NILE RODGERS: Born
September 19, 1952, in New York, NY.
Member of house band, Apollo
Theater, New York City, early 1970s; session and nightclub musician, New
York City, c. 1971-77; coleader of group Chic, 1977-83; producer of recordings
by numerous artists, 1979-; released solo recordings, mid-1980s; formed
group Outloud, 1987; coleader of reunited Chic, 1992-.
Named number one pop singles
producer, Billboard, 1985; named top singles producer, Music Week, 1985;
Grammy Award for guitarist Jeff Beck's record Flash, 1986.
Record company-- Warner Bros.
Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Management-- Borman Entertainment, 9220 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 320, Los Angeles,
Nile Rodgers is best known as the
lead guitarist and co-leader, along with bassist Bernard Edwards, of Chic,
one of the most successful disco groups of the late 1970s. Rodgers, who
considers himself first and foremost a jazz guitarist, has also released
three recordings under his own name; but Rodgers's talents extend into other
creative realms. In 1986 Ted Fox wrote in his book In the Groove that Rodgers
"may be the hottest producer on the pop music scene today." Though
Rodgers started out as a guitarist and remains in demand as a session musician,
he is firmly entrenched in other aspects of the music industry and has significantly
expanded the creative horizons of the dance music form.
A native of New
York City, Rodgers grew up in a musical family. His father had played percussion
for Sam Cooke and Harry Belafonte, and an uncle taught the teenaged Nile
the art of orchestration. At age 16, Rodgers talked his way into a band
on the strength of his then-nonexistent ability to play the guitar. "Then
I was so embarrassed about not being able to play that I got very, very
serious about it," he recalled to Gene Santoro of Down Beat. Rodgers's
devotion to the guitar coincided with the expansion of that instrument's
potentialities in the rock music scene of the late 1960s. Moving rapidly
through folk guitar styles, Rodgers came into contact with the music of
such pioneers of the electric guitar as Steve Miller and Jimmy Page and
has cited Jimi Hendrix as a major influence. "I still have every record,
still know every song of his," Rodgers told Santoro. Continuing explorations
led him to the formal study of jazz and classical guitar.
success first came with acceptance into the house band of Harlem's legendary
Apollo Theater. Rodgers backed such notables as Aretha Franklin and Nancy
Wilson and soon began to rise through the ranks of New York City's session
musicians. The repetitive but somehow irresistible guitar riffs he contributed
to Betty Wright's 1972 hit, "Clean Up Woman," showcased Rodgers's
quintessential guitar style, soon to become Chic's trademark. Rodgers had
been introduced to Bernard Edwards in 1970, and the two were active in
various nightclub ensembles. The duo, along with drummer Tony Thompson,
attempted to land a recording contract with jazz-rock fusion material of
a type extremely popular in the mid-1970s, but found that as an African-American
band their efforts were blocked. "The labels weren't interested in
a black fusion band. Unless you had a [reputation] in the industry by playing
with a Miles Davis or Chick Corea, you couldn't break through," Rodgers
told Nelson George in Musician.
of lush, mechanical dance music, or disco, was on the rise when Rodgers
and Edwards next set out to land a record deal. Atlantic Records released
"Dance, Dance, Dance"
as Chic's debut single in 1977. Uncomplicated, yet imaginative and varied
in a supremely entertaining way, the track synthesized several elements
of Rodgers's long apprenticeship and set the tone for hundreds of forthcoming
disco records. As Nelson George assessed, the record was "a wonderfully
calculated piece of disco marketing. It had funky hand claps and slinky
guitar riffs to galvanize black dancers, while its swirling strings and
campy cheer of 'Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah,' recalling the dance marathons
of yore, captured the gay audience." "Dance, Dance, Dance"
reached the Number Six position on Billboard' s pop charts in 1977. The
follow-up Chic single, "Everybody
Dance," also cracked the pop Top 40 and entered the rhythm and
blues Top 15, establishing the band as a major presence on the disco scene.
Then, in 1978,
Rodgers and Edwards unveiled "Le
Freak" to an assemblage of Atlantic Records department heads.
Leaner and more economical than "Dance, Dance, Dance," the record
juxtaposed explosive chants of "Freak out! Le freak, c'est chic!"
with spare, intense dialogue between Rodgers's guitar and Edwards's bass.
The Atlantic executives were mystified, Rodgers recalled in an interview
with Musician contributor Baird: "By the time the song was finished
playing, everybody had left, because they couldn't figure out what to say
to us." But the duo's judgment was vindicated when the single sold
8 million copies. "Le Freak" remains the best selling single
in the history of the Warner Bros. conglomerate and propelled the second
Chic album, "C'est Chic," to platinum status.
A later album,
Risque, also went platinum in 1979, spawning the monster hit "Good Times," the foundation
for several early compositions in the emerging rap music style. Other successful
singles followed, held together by Rodgers's hypnotic guitar, always prominent
in the mix. But things began to turn sour for Chic around 1980. Later Chic
albums sold poorly, creative tensions flared between Rodgers and Edwards,
and the two parted ways in 1983. The biggest factor was simply that the
disco phenomenon had run its course. Another cause was Rodgers's and Edwards's
desire to infuse the dance medium with greater lyric seriousness. "I
remember walking into a store and a girl saying to me, 'I don't understand
why you stopped writing songs about dancing and making love,'" Rodgers
recounted to Musician' s Baird.
found himself in great demand as a solo producer. He, in partnership with
Edwards, had already supervised Sister Sledge's anthemic "We Are Family" and one of Diana
Ross's most successful solo LPs, 1980's Diana. Although Rodgers admitted
to Fox that he believes in electronic musical technology "to the highest
order," his productions have varied widely according to the musical
styles and personalities of the artists he has supervised, including Jeff Beck, Duran
Duran, Al Jarreau, Mick Jagger, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Rodgers's metronome-like
guitar style proved perfect for the dance-rock of the 1980s.
In 1983 he helped
transform David Bowie into a contemporary dance-rocker on Let's
Dance; more significant still was his production of Madonna's Like a Virgin in 1984, to which Rodgers
contributed a spare but punchy backdrop. Both albums went multiplatinum.
Rodgers recorded two solo albums over the course of the 1980s and briefly
formed a group known as Outloud,
which released a self-titled album in 1987. Each of the three works was
a complex dance-music production, often united by some overarching lyrical
theme. All the recordings failed commercially, but attracted critical attention;
Chuck Eddy of the Village Voice called the LPs "conceptual coups like
Chic never pulled off."
Chic's 1992 reunion
came about as a result of a birthday party for Rodgers that Edwards attended.
Along with late-night TV musicians Paul Shaffer and Anton Fig, they performed
"Le Freak" and "Good Times" and were rewarded with
wild applause. A new album, Chicism,
took a year to record and went through several creative transformations,
as Rodgers and Edwards largely discarded the rap-and-sample techniques
of early 1990s dance music in favor of the classic Chic style. The decision
may have been a wise one in view of the backward-looking mania for disco
that was gaining strength in early 1992.
on the origins of the sound that characterized Chic's best records, Rodgers
credited the complex guitar and bass interplay with the group's attempt
to cover intricate pop arrangements within a small group context. His own
importance in creating the multilayered texture for which disco's best
productions are remembered--strings and a heavy bass line enlivened by
hand claps and complex guitar syncopations--cannot be understated. Nile
Rodgers's contributions seem likely to continue influencing pop music's