It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, nineteen-seventy something, and I’m riding home on the public bus from White Plains, New York, a freshly purchased copy of Rufusized in hand. Little did I know that I would be blown away by the excitement of the opening track, marveling at the audacious vocals of a unique singer that would soon become one of my lifelong favorites.
“Once you get started, oh it’s hard to stop…”
And I never have stopped loving the shouts, growls and soulful purring of the artist who has influenced generations of R&B singers. I followed that fateful purchase with the earlier Rags to Rufus, then anxiously awaited every subsequent release from Rufus, followed by Chaka’s solo albums throughout the eighties. Rufus’ sound featured Chaka’s lead and multi-tracked background vocals. This wall of Chaka is well represented here on Sweet Thing, just one of her numerous signature songs. Tony Maiden adds a memorable guitar lick to this classic.
Mary J Blige, an R&B giant in her own right, pays homage to her hero in this fine cover from her 1992 release What’s The 411?
Mary J later teamed up Chaka on their high energy performance Disrespectful from Chaka’s 2007 album Funk This. The duo complement each other with a lively call-and-response featuring perfectly executed vocal hand-offs throughout.
The tie in with jazz and WRVR? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I ever heard Rufus on WRVR, but Chaka’s style and sound crosses so many genres, and she has displayed a great affinity for the jazz form. No less than the immortal Betty Carter praised Chaka’s scatting on Be Bop Medley from her eponymous 1982 release.
This stunning performance followed the release of one of my all-time favorite albums, What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me from 1981. On full display is Chaka’s unequaled skill at transforming even classic compositions with unique arrangements and dynamic interpretations. Check out her twist on Dizzy’s And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night in Tunisia), followed by her elevation of the Beatles’ We Can Work It Out.
Here is the list of personnel on classic cover of the be-bop classic (Worthy of special note is the synthesizer solo by Herbie Hancock):
Track 6 “And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)”