“He started playing that ‘wakka-wakka’ on the keyboard, and - bam! - there it was”: Chaka Khan on hearing Stevie Wonder playing the Clav intro to Tell Me Something Good for the first time - but only after telling him she didn't like one of his other songs

Chaka Khan Stevie Wonder
(Image credit: KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images)

He might not have played it on the final recording, but the Clavinet intro to Rufus’s Tell Me Something Good has Stevie Wonder’s fingerprints all over it.

The song, of course, was written by Wonder, and now Chaka Khan, Rufus’s lead singer, has recalled the moment that she first heard that unmistakable Clav groove.

In one of those twists of fate that music history is full of, it turns out that Khan’s introduction to Tell Me Something Good only came after she’d told Wonder that she wasn’t keen on another song that he was offering her.

Speaking to The Independent, Khan says that Wonder dropped into the studio when Rufus were recording their second album (their first, eponymous 1973 LP had included a cover of his 1972 song, Maybe Your Baby). Wonder played them an unreleased song of his called Come and Get This Stuff, which would later be recorded by Syreeta, and suggested that Rufus might like to have it. However, Khan wasn’t keen.

“I told Stevie, ‘I don’t like it - what else you got?’,” she recalls. Asked whether this was the kind of reaction Wonder was used to getting at that time, when he could seemingly do no wrong, Khan says, “I wasn’t thinking about that. I just tell the truth all the time, and I can’t help it. It upsets people sometimes. But hell, if the truth upsets you I can’t really help that.” 

Stevie didn’t take offence, though - he just moved on to something else; or, more specifically, ‘something good’.

Picking up the story, Khan says: “Stevie said, ‘What’s your birth sign?’ Aries. ‘Oh, I got the song for you…’ And then he started playing that ‘wakka-wakka’ on the keyboard, and - bam! - there it was.”

Later in her career, Khan would have a hit with a song written and originally recorded by another legend: I Feel For You, by Prince. “I just liked the song, and I recorded it, and I went home,” she says of the relevant day in the studio in 1984, but her producer, Arif Mardin, had a surprise in store.

“That night, Arif called in the rapper [Grandmaster Melle Mel],” reveals Khan. “His move, not mine. I came in the next day and heard the rapper’s introduction and… I was devastated. This guy, saying my name over and over, and what he wants to do to me… I was like, Oh, hell no.”

Mardin, though, was convinced, telling Khan not to worry because she had a hit on her hands.

“I just shut up then,” says Khan, “because as I always told Arif, I can’t tell a hit from a non-hit - I love all my songs - but he was trained to do that. And that track did its thing, it kept me current. But I’ll never get used to the rapper saying my name over and over and over again.”

Chaka Khan and Prince remained friends and occasional collaborators until his death, in 2016. Here they are performing I Feel For You with - well what do you know? - Stevie Wonder.

Head to the Chaka Khan website for current tour dates and ticket details.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.