The Origins of Rufus
The original lineup of Rufus consisted of members of the band The American Breed, a rock band active from 1958 to 1970. The group evolved into Rufus after scoring a top ten hit, “Bend Me, Shape Me.”
Members Gary Loizzo, Al Ciner, Charles Colbert, and Lee Graziano teamed up with new musicians Kevin Murphy, Paulette McWilliams, James Stela, and Vern Pilder to form the band Smoke. Not long after, Smoke got new managers, who encouraged them to change their name to “Ask Rufus.” Eventually, the group dropped the “Ask.”
The band got their name from the column of the same name in Mechanics Illustrated.
At the beginning, Chaka Khan wasn’t in the group – she joined after the band had already been through their first record contract.
Ask Rufus was signed by Epic Records in 1971, recording an album that was never released by the label. Not long after, they got dropped from the Epic roster.
After getting dropped from Epic in 1972, the band went through lineup changes, recruiting Chaka Khan after Paulette McWilliams decided to leave the group.
How the Band Made It Big
With Chaka Khan as their new lead singer, the group was offered a deal by ABC Dunhill, who got the group to sign a contract in 1973. At this point, they’d changed their name to just “Rufus” and were performing alongside the likes of Minnie Riperton and Rotary Connection.
Not long after the band got their deal with ABC Dunhill, Ike and Tina Turner tried to recruit Chaka Khan to become an Ikette, one of their backup singers and dancers. She declined, saying she was determined to stick with Rufus.
In 1974, the group released “Tell Me Something Good,” a song written by Stevie Wonder, and “You Got the Love,” co-written by Chaka Khan. Both of these songs became huge hits, and the band’s album Rags to Rufus went Platinum as a result.
“Tell Me Something Good,” which is still one of the group’s biggest hits to date, earned the band their first Grammy.
The Late 70s: Infighting and Tension, But More Success
During the latter half of the 70s, tensions rose between Chaka Khan and Rufus’s drummer, Andre Fischer. At one point, Fischer got into a fight with Richard Holland, Chaka Khan’s husband at the time, which created more issues within the group.
In 1977, the band released Ask Rufus, which was a huge success. The album contained the hits “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up),” Hollywood,” and “Everlasting Love.” However, after the tour for Ask Rufus, Andre Fischer left the group, with Nate Morgan joining the lineup to replace him as drummer.
Chaka Khan Goes Solo
After Ask Rufus, the band put out one more record with Chaka Khan, Street Player. The album was a success, with the single “Stay” getting the most airplay. However, not long after the release of Street Player, Chaka Khan began focusing primarily on her solo career. She released Chaka Khan, her self-titled debut, in 1978.
Chaka’s solo album went Platinum, drawing the attention away from Rufus and putting her in the spotlight. She scored a massive hit with the single “I’m Every Woman,” which is still one of her best-loved songs among fans.
A Temporary Breakup
In the 1980s, Rufus performed for a time without Chaka Khan, who continued to release highly successful solo records. The band couldn’t maintain momentum without Khan as their frontwoman, and several of their albums released during this period flew under the radar.
Rufus started talking about splitting after the release of their album Seal in Red in 1983. However, they were determined to release a live album first. The band recruited Chaka Khan to rejoin them for one last performance, which would be released as Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live.
The album became a huge hit, making it to No. 4 on the Billboard R&B Charts. After its release, the band split up temporarily, and Chaka Khan continued to focus on her solo career. The group reunited in the 2000s, continuing to play as Rufus and supporting Khan on her solo albums. They’ve been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame multiple times.