Last Night A Record Changed My Life

Chaka Khan Soul-Jazz Queen Salutes Joni Michell's Hejira

by Chaka Khan
June 2008


I think I must have heard it when it first came out in the late '70s [1976], or maybe a bit later. I was doing a bunch of tours of the States, on a bus, and it was a pretty stressful time. I was 'self medicating' a lot then, and I'd get it on in the back room on the bus, get blasted and put on HEJIRA and look out the window and see some of the very things that she'd be singing about. I saw the farmhouse burning down in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Things like that seemed to keep happening to me when I was listening to that record.

Coyote is one of my favourites. It's talking about guys on the road—like a guy's trying to chat a woman up in a bar and, "He's got a woman at home and another woman down the hall, but he seems to want me anyway." And Refuge Of The Roads, that's my all-time favourite: "I met a friend of spirit, he drank and womanised, and we laughed how our perfection, would always be denied." Brilliant lines, beautiful wording. She's got an amazing body of work. I love her, I wanna grow up to be like her!

Joni's my friend, and we've talked about many, many things, but I don't think we've talked much about this album. I can't recall where we first met, probably at a show back in the fuzzy days. Now I'll sing her songs to her and she'll be (very close Joni impersonation), "Wow, I forgot I did that one."

She got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Canada and after we hung out and I told her I was planning to cover Two Grey Rooms. She said, "No, no, you've got to do Ladies Man, it was written for you." So I did it on FUNK THIS. It talks about players and almost every woman has had contact with a player or two, especially if they're on the road. Some marry 'em!

HEJIRA is about running away and finding refuge in the road. And I did. I still do. I bitch about it but sometimes I'm very happy to get on that plane. I've been touring pretty much my entire adult life. I missed dating, proms, all that stuff, a lot of life really. Sometimes it really feels like my suitcase is my home. I do my show, get back to the hotel, see if there's anything on the telly...I'm a grandmother now! But that doesn't mean I don't like to party and have fun, I go out...but I've seen it all, y'know?

As told to Dave Oliver

Chaka Khan's FUNK THIS is out on Burgundy/Sony BMG

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