Nile Rodgers is Chic again

BY GEORGE LANG glang@opubco.com Modified: April 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm •  Published: April 12, 2013
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On March 2, during an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” the French synth-rock duo Daft Punk ran a commercial for its upcoming album, “Random Access Memories” featuring 15 seconds of organic, funky and instantly exciting disco music. No song title was provided, but the guitar sound, a kinetic rhythm line, was instantly identifiable as the work of Nile Rodgers, the founding member of disco band Chic and one of the most important pop producers of the modern era.

Rodgers, who created such lasting hits as “Good Times,” “Le Freak,” and “I Want Your Love” and went on to produce David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran and the B-52s in the 1980s, will conduct a master class at 5 p.m. Friday at the ACM@UCO Performance Lab, 329 E Sheridan and will lead Chic during a headlining performance at the ACM@UCO Rocks Bricktown festival at 9 p.m. Saturday. Rodgers said that guitar sound on the Daft Punk track boils down the essence of what he does: injecting human grooves into dance music.

“That is a perfect example of what I do,” Rodgers said during a recent phone interview. “It's letter perfect — it's like, ‘There's Nile just jamming away.' Did they give me direction? No, we just talked. They said, ‘We're thinking about this,' and when I heard ‘We're thinking about this,' I start playing this other thing. I started playing it and they said, ‘That's it!'”

Rodgers and his chief collaborators in Chic, the late drummer Tony Thompson and bassist Bernard Edwards, came out of the downtown New York City avant-garde scene in the 1970s — one of Rodgers' first bands was a punk band called The Boyz. But Rodgers and his colleagues broke through when their fusion-jazz group, then called the Big Apple Band, renamed themselves Chic and became the chief architects of Studio 54-era disco.

“We were not categorizing it as disco as such,” Rodgers said. “But we were smart enough to know that disco was so open that it would allow guys like us in if we had music that would make the disco audience respond. A lot of my friends in the jazz world were getting hit records with disco records, and there were a lot of them: Herbie Hancock, Herbie Mann, Joe Beck, Norman Connors, Roy Ayers. Next thing you know, they're on the charts — the same charts as the Bee Gees and Donna Summer.”

Rodgers saw a way into mass popularity, but he took his conceptual cues from musicians who he saw as creating “totally immersive artistic experiences,” bands as wide-ranging as KISS and Roxy Music. The goal was not to merely be a disco band, but to be the disco band. Beginning in 1977, the concept paid off with huge dance-floor hits such as “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowzah, Yowzah, Yowzah),” “Le Freak,” “Everybody Dance” and “I Want Your Love.”

This run of chart success made Rodgers and Edwards some of the most in-demand record producers of the late 1970s, but while they were being steered toward producing superstars at the time, Rodgers and Edwards' first outside production work was for the Philadelphia vocal group Sister Sledge, resulting in the huge 1979 disco hits “We Are Family” and “He's the Greatest Dancer.” That same year, Chic released its biggest hit, “Good Times,” a song powered by a bass and rhythm guitar line that influenced Queen's “Another One Bites the Dust.”

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