Second album by Chicago’s underground funk heroes gets another chance to unleash its decidedly non-commercial approximations of commercial R&B on the masses in this new reissue.
By the time they’d gotten around to record their second album in 1974, Chicago’s Rasputin Stash had dropped the possessive in their name along with a good portion of its original eight-member line-up. Signed to Curtom subsidiary Gemigo for the release of Devil Made Me Do It, they moved away from the more rock-oriented material of their self-titled debut released three years earlier on Cotillion, landing squarely in the realm of early-to-mid-‘70s funky soul. Where before they possessed more of a harder-edged, Funkadelic-inspired sound, here they smooth out the edges, tighten up the vocal arrangements and up the funk quotient.
As before, the members of Rasputin Stash, veterans of the Chicago music and studio scene all, show themselves to be far stronger in the instrumental department than in their somewhat strained and left-of-center vocals. But where others would need to rely on smooth vocals to maintain a certain level of appeal, their atypical vocals and oddball lyrics coupled with an undeniable instrumental prowess simply add to the overall appeal. On the smoke-enshrouded, pro-legalization would-be anthem “Hit It and Pass It", they deliver a muscular, bass-heavy proto-disco funk that plays like some sort of bizarro James Brown clone strutting and shouting his way through a series of pro-pot rants, heavy on the “hip” drug references. “How do you feel when the man next to you hogs the smoke / You known what I’m talkin’ about,” they sing before embarking on more than a few drug-fuel, Brown-esque “hit it and pass it's".
None of this should come as a surprise, however, given the decidedly independent sound and feel of both this and their debut. Only the wickedly funky opening track “Ooh Baby” manages to approximate the mainstream. With its Barry White-esque spoken intro and mid-tempo funk strut it’s a great lost track that would elevate any compilation on which it appeared. Encompassing all the requisite elements of mid-‘70s funk and soul, “Ooh Baby” often feels more a pastiche – especially when taken in context with the rest of the album – yet one that manages to succeed largely thanks to the instrumental prowess propelling it forward.
Similarly, “I Saw Your Face” plays like a Barry White/Philly Soul mash-up with its over-exaggerated vocals, heavily applied strings and dexterous piano playing. Lyrically and melodically it’s a step back from the immediacy of “Ooh Baby", yet it still affords a number of music left turns, including a bridge that finds the backing players pushing the song into double-time while the vocalists retain the smooth, almost legato feel of the track’s first half.
By the time hit the Meters-like funk of the title track, they’ve abandoned any and all pretense of being a mainstream funk/soul act. Essentially a nearly five-minute exercise in passing the buck, the song’s narrator spends much of the time placing the blame on the devil for his being a philandering womanizer and abuser and all around son-of-a-bitch. “Don’t want to drive you to an early grave / So try and take heed to what I say,” they sing in unison before devolving into a series of salacious grunts and wordless vocalizing. When the vocals come back in, they take the form of a nightmarish monologue that sends “Devil Made Me Do It“ into the stratosphere. It’s a decidedly noncommercial move – not to mention borderline blasphemous for a genre rooted in the church – and one which helps separate Rasputin Stash from the scores of similar under-the-radar funk/soul artists.
Devil Made Me Do It may not be a lost classic, but for those who like their funk and soul decidedly left-of-center and full of exceptional playing and absurdist lyrics (check “I Can Feel Your Jones” in particular) there will be much to enjoy. The rest will just need forget the vocals and lyrics, let the rhythm take over and get their asses out on the dance floor.