It has long been relegated
to his subconscious, but the first music Nile Rodgers ever heard was in
the rhythm of rubber thumping against the iron grating of the Triborough
Bridge. The car was careening across the East River en route to Queens
General Hospital, where Nile Rodgers' mother had an appointment to give
birth. As usual, Nile was in a hurry, and before the car had touched dry
land, the world had one more guitar player. From these beginnings, it is
natural that Nile would be the one to bridge the gap between rock/funk
and wistful ballroom romanticism. Raised in Greenwich Village and Hollywood,
California, he became a member of New World Rising, one of the first electric
bands to play New York's Max's Kansas City during the '60s folk craze.
Bernard Edwards was born under slightly less chaotic circumstances
in Greenville, North Carolina. He moved to New York at age 10, played reeds
at P. S. 164 in Brooklyn, tenor sax in junior high and electric bass at
the High School of Performing Arts. By the early '70s, he too, had discovered
rock & roll.
Nile and Bernard met through the mother of Nile's then-girlfriend,
who worked with Bernard in the Post Office. The two musicians initially
differed on their approaches to rock stardom, but as they came to know
each other better, found they shared a fondness for febrile power riffs
wrapped in a smooth, unpreachy package. After gigging occasionally at small
New York clubs, the two joined The Big Apple Band, backing up a group called
New York City ("I'm Doing Fine Now"). Nile abandoned a steady
job in the Apollo Theatre house band to hit the road with Big Apple, because
he liked the idea of being his own boss.
The group toured the U.S. and Europe from 1972 to 1975.
When NYC disbanded, Big Apple kept their act intact, recording demos and
backing singer Carol Douglas for about six months. With the guidance and
support of Rob Drake, a friend and disco dj, Nile and Bernard began laying
down dance tracks in early 1977. Drake played the tapes at his club, the
Night Owl, and before long, they were generating a loud buzz on the street.
In June of 1977, Nile and Bernard renamed their band CHIC (Walter Murphey
had appropriated the Big Apple moniker). After opening for the vocal group,
Luther, at Radio City in September of that year, CHIC was signed to Atlantic
Their debut single, "DANCE,
DANCE, DANCE (YOWSAH, YOWSAH, YOWSAH)," released in September,
sped quickly to the top of the pop and R&B charts and attained RIAA
gold certification in February, 1978. The 12" DiscoDisc (the first
Atlantic commercial 12") was named DiscoDisc Of The Year by Nightfall
Magazine. Disco columnist Vince Aletti described "DANCE, DANCE, DANCE"
as a song "you'll never get tired of." The group's debut album,
"CHIC," was rush-released in November, 1977, and it, too, went
gold, spawning at least one more hit single, "EVERYBODY
DANCE." CHIC went on tour in early 1978, opening for major acts
like The Isleys, The Trammps, and Rufus. In the fall of 1978, as CHIC was
finishing up its first mammoth tour with dates in Rio de Janeiro and Sao
Paulo, a new single, "LE FREAK,"
hit the U.S. streets. "LE FREAK" eventually became the biggest-selling
45 in the history of the WEA organization, surpassing four million in unit
sales. "C'EST CHIC," the LP from which the single was culled,
sold more than two million copies in this country. "I
WANT YOUR LOVE," the second single off the album, was certified
gold. "GOOD TIMES,"
the first single from CHIC's third Atlantic LP, "RISQUE," was
certified gold only three weeks after its release in June, 1979.
Like the two preceding albums, "RISQUÉ"
offers something for bedrock R&B/ funk fans as well as for discophiles.
Nile and Bernard, who write, arrange, conduct, and produce the music, attribute
CHIC's remarkable crossover appeal to their long experience on the road,
playing simple, unvarnished rock and soul. For this reason, CHIC's live
show counters the belief that dance music will not wash with a sit-down
The present group, in addition to Nile and Bernard, features
drummer Tony Thompson, who sports a list of credits including Labelle,
Stevie Wonder, and Mongo Santamaria; singer Alfa Anderson, who has backed
Ray Barretto, Luther, and Raw Sugar; and singer Luci Martin, a former Alvin
Ailey dance student and actress in road companies of "Hair" and
"Jesus Christ, Superstar."
The summer of 1979 found CHIC back on the road, piling
up gold and platinum here and abroad. Canada recently honored the group
for the emergence of "LE FREAK" as the biggest-selling single
in the nation's history. The record has reached gold status in Belgium,
Italy, South Africa, England, France, Brazil, and most of the rest of the
In addition, Nile and Bernard have, as part of the activities
of The CHIC Organization Ltd., become involved with other artists. The
two produced Sister Sledge's "WE
ARE FAMILY" LP and had the satisfaction of watching it sell more
than a million copies in America.
The last two whirlwind years have not appreciably changed
the personalities of CHIC's creators. Nile and Bernard remain deeply rooted
in the past, for it was not that long ago, suggests Nile, that they played
in a black punk band, Allah And The KnifeWielding Punks. And Bernard has
not forgotten the drudgery of the Post Office. "We've been lucky,"
he says. Add to that a lot of hard work on the road and in the studio,
and a diversity of musical backgrounds, and the result is a band that will
sustain no matter what fads come and go. CHIC will always be in.