I was listening to the radio a couple of days ago and I heard a song from Daft Punk’s latest album, Random Access Memories. The track was called “Get Lucky” and features vocals from Pharell and Nile Rodgers on guitar. When the D.J. came back on he told the listeners what they had heard, and he said that was Daft Punk featuring Pharell, but forgot about the guess spot by Nile Rodgers. This angered me because Nile Rodgers is one of my favorite musicians of all time, as well as one of my favorite producers of all time. Not only is Rodgers one of the best guitar players for what he plays, but for what he doesn’t, he picks just the right notes to make the song sound amazing. He also defined the sound of pop music in the 80’s. He is the man who made this hits. You may not know his name, but you definitely know one of his songs.
Rodgers is a New York native and got his start playing studio sessions with other musicians. He eventually left the studio and started playing shows with the house band of the Apollo Theater where he played with such notable acts as Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, and Parliament Funkadelic.
At age 18 Rodgers met Bernard Edwards who would become his main collaborator. In 1973 New York City had a big hit with “I’m Doing Fine Now,” Edwards would get a job as the band leader and asked Rodgers to be the group’s guitarist. They would become known as The Big Apple Band, and were billed as New York City and The Big Apple Band. Rodgers and Edwards had found their own groove and formed the band, Chic which would inspire Rodgers to write “Everybody Dance” and many more hits including, “Freak out” and “Good Times.” “Good Times” was a huge hit and important to the hip-hop world as Edward’s bass line was sampled in the first multiple-platinum Hip-Hop single “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang.
In the 80’s the disco fell out of favor, as the “Disco Sucks” trend became the mindset of the music listening public. Chic had been grouped in with this, even though they weren’t disco. To add to this, the music business was going through a huge change. But there was a bright light for the two collaborators, as Diana Ross had committed to working with Rodgers and Edwards on her album, Diana. Rodgers and Edwards wrote and produced the album, and it would go on to 6 million copies. Rodgers and Edwards would go on to work hard on another Chic album, but the band dissolved. Rodgers and Edwards eventually would cut their ties due to drugs.
Rodgers would go on to release a solo album which received a less than favorable response from the public, but did garner a very good opinion from famous art rocker, David Bowie. Bowie would meet Rodgers and invite him to his house in Switzerland where they worked on what would be the track, “Lets Dance.” It would go on to be David Bowie’s biggest selling album. Let’s Dance had several hit singles including “China Girl”, “Modern Love” and the title track, “Let’s Dance.” The album also was a stepping stone for the young, Stevie Ray Vaughn. The album gave Rodgers the production credibility he needed and he continued work with some of the best artists of the day. Rodgers produced the single “Original Sin” by INXS, and would go on to work Duran Duran worked extensively with Rodgers after he remixed their largest selling hit single, “The Reflex.”
One of the crowning achievements was when Rodgers decided to take a risk with a young artist who went by the name, Madonna. With Madonna, Rodgers struck gold upon the release of her album, Like a Virgin; which featured the hits, “Material Girl” and the album’s title track, “Like a Virgin.” The album would go on to sell 21 million copies world-wide. This would give Rodgers the credibility.
During the 80’s, Rodger’s resume would grow significantly working on albums with Jeff Beck, Thompson Twins, Mick Jagger, Steve Winwood, and records for Cyndi Lauper, and a couple of soundtracks with Genesis madman Peter Gabriel.
In 1992 Chic got back together, and went back on the road, and that’s when drugs and alcohol caught up with him, but it wouldn’t be till 1994 that he’d enter rehab. In 1996 Chic and Rodgers came to Japan to play a show to celebrate Rodger’s career, and after the show Edwards would be found dead in his Hotel room. He had died from pneumonia. Shoot forward 17 years Rodgers is immersed in many projects including touring with a new Chic line-up, and playing his vast discography and letting artists sample bits of his vast catalogue. Rodgers also survived a really aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Rodgers is one of the best musicians of all time. It is truly criminal how many people don’t know who he is, as he is a legend of epic proportions. Not only has he produced some of the greatest artists of all time, but he single-handedly shaped the sound of 80’s pop music and influenced numerous musicians in various genres. We need to recognize Rodgers for the influence he has had on our culture.