Today's artists are one of the most commercially successful funk groups of the '70s, the multi-racial band are today best remembered for launching the career of soul diva Chaka Khan, whose fiery lead vocals were easily the band's focal point. Powered by Khan -- who was eventually billed in addition to the group -- and an unerring sense of groove, the band scored an impressive string of hit singles on both the pop and R&B charts, which lasted through the '70s and up to Khan's official departure in 1983... ..... N'joy
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In 1968, The American Breed (Gary Loizzo, Al Ciner, Charles (Chuck) Colbert and Lee Graziano) had a top ten hit with the classic rock single, "Bend Me, Shape Me". After much success, Colbert and Graziano (without Loizzo who pursued a successful production career) created a new group, adding latter day "Breed" members Kevin Murphy on (keyboards) and Paulette McWilliams (vocals), plus James Stella (vocals) and Vern Pilder (guitar) from the bar band "Circus". They re-emerged in 1969 under the name "Smoke". In 1970, after switching their management to Bob Monaco and Bill Traut, the group's name changed again to "Ask Rufus", the name taken from the title of the advice column in Mechanics Illustrated. At this point, Ciner came back to replace Pilder and Willie Weeks was added on bass after Colbert left.
In 1971 the band signed a contract with Epic Records recording an album that wasn't released after which Epic dropped their contract in early 1972. Willie Weeks was in turn replaced by Dennis Belfield, James Stella by keyboardist/vocalist Ron Stockert and Lee Graziano by Andre Fischer (former drummer with Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler). Paulette McWilliams and Chaka Khan had met and became the best of friends through their spouses Howard Towles and Hassan Khan. Chaka would come to most of Ask Rufus gigs when they were performing in Chicago. When Paulette decided she was leaving Ask Rufus, she went to the band and told them she had the perfect singer to replace her; she had also asked Chaka if she was interested. After the band members hesitantly submitted, Paulette remained with Ask Rufus for a few more weeks to teach Chaka all of their material. Paulette also got Chaka a gig with the group formed by Chicago's Cash McCall called Lyfe. Chaka had been performing at the Pumpkin Room on the south side of Chicago, with a local Chicago group called Lock and Chain, led by drummer Scotty Harris.
Bob Monaco was part of a booking company known as Ashley Famous with Jim Golden, they booked Ask Rufus, with Paulette McWilliams and also The Rotary Connection with Minnie Riperton. Monaco was also responsible for helping to get Ask Rufus their deal on ABC Dunhill. Monaco returned to Los Angeles, convinced the label to give him a demo budget and then quickly returned to Chicago where the group recorded eleven songs in two days at Marty Feldman's Paragon Studios. After taking the demo tapes back to ABC Dunhill the group was immediately asked to sign a long term recording contract.
Khan, who at eighteen was still a minor, had to have her mother sign along with her, even though as a married woman (newly wed to Hassan Khan, a bassist of one of her former bands), she could have done the deed herself. The group then drove to Los Angeles and recorded their first "Rufus" album at Quantum Recording Studios in Torrance, California, released in 1973. While the songs "Whoever's Thrilling You (Is Killing Me)" and "Feel Good" (both featuring Khan) brought the group some attention from R&B radio stations, the album itself had minimal sales, and the Stockert-led "Slip & Slide" failed to catch major attention from pop radio.
The group quickly re-entered the same studio to record their follow-up album Rags to Rufus that included the Stevie Wonder song "Tell Me Something Good", Ray Parker Jr.'s and Khan's "You Got The Love" and Dennis Belfield's "In Love We Grow", along with "Smokin' Room". Ciner and Belfield would leave the group shortly thereafter along with Stockert, who was replaced by Los Angeles-based keyboardist Nate Morgan. Additionally, Tony Maiden and bassist Bobby Watson, also from Los Angeles, were recruited by drummer Andre Fischer and asked to join the group as well. Maiden's, Watson's and Morgan's addition to Rufus added a unique sound to the group, bringing a stronger funk and jazz influence to complement Chaka's now emerging powerful lead vocals.
Rags to Rufus was released in 1974 and two of its singles — the Stevie Wonder-penned "Tell Me Something Good" and the Parker-Khan composition, "You Got the Love" — became smash hits leading to Rags to Rufus going platinum and also landed them opening spots for the tours of several top stars including Stevie Wonder, Cheech and Chong and the Hues Corporation. "Tell Me Something Good" also brought Rufus their first Grammy Award. In addition, it sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA on August 9, 1974. Due to Khan's increasing popularity Rufus and ABC started calling the group Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan. With this new billing, the band recorded and quickly released their next album, Rufusized in 1974. Another platinum success, the group entered the top ten again with the funk singles, "Once You Get Started", (penned by Gavin Christopher), "Stop on By", "I'm a Woman", and "Pack'd My Bags" (later sampled for Jody Watley's "Lovin' You So") and "Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me of a Friend)", penned by their friend Brenda Russell.
Heading into 1975, the group headlined their first major tour, with Khan attracting attention in concert reviews for her powerhouse vocals and sexy attire — so much so that when it came to do photo sets, Khan was often the only artist chosen to be featured on covers, mainly on magazines such as Jet, which Khan would be heavily featured on throughout her long career. Also due to her off-stage antics that added to her on-stage persona, the media billed Khan as "the wild child". Due to Khan's vocal power and sex appeal, she was often compared to Tina Turner, with some rock and soul press labeling her a "pint-sized Tina", and also to Aretha Franklin (her friends called her "little Aretha"). Attention to Khan began to make things difficult for some of the group's members as they felt Khan's presence had overshadowed the entire band's output. The group's fourth release, and the third major release where Khan was dominant lead singer, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, was released in 1975. The major hit off the album was a compositon by Khan and Tony Maiden titled "Sweet Thing" which reached the top five of the charts and became their fourth record to reach gold.
Despite the album's success as well as a second successful major tour that followed, it still didn't stop growing tensions within the group, particularly between Khan and longtime Rufus drummer Andre Fischer. During recording sessions of Ask Rufus, Khan had married Richard Holland (she had divorced her first husband Hassan Khan in 1974 prior to the birth of their child Milini), and the presence of Holland only made things worse between Khan and Fischer. During one session of Ask Rufus, Fischer engaged in a fight with Holland, who received help from a counter-attacking Khan. Ask Rufus would be released in 1977 and include the hits "At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)", "Hollywood" and "Everlasting Love". Following a tour to promote Ask Rufus, Fischer finally left the group. He was followed out of the group by Nate Morgan. They were replaced by Richard "Moon" Calhoun and David "Hawk" Wolinski, respectively. The new lineup recorded the album, Street Player, which featured the Khan-composed ballad, "Stay". After first putting it off as a rumor, Khan confirmed to media reports that she was going solo, signing a deal with Warner Bros. Records. The decision strained relations between Khan and the other Rufus members. Khan released her self-titled debut later in 1978. The album sold more than Street Player, going platinum, thanks to the international Ashford & Simpson-composed single, "I'm Every Woman". Khan continued to promote the album into 1979. In early 1979, Calhoun would be replaced by John "J.R." Robinson as the group's drummer in 1979.
Following the Calhoun replacement, another change came when ABC Records got absorbed by MCA, bringing the group to MCA as a result. While Khan promoted Chaka, Rufus put out a less favorably received Khan-less album, Numbers, which tanked. Khan returned to record with the band for the Quincy Jones-produced Masterjam. By now, Rufus and Khan were split in two, both acts being treated separately. Khan's superstardom helped Masterjam go gold thanks to the funk-laden disco recording, "Do You Love What You Feel".
Though Khan would later say that she was ready to leave Rufus upon the time she released Chaka in 1978, she discovered that she had two more albums left in her ABC/MCA contract with the band and agreed to fulfill her obligations. Following Masterjam, one of the contractual albums, and another Khan-less album, Party 'Til You're Broke, which bombed, the factions of Rufus and Khan reunited for their last MCA album, Camouflage in 1981. The feelings of long overdrawn bad tensions were felt during album sessions. This resulted in situations where Khan would either record her vocals alone to a click track prior to the band's instrumentation being added later, or vice versa.
Unfortunately, the album failed to garner attention, mainly due to Khan's solo obligations, which now included two more gold-certified studio albums, Naughty and What Cha' Gonna Do for Me. With the release of Camouflage, Khan was free to leave the group, and following her exit in early 1982, the remaining members of Rufus released what became their final studio album, Seal in Red in 1983 which, like their previous albums, went unnoticed.
Rufus band members sensed that their tenure was over and agreed to split on the terms they release one last live album to commemorate the occasion. The band asked Khan to contribute to their final concert performance which would be filmed by Warner Bros., and she obliged, reuniting with the group for what was to be later released as a documentary film titled Stompin' At the Savoy. For some reason, Warner Bros. refused to release the film at that time and released only the live album instead. However the concert has since been released to home-video with remastered picture and remixed 5.1 Dolby Surround sound.
The album included four Khan-led studio songs, including a Dave Wolinski composition titled "Ain't Nobody", which got attention when a producer for the film, Breakin' heard it while screening songs for the movie's soundtrack. Warner eventually released the song (with the billing Rufus and Chaka Khan) and the song became a top 30 Billboard Hot 100 hit, reaching number-one on the R&B chart and hitting number eight on the UK singles chart. The success of the track led to the band receiving its second Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Following this success, Rufus went their separate ways for good with Khan continuing her solo career, becoming one of the most revered R&B artists of her generation with the release of the single "I Feel for You" cementing her reputation.
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In many respects the group seems to be feeling their way through this. Luckily, Rags to Rufus does feature some can't-miss propositions. The great rock and funk mix of "You've Got the Love" all but sums up what Chaka Khan was going to be doing for the long haul. The biggest hit here, "Tell Me Something Good," is a rare instance of an artist like Stevie Wonder giving away a tune that he could have had a big hit with himself. That being said, it was Khan's playful and sensual vocal that put it over the top. The songs that veer from the formula suffer the most on Rags to Rufus. The cutesy "I Got the Wrong Street" and the saccharine "Walkin' the Sun" are duds. Even early on, Khan needed songs that were complicated either lyrically or musically. On Ashford & Simpson's "Ain't Nothin' but a Maybe," Khan displays the maturity and knowing that it took to make the song have that much more emotional weight. Rags to Rufus ends on a relaxing note with the tracks, "Look Through My Eyes," "In Love We Grow," and the sultry "Smoking Room." This album is far from perfect, but it's certainly representative of the band's gifts and Khan's vocal power.
Rufus Feat Chaka Khan - Rags To Rufus (flac 263mb)
01 You Got The Love 4:38
02 I Got The Right Street (But The Wrong Direction) 3:14
03 Walkin' In The Sun 2:59
04 Rags To Rufus (Instrumental) 4:02
05 Swing Down Chariot 4:21
06 Sideways (Instrumental) 1:44
07 Ain't Nothin' But A Maybe 3:33
08 Tell Me Something Good 4:36
09 Look Through My Eyes 3:07
10 In Love We Grow 2:36
11 Smokin' Room 4:20
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In the early '70s, Rufus was one of the most popular and interesting bands in R&B and rock. Of course, the reason was Chaka Khan, who possessed an amazing voice that was well versed in rock and jazz every bit as much as R&B. Their debut went nowhere, Rags to Rufus offered two instant classics, and Rufusized displayed their skill as album artists. Truth be told, this version of Rufus was nearly a brand-new band, as three members exited and guitarist Tony Maiden and bassist Bobby Watson joined up. The result was a funkier and more talented band who would give Khan the needed earthy and ethereal mix that would make her soar. The sexy and danceable "Once You Started" proves that this version of the band gave off immediate sparks and results. The sneaky and funky "Somebody's Watching You" has Khan displaying even more confidence. After great album cuts like the soothing "Your Smile" and "Pack'd My Bags," Rufusized ends on a strong note. The poignant and sophisticated "Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me)" leads into the Maiden and Khan duet cover of Bobby Womack's "Stop on By," which nearly matches the steaminess and wry nature of the original. Often forgotten due to the bigger hits on Rags to Rufus, this easily outstrips that album and became of one the band's most-loved efforts.
Rufus Feat Chaka Khan - Rufusized (flac 223mb)
01 Once You Get Started 4:28
02 Somebody's Watching You 3:12
03 Pack'd My Bags 5:06
04 Your Smile 3:23
05 Rufusized 3:13
06 I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone) 3:17
07 Right Is Right 3:13
08 Half Moon 3:15
09 Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend) 3:00
10 Stop On By 4:53
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Although this effort doesn't have the epiphanies of 1974's Rufusized, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan has them becoming more established as one of the best bands in R&B and pop. The first track, Gavin Christopher's "Fool's Paradise" displays Khan's skill at screaming notes and making complex ideas sound simple, and vice versa. That art is put to work throughout Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan. "Everybody's Got an Aura" surely could be dismissed as babble but Khan gives the sentiments a ring of truth even as she shouts, "Everybody's got karma!" The lilting yet propulsive "Circle" has great bass work from Bobby Watson as Khan sings likeable and spacy lines, the best being, "My love is like a zero/It is nothing and everything." The albums biggest track, the smoldering "Sweet Thing," has Tony Maiden's gentle guitar and Kevin Murphy's economical electric piano chords. The song is arguably the group's best as Khan's bittersweet vocal provided a standard many singers have attempted to approximate to no avail. The party starters "Have a Good Time" and "Dance Wit Me" both tread familiar ground and pale in comparison to the classic "Once You Get Started." The last track, a cover of "Jive Talking," is inexplicably slowed to a crawl, therefore, diminishing its appeal. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan perfectly captures their unconventional sound and features Tower of Power on horns and Clare Fischer's string arrangements. This album is one of their best and is recommended.
Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan - Rufus (flac 239mb)
01 Fool's Paradise 4:40
02 Have A Good Time 3:20
03 Ooh I Like Your Loving 3:39
04 Everybody Has An Aura 3:46
05 Circles 3:56
06 Sweet Thing 3:19
07 Dance Wit Me 3:57
08 Little Boy Blue 5:04
09 On Time 3:31
10 Jive Talkin' 3:34
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Rufus was one of the most respected groups in the '70s and '80s. Although lead singer Chaka Khan's charismatic vocals were their drawing card, few outfits boasted the skill as Rufus as a band. Songs like "Please Pardon Me," "Sweet Thing," and "Fool's Paradise" are a few of the tracks that displayed the perfect marriage. This 1977 effort is the follow-up to 1975's Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan. Ask Rufus has the group doing more sophisticated and constantly challenging work with an accent on evocative ballads. The effort's lone dance track "At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up) has the band going for more subtlety. The jazzy "Close the Door" has a confident and gentle vocal from Khan and a beautiful string arrangement from Clare Fischer who offered them throughout this effort. The well-arranged "Earth Song" could be called botched poesy with lyrics like, "Stars what a mystical woman that you've made me," but Khan's charm keeps it from being an overstatement. The best track, the evocative and sensual "Everlasting Love" has great bass and guitar interplay from Bobby Watson and Tony Maiden, respectively, and an appealing earthy and ethereal vocal from Khan. The much loved "Hollywood" has just gotten stronger, with lines like, "Fixed expressions/Smiles worn thin" exhibiting a surprising and apropos world-weary view. The most ambitious song, the evocative "Egyptian Song," has Middle Eastern motifs and a compelling vocal from Khan that pulls it all together. With great keyboard signatures from Kevin Murphy and David "Hawk" Wolinski and Andre Fischer's steady and judicious drumming, Ask Rufus is one of their best albums.
Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan - Ask Rufus (flac 196mb)
01 At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up) 4:20
02 Close The Door 3:24
03 Slow Screw Against The Wall - A Fry 2:17
04 Earth Song 5:23
05 Everlasting Love 4:45
06 Hollywood 4:09
07 Magic In Your Eyes 3:52
08 Better Days 4:16
09 Egyptian Song 5:09.
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