Having rocked this year’s Glastonbury Festival, Chic - the most influential band of the Disco era - are on their way to Derry. ‘Journal’ reporter and self-confessed Disco fanatic, Julieann Campbell, caught up with Chic’s Nile Rodgers to find out more about life as a legend.
For those of you unfamiliar with Chic’s stunning back-catalogue, rest assured that at some stage you’ve danced the night away to one of their classics. Think ‘Everybody Dance’, ‘Le Freak’ and, of course, ‘Good Times’ - Chic’s now legendary guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers has a lot to answer for.
Besides the Disco-infused tunes he is so renowned for, Rodgers has also gone on to produce some of the 20th Century’s most memorable singles, including Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’, David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, and Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’. Not forgetting, of course, his most recent collaboration with Daft Punk for their album Random Access Memories, which led to their first ever global number one ‘Get Lucky’. Unbelievably, he also jammed with Jimi Hendrix when he was just a teenager!
Having just battled prostate cancer, Nile Rodgers is back on track and eager to take on the world. Speaking of the gig at Ebrington’s Venue on Sunday, July 28, Rodgers says: “I’m absolutely looking forward to Derry. Everyone’s telling me about the setting we’re playing at, that its magical with a beautiful view, so I can’t wait to see it.”
Having played a sell-out show in Belfast last year, Rodgers knows what to expect of Irish music fans. “Let me tell you, we have not played anywhere in Ireland that the audience have not been unbelievably positive,” he enthuses. “So Derry is gonna be one hell of a night, so I’d say be prepared to dance and sweat and have a good time! You will certainly lose a few ounces at one of our performances!”
Before talking to the ‘Journal’, Rodgers had just returned from a post-op check-up and is in fine, optimistic form. “I feel really good right now,” he says. “Obviously there was the cancer saga but now I’m feeling pretty great. The doctor examined me today and when I was leaving she said, well, thanks, you’ve just brightened up the whole office!”
Recent ill-health aside, his dedication remains unchanged. “That’s the philosophy of Chic – if we can make it to the stage, we’re performing!” he laughs.
Chic formed in 1976, with Rodgers and his bassist and close friend Bernard Edwards as the core duo handling writing, production and arrangements. Luther Vandross was one of their backing singers, and with his superb band of musicians, the Chic Organization became a world-class force.
Between 1977 and 1983, they were hugely prolific, churning out seven Chic albums as well as two for Sister Sledge, one for Diana Ross which became the biggest of her career, another for Debbie Harry, and one for a little-known French outfit called Sheila & B Devotion.
Nowadays, Chic gigs aren’t solely confined to a Disco back-catalogue but include some of Nile’s other memorable work too, like Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’. With this in mind, I asked Rodgers if any collaborations stand out for him.
“Well, they’ve all been pretty phenomenal and memorable,” he says, “but its usually the latest stuff that’s most exciting to me, like the work with Daft Punk. To be honest, for a lot of the productions I did, I think their lives changed more than mine have. Like Daft Punk - they’ve just had their first Number one single with Get Lucky, which is pretty fantastic!”
“Historically, David Bowie stands out,” he continues. “At that time, I had six failures in a row and he took a chance on me when nobody else would give me the time of day. It’s a preponderance of things coming together at a time when they had the greatest impact on my life. We both had no record deal, it all came together, and I guess you do remember the person who pulled you out and saved your life.”
In April 1996, Rodgers performed with his long-time Chic bassist and buddy, Bernard Edwards, Sister Sledge, Steve Winwood, Simon Le Bon and Slash in a series of concerts in Japan. Sadly, his longtime musical partner Edwards died of pneumonia during the trip, a blow that Rodgers took very hard.
“It’s been an amazing life, but it’s obviously a little bit bittersweet that Bernard isn’t still around,” he reflects. “During the last shows of his life I got to play with him on stage with some of the most amazing friends and heroes of my life. It was crazy that he died after that show, and it was obviously very traumatic and very, very upsetting.
“Then I got very very angry with him, thinking, damn - that’s the most romantic death ever! We played three sell-out performances together beforehand - that was an extraordinary way to die. To this day, I’m quite jealous of that. Death is so prevalent in our industry at an early age, and of all the men in Chic, four are now dead and I am not. Bernard has been dead for 17 years now, but it seems like yesterday. We keep the music alive and at times it feels like they are all still there, on stage, with me. It has been years, but it’s still so strange when I’m playing and I look around and don’t see them around me.”
Despite the hardships suffered along the way, it seems clear that Nile Rodgers is one of life’s good guys. A supremely positive outlook has undoubtedly helped him along the way, so I ask him if he has a secret recipe to life.
“I have to do the one thing that makes me feel better than anything else - and that’s music,” he smiles. “It’s the one thing I’m wholly dedicated to my entire life, music, music and more music! It gives me all the strength I need to get through the day, the next day and the day after that!
“Life is a gift, man, and bad things do happen, but a few hours on stage making music, that makes me feel great. I’m thrilled to be alive and I’m the luckiest guy in the world!”