”, joined Rufus as a regular member. His playing, writing and even singing projected a stronger physical personality into Rufus that no one had possessed since Tony Maiden joined the band in 1974. Since the more reflective (and occasionally slower tempos) of the previous album didn’t always meet with the greatest of enthusiasm, the band decided to take a more contemporary production of their more classic uptempo funk sound.

The title song of this album was written with Hawk and Chicago’s Danny Serephine, and that bands version was included on their 1979 album Chicago 13-an album musically similar to Rufus in many ways. Chaka herself composed “Stay”, a more mellowed out bass/guitar type groove somewhat similar to what was on the previous album yet strong enough to endure as one of her classic songs. “Turn” is a unique hard funk song. Very bluesy in orientation and full of powerful horn, bass/guitar and organ interaction. Moon Calhoun also maintains the classic stop/start rhythmic complexity here.

“Best Of Your Heart” is a melodic, jazzy mid tempo ballad that swings right into the fast paced,percussive Brazilian jazz instrumental “Finale”,featuring a tremendous synthesizer solo from Hawk. “Blue Love” is one of my favorite songs here-starting off with a melodic synth line,it goes from somber break up ballad into an uptempo jazzy funk jam as the confidence level in Chaka’s lyrics rise as the song concludes with understanding “you never know love until somebody leaves you”.”Stranger To Love” is a powerfully orchestrated ballad-built upon its strings and flanger filtered drums.

“Take Time” is one of my favorite Rufus instrumentals-a very bass oriented in the pocket kind of groove with a very strong synthesizer counter melody with Tony Maiden rocking out pretty Hendrix style on lead guitar solo. “Destiny” is a wonderfully melodic bossa/jazz-pop type number that Chaka gives one of her all time stand out vocal performances. As far as I’m concerned? Its one of her classic songs. “Change Yours Ways” ends the album in a very jazzy funk mode-again with somewhat drastic shifts in tempo. This gives Street Player a truly unique quality about it rhythmically.

Each song tends to be like a pocket jazz/funk/soul symphony-often with two unique parts fusing into a single song. And considering what Rufus were experiencing at this time, its only fitting that the lyrical focus of this album zeroed right in on themes of change and growth.  That leaves Street Player as basically the culmination of Rufus’s classic sound. It still has the unique instrumental trademark of mid 70’s Rufus, but a lot of the lushness of the latter 70’s era. In many ways? Its one of Rufus’s most creative, strong and enduring musical works. Especially with its focus on uptempo songs of different musical colors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rufus

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

Image result for Ask Rufus

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Chaka Khan, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

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