Taka Boom was born Yvonne Stevens in Chicago, Illinois on October 8, 1954; a year and a half after her sister Yvette, better known as Chaka Khan, had arrived into this world. The two sisters aren't the only musically inclined siblings in the family. Brother Mark, born 1960, is a vocalist/bassist -who you may remember as the lead singer in The Jamaica Boys- and although her vocal capabilities are unknown, youngest sister Tammy is a different, but nevertheless heavy force in the music industry, as both Chaka and Taka's personal manager.
Taka and Chaka (or Bonnie and Yvette, as they still call each other) grew up in a middle class household in the university area of Chicago. Charles, their father, was a photographer and an avid Jazz fan, while their mother, Sandra, worked at the Public Opinion Research Center. According to some sources I encountered while doing research for the interview, Sandra sang Opera, a piece of information Taka found very amusing.
"No, she never did, at least not to my knowledge", Taka laughed. "At best, I'd say my mother is a cabaret kind of singer. She likes Barbra Streisand, Gladys Knight and I have memories growing up, from a very young age, hearing even Doris Day at home. My mother loves Pop and R&B and my father's always been into Jazz. Chaka and I don't have a Gospel background at all. We were Catholics, so we really weren't exposed to it."
By constantly hearing music and singing from day one, it seems as if none of the two sisters can remember exactly when and how their remarkable talent began to show. But in their pre-teens, after harmonizing together around the house and at their mothers card parties, they felt secure enough to form their first group, The Crystalettes.
"It was myself, Chaka and two other girls named Nicki and Vanessa", Taka recalled. "The group was a singing group and we were all dressed alike and we sang Top 40 Soul songs from that period. We did theater work, a lot of shows and venues that were theater-like, as opposed to clubs. We did loads of talent shows that were open to the public."
Taka Boom (1979)Following the break-up of the Crystalettes, Chaka and Taka joined The Shades of Black, an outfit which was light years away from the cute dresses and Top 40 format. "Yeah, that was later on in the sixties. That was also during a black awareness period in the States. We sang African songs and we were all vegetarians and wore African garments. That's when we changed our names from Yvonne and Yvette to Taka and Chaka. It was a very cultural time and it was good while it lasted. The Shades of Black went on for two years and we still stayed in the theater kind of environment, we didn't do too many club dates, because it was not a venue that would cater to our type of music. So, when the group broke up, we were still in and out of school, deciding what we were gonna do about that. I think it was at around that time when we both decided to drop out of high-school. She (Chaka) did it her second year and when I got to my second year, I did it too. Chaka and I were very rebellious, there was a lot of running away from home, no meeting of the minds with our mother, you know. But we behaved like any predicable, rebellious teenager, I guess. That was also around the time we joined our own groups. I don't remember the names of all the groups that Chaka was in, but one of them was Baby Huey and The Baby Sitters. She was lead singer for that, after Baby Huey passed away. I think she did something with Lock and Chain, which is a local Chicago group and they're really good. I joined a group called Sweet Fire, which was a nine-piece rock band with a three-piece horn section. We did Top 40 rock. The gigs were mostly local, but that's when I did the clubs, I did all the rock venues on the north side of Chicago, the rock venues that had any kind of name. That lasted for at least two and a half years."
Taka Boom (1981)By 1970, Chaka had ran away from home for good and lived in Los Angeles. Some two years later, Taka packed her bags and followed. There, Taka met and married saxophonist John Brumbach and after taking on her husband's nick, "Boom", Taka's stage name was complete. Since then, Taka's re-married, but she's kept her first husband's unusual nick name. Where on earth did he get it from, I wondered?
"He used to blow up the ground, because he built in-ground swimming pools. This was in Illinois. He helped build the pool as well, but he was also responsible for detonating the ground, so they nicknamed him 'Boom'. He played tenor sax with a lot of people. Boom's worked with Rufus, The Gap Band, Bloodstone, Dennis Coffey and Parliament-Funkadelic. He's got a solo on the 'Mothership Connection' album, on 'P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked up)'. So we're both on that album. I'm on three Parliament-Funkadelic albums. But I was not a Bride, that's a misconception. I would have liked to, though, I think they both were great groups, but that just didn't happen. As a matter of fact, I never really worked with the Brides or Parlet, but I had a really good friendship with George (Clinton) and whenever he was in the studio with Parliament, he would call me. I would go in and do backgrounds and that's really the extent of that. I also did some work with Bootsy. This was on one of his later albums, one that he recorded in New York. That was in the eighties, though."
Just a few years after arriving in Los Angeles, Taka was already an established member of the East Coast session and live vocalist Mafia. The early- to mid seventies were busy years, indeed.
"I did work with Carl Carlton, he had a hit with 'Everlasting Love' when I was on the road with him. D.J. Rogers, I did the album 'Say You Love Me' with him and I did some demos with The Gap Band, when they'd just come to L.A. from Tulsa. Marc Bolan, Chaka, Parliament-Funkadelic, I did a lot of studio sessions with all those people. Those were really crazy days. I remember doing some sessions with Sly Stone in L.A., sessions I never got paid for."
Undisputed Truth 'Method To The Madness' (LP, 1976)In 1976, Taka was auditioned by Norman Whitfield, who needed a female vocalist for The Undisputed Truth. Whitfield had just left Motown Records and set up his own, Warner-distributed label, Whitfield Records. Suitably impressed by Taka's voice, which has been described as having " the range and power of a diva, the Soul of a Gospel singer and the energy of a rocker", Whitfield immediately hired her. The Undisputed Truth had been formed in 1970 and was Whitfield's brainchild; serving up an exquisite mix of psychedelic Rock, Funk and Soul, the same formula Whitfield had used on The Temptations. The Undisputed Truth enjoyed their biggest hit with "Smiling Faces Sometimes" in 1971, but had since then gone through a number of personnel changes. When Taka came on board, the only remaining member from the original line-up was the husky-voiced Joe Harris (Tyrone "Lil Ty" Barkley and Calvin "Dhaakk" Stephenson had joined in 1973). "Method To The Madness" was the groups' seventh album and yielded the hit singles "You + Me=Love" and "Let's Go Down To The Disco".
"'You + Me' was the hit on that and that secretly went Gold. It was very underground Disco, it was just very low-key how it went Gold, that's what I mean. Working with the guys in Undisputed was a lot of fun. Joe Harris was a funny, very witty, intelligent man, but a bit paranoid. You know, when you're working with Motown people that's probably one of the best defenses you could have. The paranoia comes with the territory. He was a lot of fun and so were the two other guys, Tyrone and Dhaakk. Dhaakk portrayed like a cosmic witch doctor on stage, we all wore just very strange and amazing clothing. It was very bizarre, now that I look back at it. The music was really out there too and I loved it. It was a great experience for me to work with Norman, but I fell out of love with the whole project and with him. We had a few confrontations that weren't really nice. I stood up to him and there was not a lot of that going on in his interactions with other people. Norman was unpredictable. You sort of felt like you were walking on nails around him. It was never a laid-back, easy kind of vibe happening between him and someone else. It was always some tension there. Norman was like a slave master with a whip, whereas George (Clinton) was fun, he was just a fool. But both their presences are very overbearing, but in different ways. I left Undisputed Truth because I didn't like the way things were ran. Norman, having total creative control. He was the writer, the producer, the arranger, the costume designer, the album co-ordinator.. Everything! The people he's worked with, they've been talented and they've had things to offer, but you know, he just had to run everything. But it was worth it enough to me, to deal with him and put up with that, because I admired him so. I thought he was just a super talented man and a brilliant personality. His track record and reputation proceeded him naturally, but I didn't know what kind of guy he was until I started working with him. So I suffered from that, but I learned a lot from Norman, things that I'm so grateful for today. I'm talking about things in my singing."
Glass Family (LP, 1978)After Taka left The Undisputed Truth, she became the lead vocalist for The Glass Family, which was a Disco project, assembled by Jim Callon. Callon produced The Glass Family's E.P. and issued it on his own, independent label JDC in 1978. The catchy single "Mr. DJ. You Know How To Make Me Dance" was a big club hit and reached #88 on Billboard's R&B chart in November that year. The three-tracks mini-LP also contained a song called "No One Can Find Love" and the 16 minutes long (!) "Disco Concerto", which was divided into four parts. The credits boasted performances from horn players Fred Wesley and "Boom", plus guitarist/producer/arranger/writer Paul Sabu, who was a hot name on the Disco scene at the time. (Among others, Sabu worked with Debbie Jacobs, famed for "Don't You Want My Love" on MCA).
In 1979, Taka was signed as a solo artist to Ariola-America. On the self-titled debut, she was backed by some of the hottest musicians in the industry at the time; including members of Rare Earth and Tower of Power, plus of course "Boom" on horns, Chaka on backing vocals and brother Mark on bass. The LP spawned the R&B top 20 (Pop #74) hit single "Night Dancin'" and the less commercially successful -but equally smoking- Disco monster "Red Hot". The album hid a few surprises too, like the ultra funky "Dance Like You Do At Home" and "Cloud Dancer", a rather odd mid-tempo ballad which Taka wrote and produced herself.
"'Dance Like You Do At Home' is really a fun song, but when I hear 'Cloud Dancer' today I think: Ohhh, God, you must be kidding!" Taka said and roared with laughter. "That song helped me to start my publishing company, which is T-Boom publishing and that's the only song that's ever been in it. 'Night Dancin' went Gold and John Ryan produced that. His claim to fame was producing the group Air Supply. It's amazing that John was able to do Air Supply and 'Night Dancin', because the two styles are so different! Yeah, that was a good album. I worked with some great people. That record used to give me a stroke when I did P.A.'s with it, though. Aww, it was so fast and so wordy and just really high-energy! Ariola America was a strong company, they had Amii Stewart, a group called Chanson and a bunch of other people and they did quite well. I think they had been in the business for ten years or something. But when I came on the mutha and did "Night Dancin'" they decided to fold, right when it was time for my second single. I wasn't too happy about that."
Dream Machine (LP, 1981)In 1980, Taka re-united with Norman Whitfield. Whitfield asked her to participate in his Dream Machine project, which was a self-contained group "Brother Whit" assembled and got signed with RCA. Besides Taka, Dream Machine contained former Undisputed Truth members Joe Harris, Melvin Stewart, and Lloyd Williams, as well as Trey Stone, a sought-after session guitarist Whitfield had utilized on various recording projects before. The remaining members were James McKinney, Ron Artis and Pete Carr, all three excellent musicians, hand-picked by Whitfield. Dream Machine's first single, "Shakedown", was an instant club hit, but failed to reach the national charts. The subsequent album -which also contained the heavy-duty funky "Dream Machine", "Living Too High" and "The Force"- was for some reason neglected and eventually Dream Machine were dropped from RCA. Whitfield continued to request Taka's services and among other things, she sang backgrounds on the female duo Stargard's splendid "Back 2 Back" LP in 1982 and even though she wasn't credited for it, did the vocal arrangements for Rose Royce's "Still In Love", taken from their 1982-LP "Stronger Than Ever".
That same year, Taka decided to move to New York and was offered a deal by the legendary Dance label Prelude Records. Her first effort on Prelude, "Love Party" from 1982, is a foot-stomping Funk workout, but the fast and rampantly electronic follow-up "To Hell With Him", which followed in 1983 is a single that Taka feels is best forgotten.
"Oh, God! I had blocked that one out! Isn't it horrible? You know who produced that? Bob Esty! He did 'Enough is Enough' with Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer!"
Boomerang (LP, 1983)Those, and six more tracks, were included on Taka's uneven 1984 album "Boomerang", an LP that interestingly enough was released on both Mercury and Prelude, plus a number of other labels. Next to well-known musicians, such as guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr. and percussionist Paulinho DaCosta, several non-American sounding names appear on the jacket, such as Christian De Walden (executive producer) and Juergen Koppers (remixer).
"Juergen Koppers was a huge remixer in the seventies, he's quite big, actually. I remember one of the high-points of making that album was that Juergen was gonna do some of the remixing. Christian De Walden was from Rome, Italy and he was just a worldly kind of guy. He used to ship the masters to wherever the records were done and have the masters shipped back. He was doing stuff like that all the time. That album, when the masters were done, Chris took them to MIDEM and I ended up getting something like eight or nine record deals! So that album was on like eight different labels throughout the world. For the Portuguese version of Boomerang' , I was asked to re-record 'Let It Burn' with the lyrics translated to Portuguese! I think it did a little something, but I'm not really sure."
In The Middle Of The Night (LP, 1985)Not long after, Prelude folded and Taka found herself without a record deal. While reading the New York publication Village Voice, she noticed an ad that looked interesting and decided to answer. It had been placed by a certain Billy Rush. "Billy used to be the guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and he also produced and played guitar in Southside Johnny and The Jukes", Taka explained. The two met in Billy's home studio in New Jersey and what was planned as a short meeting, became a week-long stay, during which Taka and Billy recorded five tracks. Billy took the tapes to Mirage/Atlantic Records, who wanted more. The Pop-Dance single "In The Middle Of the Night" was yet another huge club favorite on both sides of the Atlantic that left little trace on the charts (it struggled to #63 on Billboard's R&B chart in November, 1985). The LP, also entitled "Middle Of The Night", featured a host of guest appearances by top-notch musicians; Bashiri Johnson, Lenny Pickett and Philip Field, just to name a few. Session pro's Cindy Mizelle and Fonda Rae supplied the backgrounds, as did sister Chaka and brother Mark
"Believe it or not, but that label also folded, soon after my first single was released", Taka said and laughed. "I moved back to L.A. Nothing was happening, so in '91, I moved to Phoenix and that's where I met my husband and that's also where I started working with local musicians and getting more familiar with the Blues. Phoenix has a quite large Blues community. I stayed in Phoenix for two or three years, then I came out here (London)."
But before she relocated, Taka wrote, produced and recorded "Feel Good all Over", a song she says she never received a penny from. Apparently "a criminal who I am contemplating pressing charges against" stole the masters and sold it to the American Cult label, where the record eventually came out in the mid-nineties. By the summer of 1995, Taka had fully settled in her U.K. home and recorded the danceable "Lost In The Rhythm Of Love" (as Taka Boom and The Grove), which was issued on the British Indochina imprint. That turned out to be a short-lived situation, but not long after, Taka began a radically different and exciting career, as the lead vocalist in The Blues of Cain, a bass, guitar and drums Blues ensemble. You've done a little bit of everything; Soul, R&B, Rock and Disco, when did you begin singing the Blues, I asked?
"I've done it all my life, I just didn't know I was doing it" Taka replied. "Because when you do R&B and Soul music, it's so similar. It's really the same thing. If you hear an uptempo Blues song, it's so close to R&B. But there are so many variations of the Blues."
The Blues of Cain have their base camp in London, but are popular on the other side of the British channel as well and travels to France quite often. But don't let this fool you into thinking that Taka's abandoned Dance music or recording, for that matter. On the contrary, she's busier than ever. In the spring of '97, Taka bounced back on the Dance charts via "Surrender", recorded as Rainbow Connection. The brain behind this project happens to be this scribe's favorite Dance/House music producer and remixer, namely Joey Negro (real name Dave Lee), who is Joey Negro/Dave Lee at the controls of his Disco Factory one of Britain's top names in Dance music. Apart from his own recordings under various disguises, Lee has produced and remixed a huge number of records for artists including The Brand New Heavies, Pauline Henry, Take That, M-People, Alison Limerick, Freakpower, Lisa Stansfield and more recently Monaco, Reel 2 Real and The Knowledge. Taka isn't the first "veteran", Lee's collaborated with. In 1996, he cut two exquisite singles on Thelma Houston ("I Need Somebody" & "U.R. All Of That") and has worked with several other "old-school artists", such as Gwen Guthrie, in the past. The extremely catchy "Surrender" 12" was released on Lee's own Z label May. In case you haven't heard his previous recordings, Dave Lee's work is characterized by a strong 70's Disco-influence, stemming from a genuine love for (and near-insane knowledge of) that era, so this Boom/Negro collaboration is truly a match made in heaven.
"It was so ironic", Taka laughed. "'You know, 'Surrender' is a cover and Fonda Rae did the original (as Rainbow Brown). Fonda's a Disco diva out of New York and she was my best buddy the whole time I lived in New York. Me and Fonda were just inseparable and it was so funny that Dave would say 'Look, I want you to do this song' . I had never heard it before, but when he played it for me I said 'hmm, that voice sounds familiar, who is that singing?' I thought I would die when he told me who it was, because me and Fonda did so many PA's and track dates together in New York! It was a pleasant surprise that he should choose that song and I told Dave 'anything by Fonda I'll do. I love that girl'. Dave is a great guy to work with and I like the stuff he's doing. He let me do my thing, I mean, he played me the Fonda Rae record, but unlike some other producers that might have said 'sing it just like that', Dave insisted on me having the freedom I needed to do my particular rendition. I haven't really run into any problems in that area, when it comes to that part of the recording, though, because I've sort of let people know that 'I've heard the original and OK, I think it's cute and all, that but this is how I'm gonna do it" and they're usually happy with the result. But I loved working with Dave. I'll work with him again any day."
Taka BoomThe follow-up to "Surrender" was the bottom-heavy "U Turn Me On"/"Can't Get High Without U", which lyrically is (loosely) based on the 1982 Tomorrow's Edition track of the same name. That 12" was also issued on Dave Lee's Z imprint, in July, under his Joey Negro alter ego. Not having heard any of Taka's post-'85 recordings, I was pleased to note that on both of the new singles, Taka's voice is in fine shape. In fact, she sounds better than ever and the tracks really suit her easily-identifiable voice.
-I'm constantly reminding myself that 'I don't have to holler this song. I don't have to, there's not a need for that to be done'", Taka laughed as we discussed her unique vocal style. "I wanna give the song I'm singing some energy, but I don't wanna go over the top. I'm constantly telling myself that, because my 'U+Me' training is still very vivid and when I'm in the studio and on stage, I usually have a 'U+Me' approach and I have to say 'hold it' (laughs). It's good to start with too much, though, and then you can subtract. But if you start with too little, the building up is difficult. So I look at it like that. I'd rather have too much of anything than not enough."
In between gigging with The Blues of Cain and recording with Dave Lee, Taka's been in the studio with British-Indian ragga-artist Apache Indian (she sings on "Jump Up", a single from Apache's "Real People" album on WEA Records). And there are many more exciting things to look out for in the near future.
"I just did an advert for Opal Fruits, which is a candy here. It's a TV commercial, but I'm just doing the singing on it, and I've never done that kind of thing before, so that was a whole lot of fun. And I've got a single coming out on XL Records with a group called The Source, which you may remember from the song "You Got The Love" that they did with Candi Staton. It's actually not a group, just one guy, John Truelove, and it was his idea to re-do one of Chaka's songs called "Clouds". It's a song from the 'Naughty' album, Ashford and Simpson wrote it in 1980. So, I'm doing a Dance version of that and I'm working with the guy who got me the session with Apache, Mark Bell, formerly of M-People. He lives in Blackpool and he's just started his own label called Sha Boom Records! (laughs). So he said 'with a name like that, Taka, I have to have you on the label, doing something'."