For over 40 years, Tavares has been one of the best Northern Soul acts in America, smoothest R&B groups in Europe, and most celebrated disco bands in the world.
The live show has always impressed, and the five brothers who make up this band continue to harmonize for packed concerts everywhere they go.
Lead singer Chubby Tavares is a longtime South Florida resident, and he's bringing the whole family to Charlie Rodriguez's Miami Disco Fever night at BankUnited Center. Here's what he has to say about disco, R&B, working with James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson, and why "people just wanna dance."
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Crossfade: How has your Cape Verde heritage influenced your sound?
Chubby Tavares: It's always been an influence. My dad, Flash, was an entertainer for 60 years, and my voice and my brothers' voices were a gift from our father. The Cape Verde thing was big for all of us, especially me. He would always ask who wanted to go to his shows and I was always first to say, "Me!" He sang in Cabo Verde, the language of our country, a chain of ten islands off the west coast of Africa. I didn't know the language yet, but I learned the lyrics phonetically. Later, my grandmother and father taught me how to speak it and I ended up learning to sing it. The rhythm of the music is wonderful.
What was the first song you learned?
It went "si boujeman man cabre te jeure." It's a song about a goat. That's a famous song for Cape Verdeans.
What's your history with South Florida?
I've lived here I wanna say 30 some odd years. Right now, I live in Tamarac. This is my place. Back in the day, one of the biggest places we used to play was called Mr. Pips in Fort Lauderdale. There was also the Marco Polo Lounge in Miami. I'm goin' back to the early '70s when we started there. It was great. There was 9,000 women for every man. That's when we had our first hit on Capitol Records, called "Check It Out."
What was it like for you when your songs took off?
It was the nicest thing to ever happen to me. And being all brothers, it was a big, big inspiration that Tavares finally hit the map. In 1976, we came with our big hit "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel." And soon after that, we hooked up with the Bee Gees for a three- or four-day tour. One day, Barry Gibb said he had a song that he thought Tavares would do a great job on. That was "More Than a Woman" on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which came out in 1977, and we got a Grammy for Best Album of the Year. To this day, that album still sells.
What is the disconnect people have between R&B and disco?
Disco was just a name, like everything else. When we ended up doin' some disco, they put a label on us, but we are fundamentally a great R&B group. Disco just put us in the limelight, and that let us crossover from R&B to pop.
Any of your music been sampled?
We had quite a few samples. I believe one of our tunes got sampled by J-Lo.
How you guys doing today?
Tavares haven't stopped. We've been in the business four decades now, all the same original lineup. We have surpassed the majority of the groups we came up with in the '70s. The Four Tops are down to one original member. The Temptations are down to one original member. But Tavares have stayed together as a unit. It probably wouldn't have been like that if we weren't all brothers. But this is what it is. The same momma and the same poppa.
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Did you ever work with James Brown?
James Brown was like one of my ultimate friends. We used to run together. He was a boxer. He was a fighter. A good fighter. A Golden Glover. We met him on a show at the Apollo in Harlem. We were always friends, but he went off and we never worked together for many a days. But he was such a personable guy. And he used to call me Chub.
What was it like for you at the Apollo?
We must have made three or four trips there for talent night. And every time we got ready to get on stage, they'd run out of time, so we never got to debut there as amateurs. After that, we got ticked off. But we said, "Next time, we're coming back as professionals," and the good Lord made that true. Our first time there was as pros and we played with the O'Jays and James Brown, and when we sang "Check It Out," the people went wild.
Who else have you worked with?
We have worked with some of the best. The most ultimate was Marvin Gaye. We performed with him in Cincinnati, Detroit, and this place in England. He was my hero. Even now, I still wear a t-shirt with Marvin Gaye's face on it. We used to play basketball with him. As an artist, he had a line to God. When he came out with "What's Going On," it was before its time, and that's why that album will sell forever. He was speakin' the truth of what goes on today. My man was on top of everything. You couldn't ask for a better entertainer. One time, we were on stage singing and he came up right behind us and the whole place went into an uproar. We thought it was for Tavares, but it was really for him. But he loved the group Tavares. We used to have a lot of fun together.
Did you work with Michael Jackson?
We toured with the Jackson 5. There was a quote in one of the newspapers, I think this was in the late '70s, and they said between Tavares and the Jacksons, we had enough energy to light up all of L.A. That was a big compliment.
Who would win a sing-off between you and the King of Pop?
There's no question about Michael's talent. Between his singing and dancing, I don't know if anybody in life can compare. Credit where it's due. He was a phenomenal entertainer.
How'd you link up with Charlie Rodriguez for the Miami Disco Fever show at BankUnited Center?
Charlie's been a longtime friend for about ten or 12 years. He's always booked us into gigs. He's a great guy and we enjoy workin' for Charlie.
You have some new solo work?
I did a CD in 2012 called "Jealousy." And right now, I'm workin' on a new one.
How does it feel to still have such dedicated fans to this day?
It's all on the public. Your fans and your friends are the ones that make you successful. Without them, there would be no Tavares, and we thank them for it. We continue on and work all the time in Amsterdam and England, at least 12 times a year.
What do you think about dance music today and how you influenced it?
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This is what it's all about -- "It Only Takes A Minute," "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel," "More Than a Woman." People just wanna dance. If they're in a theater with seats, they don't care, they dance in the aisles. This music brings back memories. That's why we're doing this great Miami Disco Fever show, live and in luscious color.
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Tavares. As part of Miami Disco Fever. With Carol Douglas, Teri DeSario, Jimmy Bo Horne, Amant, Old Skool Gang. Presented by Charlie Rodriguez. Saturday, June 28. Fieldhouse at BankUnited Center, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets cost $40 to $80 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Call 305-284-8686 or visit bankunitedcenter.com.