Rock Hall Special: The Musical Excellence Of Chaka Khan, Al Kooper & Bernie Taupin

Photo of Chaka KHAN and RUFUS & CHAKKA KHAN
She’s Every Woman: Chaka Khan performs with Rufus circa 1970. | Photo by Echoes / Redferns / Getty Images

Chaka Khan: Beyond The Queen Of Funk
A week before this magazine went to press the world was introduced to the latest Chaka Khan collaboration with the single “Tekken 2” by indie rock band Bombay Bicycle Club.
“I challenge anyone to tell me someone who’s done as many collaborations as she has – and especially with such a broad diverse group of artists. She’s collaborated with the greats, like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Prince to artists today like Ariana Grande and Mary J. Blige … and she’s got some really exciting new collabs coming next year,” Tammy Michelle, COO of Chaka Khan Enterprises, manager and sister to Khan, tells Pollstar.

“We just like to keep people guessing – what’s Chaka gonna come up with next? … She always gets coined the Queen of Funk but Chaka is so much broader than that. I mean, her roots are in rock music. The very first album that she bought was Led Zeppelin.”

As Khan’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame page declares, “Funk queen, rock goddess, jazz singer, disco diva – Chaka Khan embodies and transcends these.”

After being nominated multiple times as a solo artist and with Rufus (with highlights including their breakout 1974 hit “Tell Me Something Good”), Khan is finally getting her due with the Award for Musical Excellence, “given to artists, musicians, songwriters and producers whose originality and influence creating music have had a dramatic impact on music.”

Khan – who is also known for her electric live performances, from touring with Prince in the late ’90s, following the success she found with her 1984 cover of his “I Feel For You,” to playing festivals across the globe (including Melbourne International Jazz Festival in October) – has more tour dates in the works.

“Chaka has long been on the throne as a legend of rock ‘n’ roll, so it’s thrilling to see her be recognized,” says her long-time agent David Zedeck, partner and global co-head of music, at UTA. “As an artist, performer, musician and storyteller, she has electrified generations of fans and blazed a trail for those who would follow, including the talented, powerful women who rule live music today. It has been an honor to be part of her journey, and I can’t wait for her upcoming tour and the opportunity to watch firsthand as she shares her magic with a new generation.”

Al Kooper Plays The Great Southeast Music Hall, Atlanta
Putting In Blood, Sweat & Tears: Al Kooper performs at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta on July 12, 1973. Photo by Tom Hill WireImage / Getty Images

Al Kooper: ‘The Original Selfless Soul Turned Icon’
Where to start when it comes to the influence that composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer, arranger, and producer Al Kooper has had on music? He discovered and produced Lynyrd Skynyrd and co-founded Blood, Sweat & Tears. That’s on top of playing on recordings by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, George Harrison, B.B. King, Tom Petty and many more.

“Al was the original selfless soul turned icon who truly did whatever it took to serve the song, and I don’t just mean any song,” says Jay Sweet, executive producer of Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival. “Guitar player doing a spur of the moment commando raid on the Hammond B-3 on Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ sure. Piano player turned French hornist on The Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want,’ why not? Producer turned impromptu mellotronist on Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird,’ but of course. Bear witness onstage at arguably the most seminal moment in the history of the genre, Dylan going electric at Newport? Hell, he was like the Forrest Gump of the rock and roll zeitgeist.”

Songwriting Team
Crocodile Rockers: Elton John and Bernie Taupin (left) pose for a portrait in London circa 1971. | Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Bernie Taupin: The Lyricist Of ‘Your Songs’
“Chance is an angel,” Bernie Taupin poetically puts it in his new book “Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me” as the British lyricist describes answering an ad placed by Liberty Records in the New Musical Express seeking talent and ended up meeting singer, pianist and composer Reg Dwight, who the world now knows as Elton John, in London in late 1967.

“I sense a kindred spirit: we’re outsiders looking for a way in, and I’m willing to play along … There’s nervous energy in the air, a feeling of possibility,” Taupin says.

That sense of possibility turned into one of the greatest songwriting partnerships ever, including Taupin writing the lyrics to “Your Song” in less than 10 minutes. The 1970 tune became John’s first international hit.

Later that year John took the stage at West Hollywood’s Troubadour for his first U.S. show, earning a rave from Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn, who praised Taupin’s lyrics as “capturing the same timeless, objective spirit of the Band’s Robbie Robertson.”

Along with his collaborations with John, Taupin has written for Alice Cooper, Heart, Starship and others.

John brought out Taupin during his Dodger Stadium run in November 2022, marking the final North American dates on “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” – the highest-grossing tour of all time.

“If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. … We’ve been writing together since 1967. We still love each other more than we’ve ever done before. Amazing guy, I love you,” John said. “Thank you for all the gifts.”