Chic founder Nile Rodgers is a hugely influential hitmaker. You just don’t know it. Nui Te Koha reports
Meet the father of funk.
KEITH Richards famously likes the rock, but prefers the roll. In Chic, arguably the greatest disco band of all time, they expressed it another way: Chic- ism.
Chic co- founder and guitarist Nile Rodgers ( pictured) explains: ‘‘ It’s a certain way of interpreting our style of funk.
‘‘ And, really, it’s one of those instances where you have to describe the indescribable. There’s that famous line: ‘ I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it!’ That’s how it is with Chic- ism.
‘‘ I know a million musicians who can play and sound great, but they just don’t have Chic- ism.’’
Chic- ism is best defined by the music, in hits like Good Times, Le Freak, I Want Your Love, and songs written by Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, as the Chic Organisation. Chic Organisation hits include
We Are Family and Thinking Of You for Sister Sledge, and Upside Down and I’m Coming Out for Diana Ross.
Rodgers also brought the Chic sound to – and produced hit albums for – Madonna, David Bowie and Duran Duran. He also produced and played on the INXS hit Original Sin.
Rodgers and Edwards formed Chic in 1976.
‘‘ Our vision was a combination of Roxy Music and Kiss,’’ Rodgers says. ‘‘ We wanted the stylism of Roxy and the anonymity of Kiss.
‘‘ We wanted to be in the shadows. I never felt like a star, but at some point I felt like I could compose star music.’’
Chic hits turned to collaborations with others, including Bowie’s Let’s
Dance and Madonna’s Like A Virgin. They were quick flings, too. Bowie’s album took 17 days to record and mix; 23 days for Madonna’s.
Rodgers says: ‘‘ It was the Chic way, the old R ’ n’ B way. We did every record quickly. People don’t think of rock artists working that fast.
‘‘ But, typically, black artists made every record on those kinds of schedules. We worked eight- hour days. We took the small studios. We didn’t have budgets.
‘‘ There are no second or third takes with our songs. Once we got it right, we moved on.’’
He says Madonna was naive and ambitious.
‘‘ She was really rough around the edges, but I love Madonna,’’ Rodgers says. ‘‘ I caught her at the exact right time of her development. She was like a child looking at the world with wide eyes, but incredibly confident.’’
Rodgers used to get his kicks introducing her to superstars.
‘‘ She would walk straight up to Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen, shake their hands firmly, and say: ‘ I’m Madonna. I’m going to be a real superstar’. They’d look at her, flabbergasted, like: ‘ What just happened?’.’’
After Like A Virgin, Madonna happened worldwide.
‘‘ With that album, I wanted people to listen to Madonna. I wanted people to care about her.’’
Last year, Rodgers worked with the so- called reductive Madonna: Lady Gaga.
‘‘ I buy the Gaga thing. She is very talented,’’ he says. ‘‘ But it’s still early in her career. The problem with Gaga is the spectacle is so big, how do you maintain that level of interest?
‘‘ Whenever Madonna did something, it felt like she was taking us to the next place.
‘‘ She put on cowboy boots, which seemed ridiculous at the time, and everybody followed.’’
He cites a classic Gaga fashion stunt, and concludes: ‘‘ You know, I don’t see anybody wearing meat right now.’’
He recalls the studio session with INXS as anxious.
‘‘ For some reason, they were nervous. They shouldn’t have been because I was in awe of them.’’
He says the band started relaxing when he joined them and played his distinctive licks on Original Sin. They rehearsed once before Jon Farriss’ drum head broke and needed repair.
However, INXS didn’t know Rodgers recorded the rehearsal.
He laughs: ‘‘ It was a rehearsal to them, but it was a recording to me.’’
INXS released the rehearsal version of Original Sin as a single.
Yet, Rodgers, the man behind many a masterplan, says songs are still key, not producers. Indeed, he bemoans the elevation of modern- day producers to star status.
‘‘ Producers are stars because records are now made in an assembly line,’’ he says. ‘‘ But the producer should never be the star. Half the people who like my records don’t even know I did them.’’ He laughs: ‘‘ That’s my blessing and my curse.’’