“Maestro” would be a fitting title for a man who has contributed so much to the world of popular music. In terms of production, Nile Rodgers’ influence and longevity are impossible to ignore. His latest production, Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, reached the number one spot in over 55 different countries and is this year’s undisputed summer anthem. The most recent in a long line of hits, his work ranges from the sublime disco thrills of Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family” and Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’, to iconic 80s classics such as David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, Duran Duran’s ‘The Reflex’ and Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’.
With regards to Rodgers’ personal success as a guitarist, he began his career as a session musician, his first big gig being with the Sesame Street band. From here, he met fellow Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards and the duo became part of the live band for New York City, a R&B group famous for their one hit-wonder ‘I’m Doing Fine Now’. There was an instant spark between the two musicians, with both of them complementing each other’s style. Rodgers and Edwards were to truly find their groove when they formed Chic. It was here that their newfound independence allowed a developing chemistry to thrive and prosper.
Chic would go on to spawn some of the Disco era’s most recognisable songs, ‘Good Times’, ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Everybody Dance’ being just a few of their hits. The band’s songs continue to inspire artists today, their tracks sampled by an abundance of big names including Nas, Basement Jaxx, The Black Eyed Peas, The Prodigy and Shakira. Arguably, Chic’s finest hour came through the use of ‘Good Times’ in the iconic Sugarhill Gang track, ‘Rapper’s Delight’. Although they are still popular today, Chic proved to be a casualty of the ‘Disco Sucks’ movement, a rock and roll backlash, which rendered the genre untouchable by major record labels during the late 1970’s.
While Rodgers is an undeniable force in the history of popular music, his upbringing could be regarded as complicated. The guitarist saw little of his biological father (although he recalls the man in positive terms) and was born to a thirteen year old mother. Throughout his childhood, a pre-teen Rodgers was exposed to the bohemian lifestyle his mother and stepfather engaged in. It was the 1950s, heroin was a fashionable drug within New York City’s beatnik community and was frequently used by the numerous faces that visited the family home. Although the situation was an unconventional family environment, it is clear from interviews that Rodgers sees what many may view as a difficult upbringing, as something of a blessing in disguise. He still cares deeply for all members of his family and is highly appreciative of the character gained by living in such surroundings.
In a world where style is increasingly heralded over substance, at times, the hype that precedes a record is as valuable as its content. While it is true that the PR surrounding ‘Get Lucky’ was impressive, it was Rodgers’ exceptional musicality that shone through and captured imaginations. The humility that Rodgers displays, even after his catalogue of hits, is testament to the man’s character.
Stories, as inspirational as the tale of Nile Rodgers, are rare. Equally rare, are those who hold his iconic status, yet are able to retain a common touch. A true virtuoso, the day Rodgers dies, we will have lost not only a bona fide genius but also an incredible human being.