I remember Chaka Khan exploding onto the brand-new MTV video scene back in the early ’80’s with her hit I Feel For You. It turns out that I Feel For You was actually written by Prince, and his own recording of the song was included on his second album.
Who knew? Certainly not me.
Similarly, I had no idea at the time that Chaka Khan was already an established artist, and her MTV-aimed single/video was meant to usher in her solo career after having already scored three gold records as part of the band Rufus, a tenure during which she became known as the Queen Of Funk. But like I say, who knew?
Though I remember hearing about the Prince/Chaka Khan connection a long time ago I actually didn’t hear about Rufus until just a year before this ticket story, when I had to learn one of their songs for a gig.
The song was called Tell Me Something Good and it’s a bit of a weird one. It drops a beat right before the chorus, making it an odd song to count, plus there is an obvious descending guitar part that is actually a deception. Good tune, but a bit weird.
I remember the first time we rehearsed it we completely nailed it. Perfect. Then all of a sudden one of the guitar players mentioned how he was counting it.
“NO!” I screamed. “Don’t tell anyone how you’re counting it! I’m sure some of us are counting it differently but we’ve all got it, let’s just move on,” I begged. Pleaded, even.
Well, of course you know what happened next. The dude insisted, “Oh come on, it’s no big deal, you just count it like…” to which someone else said, “Really? That’s strange, because I’m counting it like…”
“No, it’s supposed to be…”
“But I’m hearing it like…”
We never, ever got it right again. We ended up dropping it from the set list. Seriously. And I mean we had it down on that first run-through.*
Jerry Garcia once said something like, “People always want to talk about music after they play it but the conversation is usually pretty boring and not at all beneficial.” I couldn’t agree more.
Anyway, on June 25th, 2018 Chaka Khan was the evening’s headliner at the Ottawa Jazz Fest, and because of that previous gig of mine I now knew two of Chaka Khan’s songs and I was actually quite looking forward to hearing at least one of them. And of course when the band played Tell Me Something Good I was happily counting away in my head the whole time (my way, of course).
I was impressed when Ms. Khan introduced her guitar player as being the original player from the Rufus days, so I assume it was Al Ciner. Regardless, he was great and super-funky. And he even played the guitar part right.
But really, it was a two-song night for me. And about eight beers.
*Not that there wouldn’t be a “right” way of counting a song…of course there would be. If you gathered a bunch of professional music theorists and musicologists together for a symposium I’m confident there would ultimately be agreement of the proper way to count pretty much any song. But rock musicians are generally not professional music theorists or musicologists, and to get down to the brass tacks, most rock players are either self-taught** or were taught by someone who was self-taught, so we’re all just trying to get things done, one way or another. It generally all works out in the end but man, if you ask a player what he’s thinking inside you might discover that…well, it’s usually better to just not ask.
**It’s interesting to note that if you are self-taught in any discipline that means your teacher had no idea what they were doing when they were teaching you.