In a recent interview with Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune, Nile Rodgers has discussed his relationship with David Bowie, and answered critics of Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute at this year’s Grammys.
Rodgers rose to fame in the ’70s when he and Bernard Edwards steered Chic through a string of disco-era classics (‘Le Freak’, ‘I Want Your Love’, ‘Good Times’), wrote hits for Sister Sledge (‘We are Family’) and Diana Ross (‘I’m Coming Out’) and produced albums by Madonna and David Bowie.
Now he’s working on a new Chic album, ‘It’s About Time’, and is touring with Duran Duran. He’s also found himself once again in demand as a songwriter, producer and guitarist, including recent collaborations with Sam Smith, Disclosure, Avicii and Lady Gaga. He co-wrote and played on three songs for Daft Punk’s Grammy album of the year ‘Random Access Memories’ in 2013, including the huge single ‘Get Lucky’. He’s written an autobiography and started the Freak Out Let’s Dance (Fold) Festival, which will return for its second year between 12-14 August in New York, headlined each night by Chic.
Much of this activity occurred after Rodgers was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago. Rather than retreat from music, Rodgers went into artistic overdrive. He says he’s now in remission and is feeling more energized than ever. “It’s still fresh for me,” he says. “That’s why I keep doing it.”
Rodgers was also in the middle of Lady Gaga’s much-debated Bowie tribute at the Grammy Awards a few months ago.
“I can’t say the (negative) reaction surprised me.” he said. “When dealing with an iconic figure like David, people would say, ‘How could Gaga be the one to do it?’ Because she’s so young. I think honestly there are not many people on this earth who could’ve done it properly. She took this very personally. Most people don’t know this, but we had this advanced technology, Gaga and I had controllers on the back of our instruments that would allow us to sync images with the music. But during the telecast, the sync track went out. Thank God for Gaga, she kept it going. We had rehearsed so much, it looked perfect.”
On his relationship with Bowie, Rodgers said: “I was a massive fan before I met him (in the early ’80s). We were both looking for something, and we found each other in the most unlikely of all places. We connected. That’s the story of my life. We connect, we vibe, let’s do something. David had never had a platinum single (before ‘Let’s Dance’). When he brought it in, it was a folk song. He walked into my room and played it on an acoustic guitar. I said, ‘Hey, David, can you give me a minute to do an arrangement?’ I had some manuscript paper, wrote out charts for some jazz guys and after it was done, he said, ‘Whoa, that’s what my song sounds like?’ ”
Much of Rodger’s recent activity occurred after Rodgers was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago. Rather than retreat from music, Rodgers went into artistic overdrive. He says he’s now in remission and is feeling more energized than ever.
“Music is the gift that keeps me going. It’s the turbocharger in my engine. If I’m faced with any sort of malady, I always revert back to music, because I know it will make me feel good. Sometimes that’s all I need, that temporary good feeling. Right now I’m going through a difficult time with my mom, who’s really sick, so I bring a little music into her world, and stuff gets better, it really does. I was talking with my mom about classical music, and how it was a good thing to always have one person in the family who played music. We’d play piano and gather ’round and you can feel good. Growing up, my family were great music appreciators — I heard McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Errol Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald. I learned to speak the language of music through them and became proficient by playing at school.”