Perfection In Planning

Or Wolves in Chics' Clothing?

Robin Katz finds out.

Published in Smash Hits Magazine on Nov. 15-28 1979


When you think of Chic, think less of faceless megastars, but more of strategy. If Gladys Knight and the Pips call themselves Perfection in performance, then Chic's clever twosome Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are Perfection in Planning. Yowsah, yowsah yowsah-no angle left unconsidered, no detail overlooked.

Though they may make it look as if they just snap their fingers and everything falls effortlessly into place, Chic didn't always look or sound as slick as they do now. These boys have been on the streets for years. Bernard Edwards left home at 13 (Can you imagine?). Nile Rodgers snuck out Mama's side door at...(sic! editing error)  Nile has done a dozen things which all sound light years away from "My Forbidden Lover". Nile studied classical music. He wanted to be a scientist and pursue the soul of thermo-nuclear hydrodynamics. Whatsa? Whatsa? Whatsa? - Ed.). He studied classical music. He  played jazz. He dropped out and listened to Jimi Hendrix. He worked in the pits of Harlem's legendary Apollo Theatre. He even toured with the kiddies' "Sesame Street" stage show.

"We have a twenty year plan," Bernard Edwards explained matter-of-factly over the phone during the last days of their British tour. "We give it another five years or so as Chic. And then eventually we want to have our own production and publishing company. Then we can help call the shots for younger and less experienced artists."

Unlike so many American outfits who dread losing money when they come to tour our tiny isle, Chic have lots of time for the U.K. The group actually formed here.

Way back in '75, Edwards and Rodgers were members of a forgettable sub-Stylistics outfit called New York City. (Remember "I'm Doing Fine Now?") After a last concert in Nottingham, the group went out to party. When Nile Edwards (sic!) got back to his hotel, his belongings, all his money from the tour and his passport had been stolen. Nile then made his way down to the American Embassy in London to get a new passport. There he found a sympathetic lady and romance blossomed. He stayed on in London and hoped to fulfill a long time dream of being a rock guitarist.

"I grew up as a fan of the Stones and other British groups," -he continued. "But it seems to be twice as difficult if you're black to be taken seriously as a rock guitarist. Eventually, when I could see that things weren't gonna happen, I went back to the States." There Edwards teamed up again with Rodgers. Bernard had the songs written, so Nile started to arrange them. Bernard was well into disco. Nile was still dreaming of rock. They were both determined not to fall into the old trap of being a stand up vocal group again.

"When we'd been in London, we had hung around in places like Gullivers and the Q Club. There were certain songs from that period which influenced our sound. Things like "Sugar Pie Guy" and MFSB's "Music Is The Message" and the Jackson Five's "Dancin' Machine".

In the beginning, it was Edwards who thought of the name Chic, and Rodgers who aimed them towards disco. They wanted an image like one of those old push-me-pull-you toys from the film "Dr. Doolittle." They wanted to be visually youthful without looking like teenyboppers, sophisticated without being unapproachable. The idea worked. They looked unadventurous, but sounded irresistible.

"In the past three years, we've changed our thinking on a couple of things," continued Nile. "At first we listened to the radio to hear what everyone else was up to. Now, we don't listen that much. We don't make an effort to keep track. "We stay away from other artists because we don't want to be too influenced by others, subconsciously or otherwise. "In order to make it to a massive audience, we deliberately didn't take chances. We were careful about how far we went in one direction or another. Now that we have an audience that spans a big age group, we want to expand a bit without alienating anyone. "It's being careful in a different kind of way. At first we wanted to avoid being musically controversial. Now we have to keep from being musically stagnant." If you want to upset Bernard Edwards, ask him if he lives, breathes and eats disco music.

"NO! NO! I'm sick of this," he moans. "I like to listen to everything. I love the B-52's and a lot of the new groups coming up from England. I like the people I grew up with, Zeppelin and Rod Stewart. I like to mellow out to people like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis. Classical music is very relaxing too. "About the last thing I want to hear when I get home is disco. I'm surrounded by it when I work! Why are people so surprised that we're capable of getting into other things? I can't imagine anything more boring than listening to one kind of music.

"The other thing that burns me is the idea that a person can't make good music if he's finally made some good money. Who thought that rumour up? "My money (Edwards and Rodgers are both millionaires now) doesn't impress me. Nile and I are the same two crazy hams we have always been. We still have a ball making music. We still got a lot of dreams and projects up our sleeves."

One of those dreams is going to be very interesting. Chic are producing the next Diana Ross album. Diana Ross' best vocal performances go back to the 60's. As lead singer of the Supremes, the nasal sensuality of the group made them the classiest team of girl singers of the decade.

But then Diana Ross wanted a more jet set image. In the 70's, she's certainly lived up to being a glamorous star. But her records have been pretty forgettable in the past few years. If Chic have their way, Diana Ross may win a brand new audience of young fans in time for a new decade. But what does it feel like to produce an album for a singer who was your idol when you were a teenager?

"I love the lady's voice," said Bernard calmly. "But at this point in my career I don't get that impressed by meeting famous names. Nile and I want to show people that we can really write with this album.

"We want to bring her to a new audience. We want to put back the kind of dancing, fun and variety she used to have without losing the sophistication. As with Sister Sledge we are going to have complete control on what goes down in the studio from start to finish."

Like I said earlier, the impression you get from the Chic brothers is that whatever angle the planet Earth slips to, they are ready to slide along with the natural curve of survival. If disco continues to sell, they will keep making disco records. If disco heads towards the slide, they don't mind packing their underrated guitars and moving into something else.

Some bands are trendsetters, but Edwards and Rodgers have made it respectable to be observers. They didn't invent the dance The Freak, they just wrote the song about it that over six million people bought. They didn't invent the phrase "Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah!" They just remember it from a film about dance marathons in the 1930's called "They Shoot Horses Don't They".

The theme of "My Forbidden Lover" is as old as Shakespeare, but they've got us thinking about a hopeless love affair all the same. "Nile and I have a way of working that hasn't changed over the years," said Bernard. "Call it our formula or whatever. One of us gets a title. Then we kick it around. We think about what we want to say with it. We talk about a possible plot or story or whatever.

"Once we've shared what we both know about a subject, we'll give it a shot. I had never set foot in Studio 54, I just knew there was this dance around called The Freak. There's even an underground freak where people take their clothing off! That's how that happened."

As for the now-famous Chic cheer, well, that's an extension of good old Americana. The Chic cheer is like that peculiarly Yankee phenomenon of cheerleading where a team of girls bearing megaphones and identical outfits try to rouse sports fans into spirited singing before sports matches.

Here, where sports fans need little prodding to sing and cheer, cheerleaders are unknown.

"Some English fans thought we were showing off by calling our own name," laughed Bernard. "We did the cheer in our stage show originally. But people liked it so much they asked us to put it on our album. So we obliged. We're not being conceited, we're just giving the people what they want."

And giving the people what they want is what has sent these dance floor observers into the centre spotlight of the pop-disco story.



Get album info on 'Risqué' GO

Watch video clip of 'My Forbidden Lover' GO

Read review of the 'Risqué' album GO

special fan section courtesy of Glen Russell e-mail:glen@chictribute.com,
by pocat productions, sthlm 2003. e-mail:pocat@chictribute.com