ANY confusion you may have had about the exact status of the group Rufus should now be pretty much clarified in your mind — we hope! If it isn't let's help you decipher it all once and for all.
Rufus (founder member Kevin Murphy, Tony Maiden, Bobby Watson, David Wolinski and John Robinson) and Chaka Khan (lead vocalist extraordinaire) decided last year, after many hit records together to go ahead and do solo projects — Chaka's yielding the hit "I'm Every Woman" (with an Arif Mardin-produced set on Warners) and Rufus with an album co-produced with Roy Halee (a gentleman who has been involved with the group on different projects prior to the Rufus minus Chaka venture).
Needless to say, everyone had assumed that the group had split — Chaka to pursue a totally solo career and the members of Rufus to do likewise. However, the "break" was purely a temporary one: instead of one unit, the team had decided to create three seperate entities, namely Rufus & Chaka, Rufus, and Chaka Khan — hope that's clear to you! In other words, the unit of Rufus & Chaka have continued to make records together, Chaka's doing her second album now and Rufus will do their second 'solo' project in the early part of next year!
Meanwhile, there is a new Rufus-Chaka album called "Masterjam", a truly masterful production produced by the equally masterful Mr. Quincy Jones. The single from the album, "Do You Love What You Feel?" is already showing signs of being one of the team's biggest hits to date and it puts them fairly and squarely back where they've been before — at the top of the charts.
In response to the comment that maybe the public might have gotten a little less than supportive over recent Rufus-Chaka collaborations, we got an emphatic "no way" from Chaka herself. The group will admit that some of their momentum was lost with the "Street Player" album, the last one prior to the solo projects of Chaka and Rufus but the contentions that they might have gotten a little stale meets with immediate rebuttal!
"Maybe you know something we don't, but as far as we can tell the public haven't deserted us!" It certainly seems that if even a little momentum were indeed lost, it's quickly regained with the Quincy collaboration.
"Working with Quincy was a beautiful experience for all of us! He's been truly an angel," states Kevin, "and although I had a different concept of what to expect — someone who just wasn't approachable — turned out to be the complete opposite. He took the ball and just ran with it — he fitted in real well with what we're all about and we all just sat around and rapped."
Chaka notes that "It didn't even seem like he was producing! He leaves a lot of alternatives open — it's more about options of how to do things rather than a hard and fast set way."
Tony Maiden concurs: "We had a lot of input — in fact, we wrote most of the material ourselves, Quincy wrote a couple of things and we re-did "Body Heat" of course. I feel that the sound on the album is more mature, it's thicker. The technical aspects — the way it was mixed — gave it a different sound but it's still essentially Rufus."
Anyone who's had the opportunity to hear the music will agree that it puts Rufus right into today's grooves although the members state "it wasn't a pre-conceived attempt at being commercial — sure, we went to get a hit but we didn't go in to change what we're all about."
Indeed, the members of the group are particularly vocal about the way they see their music and what it's all about. "Although it's become rare for people to say it, we're about playing the music and enjoying it and about music as an art." Chaka's particularly vehement on the subject: "I think art is pure and I think that it's been raped and whored because of greed and selfishness — people no longer respect music as an art form the way they should. And that to me is a real sin."
She admits that maybe "people are listening just a little more which suggests that they're not as dumb as some folks would have you believe. Generally, they seem to be more appreciative of musicianchip and what the art of music is about."
Since Rufus' approach to the subject leans more towards the artistic side, does that affect their goals and ambitions? "we don't have a final destination," Chaka, Tony & Kevin agree. "We're not looking to conquer the world or find the "ultimate" in commercial success. It goes back to what we were saying and playing, we wouldn't be doing it, right?"
Of course, realistically, the group does have a deal with the music business but since they are firmly convinced about their attitude to the music as art rather than just business, "we keep managers and business people around us working on our behalf who deal with the music industry, for us. That way, we don't have to deal with it face to face all the time. But we do make sure that everyone understands that they're working for and with us, and not the other way around!"
With the time spent on the solo albums, the aggregation hasn't been on the road together for over a year. Chaka toured last year to support her album but she confesses "it was kinda trying — there was definitely a lack of groove! Tony (Maiden) came out just to oversee it all but it was hard" and the other members of Rufus agree that "we've missed being out there because that's what it's really all about. You spend hours and days getting ready for that one little hour onstage that makes it all worthwhile."
All agree that "performing is the essence of what we're all about — we really get off on it." Rufus have never concentrated their efforts onstage into using special effects noting that "with Chaka, we're visual enough!" and no doubt, audiences (and particularly male portion of same) would have to agree.
The resultant excess energy that Rufus and Chaka have had from not being on the road have hardly been wasted. One immediate effect has been what Chaka calls "the off-the-road baby boom" referring to her newly-acquired six-month old son Damien. Keyboardist Kevin has two children of his own so he's been able to spend "more time with my family" and members of the group have been channeling some of that energy they use on the road into independent production projects — everyone's involved with something with Bobby Watson (Bassist for the group) and David "Hawk" Wolinski (the group's other keyboardist) currently wrapping up work in Los Angeles.
With their temporary absences from the road/performing scene, there have been suggestions that other groups have attempted to step into Rufus' position in the marketplace. Chaka and co. agree that "there are people who have imitated us — no names but they know who they are! But we take it as a compliment and we don't worry about it because we know that there's no substitute for the real thing!"
Not being on the road also meant being basically away from each other — Chaka doing one thing, members of the group doing another, so how did it feel to be apart? "Let's just say that absence really makes the heart grow fonder! When we got back together all at once for the first time again this year, it was at Quincy's house and it was just great! A really serious reunion!"
Rufus & Chaka agree that their main aim presently is "to maintain ourselves at the level we've reached. It's almost more difficult doing that than just reaching for the top. But there's so much more to Rufus than the public has even seen yet. So many different facets that have yet to be explored so we've got quite a lot more to achieve. Most important is to keep the music flowing, keep it spontaneous and not make it too calculated as it's become with so many people."
In concrete terms, the team will be touring Europe shortly and then it's into a domestic tour of the US in the spring of next year which will "incorporate music from this new album, our old hits and material from both of our solo projects — so it's going to be a dynamite show!" After which, Chaka's second Arif Mardin-produced album will be out and Rufus will start on their second one without the vivacious Ms. Khan.
With "Masterjam" proving to be a veritable monster, no one need doubt that the team are certainly on course, notching up some more gold to add to the collection they've gotten over the years with hits like "Tell Me Something Good", "At Midnight", "Sweet Thing", "Stop On By" and "Hollywood".
Ask any Rufus fan if they love what they feel after this album and the answer is sure to be a resounding yes!
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.