Rufus was an American funk band from Chicago, Illinois best known for launching the career of lead singer Chaka Khan. They had several hits throughout their career, including "Tell Me Something Good", "Sweet Thing", and "Ain't Nobody".
In 1967, 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, Ciner, Colbert and Graziano (without Loizzo who pursued a successful production career) created a new group, adding Kevin Murphy on keyboards and Vern Pilder from the bar band "Circus". They re-emerged in 1969 under the name "Smoke". In 1970 vocalists Paulette McWilliams and James Stella were added and the group's name changed again to "Ask Rufus"; after which, Willie Weeks replaced Vern Pilder.
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 was replaced by keyboardist and vocalist Ron Stockert, Lee Graziano was replaced 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. With that change, and Paulette McWilliams leaving to pursue her solo career, the group recorded the first two albums as Ask Rufus and later dropped the "Ask" and simply became known as Rufus.
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 Ripperton. 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.
Success, stardom and tension:
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. 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", "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 good friend Brenda Russell, which became popular among the group's legion of fans.
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 Khan and Tony Maiden composition 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", the latter two songs becoming popular among Khan fans. 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 Dave "Hawk" Wolinski, respectively. The new lineup recorded the popular album, Street Player, which featured the popular 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.
Decline and final years:
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 he 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.
Another band member displaying great versatility within their artistry was bassist, Bobby Watson, becoming a successful producer amid the 1980s; during which time artist/producer René Moore, of René & Angela, requested Watson 'come along side' the duo, in hopes he'd "bring to the collaborative table", the same "signature funk" solid groove/sound, that had become such a soulfully distinctive characteristic/trademark of Rufus/Chaka Khans' monster 'music' machine. During their time together, this "trio" of producers, generated several successful tunes/albums for the two (Moore/Angela Winbush). Subsequent collective efforts birthed the 1982 debut album, for a Shalamar type 'clone' group named Plush, headed by lead singer Siedah Garrett. In addition to the aforementioned, aside from and during his tenure with Rufus, Bobby also added to his collaborative production credits, Janet Jackson's debut album Janet Jackson, released September 1982. Mid 2000, Watson emerged once again, this time enjoying the success of his solo production projects - working with Japanese voice actor/recording artist Madoka Kimura and Chinese pop singer Zhang Liangying aka Jane Zhang, with whom he also toured extensively. One of the more popular and predominant studio works/bass lines of Watson's career can be heard on the classic single "Rock with You", released November 1979 from Michael Jackson's Off the Wall; it charted #1 in the U.S. and Spain and has been covered/sampled by dozens of artist over the years.
In 2001, Rufus (Kevin Murphy, Tony Maiden, Bobby Watson, Dave Wolinski and J.R. Robinson) and Chaka Khan reunited for a brief tour, which Khan described in her autobiography, Chaka! Through the Fire (co-written with Tonya Bolden), in 2003. Khan and Maiden reunited on the modernized Rufus medley, "Pack'd My Bags"/ "You Got the Love", on Khan's double Grammy Award-winning 2007 album, Funk This. When discussing another potential reunion with Rufus during a 2008 interview with Billboard, Khan said the band's classic lineup (which includes Andre Fischer and Nate Morgan) had no plans on reuniting, with Khan stating that touring with Tony Maiden, one of the few Rufus band mates Khan kept a close friendship with, was the closest to another Rufus reunion. A lineup of Rufus including Bobby Watson and J.R. Robinson started a short tour in 2008. Neither founding member Kevin Murphy, mainstay Tony Maiden nor Dave Wolinski participated in this tour. In September 2011, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame committee announced that the band and Khan were jointly nominated for induction to the 27th annual class. They had been eligible since 1999 (with the committee counting the band's first album as Rags to Rufus rather than 1973's Rufus). It was their first year of nomination. Earlier in the year, Khan received a solo star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
(also known as Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Rufus and Chaka and Rufus and Chaka Khan)
Richard "Moon" Calhoun,
Dave "Hawk" Wolinski,
John "J.R." Robinson,
Dave "Hawk" Wolinski,
- Khan would depart from Rufus to record her solo smash, Chaka, in 1978, but would remain contracted to the group through 1982. Khan then reunited in 1983 for the group's final album, the live release, Stompin' at the Savoy - Live.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license