The following is an excerpt of the feature “These Are the Good Times,” found in the June issue of ESSENCE.
When Pharrell Williams gave a nod to “the incredible Nile Rodgers” at this year’s Grammys, every music lover in the world should have paid homage. Not only did Rodgers inspire and later perform on the Record of the Year, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” (featuring Pharrell Williams). but he has also collaborated on many of the biggest—and still heavily sampled—songs of the past 30 years.
Rodgers, with late Chic cofounder Bernard Edwards, wrote all of the group’s iconic hits, including “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” plus Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out.” Then there’s Rodgers’s solo work as a producer: Madonna’s Like a Virgin, Duran Duran’s Notorious, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance—and that’s just albums released by the mid-1980’s. Naming every song he has touched reads like an eclectic playlist. Prince, a longtime fan of Rodgers, spoke with him recently about returning to the spotlight, having regrets and loving music.
PRINCE: First of all, it’s great seeing you back on the charts. What I admire most is that you and Chic could do no wrong. Hit after hit until the infamous “Death of Disco” happened. But instead of rolling over and dying, you produced Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Madonna and others. Besides your obvious love of making music, is there something else that drives you?
NILE RODGERS: Disco Demolition Night [on July 12, 1979, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park] was indeed the catalyst for the demise of Chic. But playing and creating music—that’s something I can’t live without. Though I’ve always believed in artistic expansion, on the simplest level I just love doing it.
PRINCE: What were you doing musically before you formed Chic with the late Bernard Edwards?
RODGERS: After a nice stint with the Sesame Street touring band, I was playing in the Apollo Theater house band. I met Bernard Edwards, rest in peace, doing a pickup gig on the chitlin’ circuit, which was a series of R&B clubs that went from Buffalo, New York, to Texas, more or less. From that first gig, we did everything we could to make sure we played together. A couple years later, I met drummer Tony Thompson, rest in peace, who had just come off the road with LaBelle. I brought him into our unit and that became the nucleus of The Big Apple Band, which backed Philly-soul group New York City, and Chic. As far as the female singers in Chic, we started with Norma Jean Wright, then added her friend Luci Martin. We got Alfa Anderson, who was singing with our background vocalist Luther Vandross. Yes, that Luther Vandross, who used to be my boss when I played in his band a year before. Alfa and Luci are the two female vocalists most associated with the classic Chic lineup.
To read the full article, pick up the June 2014 copy of ESSENCE Magazine on newsstands now.