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Rufus iTunes Tracks

Rufus

+ {Rufus featuring Chaka Khan}

Multi-racial R&B/funk ensemble from Chicago, Illinois, that spawned the versatile disco diva CHAKA KHAN, 70s/80s combo RUFUS moved ‘n’ grooved Americans looking for good-time party music in parallel with quiet storm soul. Chaka was not the original singer; that honour was down to Paulette McWilliams and James Stella, but with her suggestive and sensual singing, the group secured several high-flying hits (including `Tell Me Something Good’, `You Got The Love’, `Once You Get Started’ and `Sweet Thing’), and a consecutive run of three Top 10 LPs: `Rags To Rufus’, `Rufusized’ and `Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan’; in fact the latter set was as they were billed until the funky lady opted to leave – twice!
Formed in 1970 out of The AMERICAN BREED (the band who brought us `Bend Me, Shape Me’), the moniker “Smoke” was relatively short-lived when “Ask Rufus” became installed. To say their initial group line-up was chaotic would be an understatement, but when RUFUS were invited to perform AL KOOPER’s `Brand New Day’ for the soundtrack to “The Landlord” (November 1970), the sextet comprised Kevin Murphy (keyboards), fellow ‘Breed alumni, Al Ciner (guitar), Lee Graziano (drums) and Chuck Colbert (bass) – the latter superseded by Willie Weeks – plus aforementioned singers Paulette McWilliams and James Stella. The follow-up single, `Fire One, Fire Two, Fire Three’; also for Epic Records, sold just as poorly, resulting in the shelving of a proposed LP.
Starting afresh when the departing Paulette proffered up teenage protégé Chaka Khan (b. Yvette Marie Stevens, 23 Mar’53), 1972 also saw the exit of James Stella: replaced by Ron Stockert (keyboards/vocals); Graziano: replaced by Andre Fischer (drums; ex-CURTIS MAYFIELD, ex-JERRY BUTLER); and session-bound Weeks: replaced by Dennis Belfield.
Subsequently signing to A.B.C. Records, the revised sextet finally re-emerged with `Slip ‘N’ Slide’, a flop 45 that previewed their eponymous album, RUFUS (1973) {*5}; a rather average set by all accounts that featured ALLEN TOUSSAINT’s `Whoever’s Thrilling You (Is Killing Me’ (another damp squib), ASHFORD & SIMPSON’s `Keep It Coming’, STEVIE WONDER’s `Maybe Your Baby’, and a closing STEPHEN STILLS medley of `Love The One You’re With’ and `Sit Yourself Down’.
It was patron saint WONDER that in fact opened the door for RUFUS when his specially commissioned `Tell Me Something Good’ single climbed into the Top 3. This sublime soul-funk classic left fans breathless and was one of three covers (alongside ASHFORD & SIMPSON’s `Ain’t Nothin’ But A Maybe’ and Jeff Barry’s `Walkin’ In The Sun’) to accompany parent set, RAGS TO RUFUS (1974) {*6}; critics also marveled over the combination of jazz-inflected dancefloor funk and Chaka’s vocal acrobatics on gritty near-Top 10 opener, `You Got The Love’; note that this is the point they became RUFUS featuring CHAKA KHAN.
With Murphy the only original member remaining as Ciner, Belfield and Stockert bailed upon the latter set’s dispatch; they were said to be disgruntled at the said co-billing with Chaka; in their place for late 1974’s RUFUSIZED {*8}, came lead guitarist/singer Tony Maiden and bassist Bobby Watson (both from BILLY PRESTON’s band). Note that although there were six people gracing the sleeve-shot, tour-only pianist Nate Morgan had not yet become a fully-fledged member. The new-look platinum album then wielding a silky Top 10 single, `Once You Get Started’ (from the pen of Gavin Christopher), whilst BOBBY WOMACK was sourced for `Stop On By’; ORLEANS’ John Hall for `Half Moon’. Understandably, they’d not much time between set servings, so, alongside a handful of group compositions, Brenda Gordon’s `Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)’ was preferred as the next Top 50 hit over the Lalomie Washburn-penned pair, `Your Smile’ and `I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone)’.
The eponymous album four, RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN (1975) {*7}, became the quintet’s biggest seller so far. Within its funky walls of soul, jazz and pop arrived the Top 5 `Sweet Thing’ single (scribed by Chaka and Tony), wherein follow-up hit, `Dance Wit Me’, was one of three supplied by said Christopher; though it was probably too soon for a band to be rendering a version of the BEE GEES’ `Jive Talkin’’.
1977’s ASK RUFUS {*7} baffled a little chunk of their base in its “retro” title, but it was certainly a bona fide freshly-squeezed set of songs. Bolstering their line-up by way of keyboard player David “Hawk” Wolinski (ex-SHADOWS OF KNIGHT, ex-BANGOR FLYING CIRCUS), the near Top 10 set offered up moderate hits, `At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)’ and `Hollywood’; the latter a song later covered by ERYKAH BADU.
When Fischer’s berth was filled by Richard “Moon” Calhoun, STREET PLAYER (1978) {*5} disappointed many of their fans. Despite its peak at No.14, only `Stay’ gave the band Top 40 status, and with that came the poignant news that CHAKA KHAN would be not be “staying” after inking a deal with Warner Bros. While she rose to fresh heights with signature tune, `I’m Every Woman’, later in the year, RUFUS found themselves up a hitless creek without a paddle when `Keep It Together (Declaration Of Love)’ – a song penned by ALLEN TOUSSAINT – bombed unceremoniously. Both Wolinski and Maiden had taking over vocal chores for this and the No.81-performing set, NUMBERS {*2}, while the departing Calhoun had also left the door open for John “JR” Robinson.
While simultaneously maintaining a more R&B/dance-oriented solo career, Chaka was still under contract to ABC. When they went bust and were taken over by MCA Records, she was happy to re-join the flagging musicians for one further album: MASTERJAM (1979) {*5}. Produced by QUINCY JONES and including Top 30 squeeze, `Do You Love What You Feel’, the predominantly R&B/soul set gave RUFUS & CHAKA – as they were briefly billed – another Top 20 album.
As KHAN exited to get “Naughty” – the title of her next set – the remaining RUFUS alumni: Murphy, Maiden, Watson, Wolinski and Robinson, carried on regardless for the release of the self-produced snooze, PARTY ‘TIL YOU’RE BROKE (1981) {*2}. However, Chaka decided to gate-crash the group once again on 1981’s CAMOUFLAGE {*4}; though with sales figures that only gave the coalition a measly Top 100 place, it looked certain that this would be their last-chance saloon.
Following a Chaka-less SEAL IN RED {*4} that never really got in the groove; despite the production values of jazz giant GEORGE DUKE (and the appearance of guest singers IVAN NEVILLE and PATTI AUSTIN), there was one final roll of the dice for “RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN” with the 3-sides-live (from February ‘82)/one-side-studio double-LP, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY – LIVE (1983) {*6}, which revealed the synthesized R&B/disco of Top 30 classic, `Ain’t Nobody’.
In 1984, CHAKA KHAN borrowed PRINCE’s `I Feel For You’ and she never looked back as the post-disco diva went on to become a staple in America’s musical history, leaving behind a RUFUS combo that had now finally succumbed to retirement; the two parties did however reunite in 2001 for a brief tour and were, together, nominated twice (in 2011 and 2017) to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2019

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