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Nile Rodgers: Secrets of a Hit-Maker

Guitarist Nile Rodgers got his big break in the band Chic with "Good Times." Only the first hit of a long career, he has worked with the likes of Madonna, David Bowie, and Lady Gaga. This film asks how he influenced a generation of pop music.

AIRED: March 05, 2021 | 0:51:50
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TRANSCRIPT

[ Static crackling ]

Man: One, two, three!

♪ Ah, freak out

♪ Le freak, c'est chic

♪ Freak out

♪ Ah, freak out

♪ Good times

You know a Nile record when you hear it,

because it just locks into a groove.

I don't know anyone who's had as many songs as him.

It reads like a sort of history of '80s pop.

Not many people can say that.

A living legend.

[ Speaking French ]

Interpreter: The guy's a groove machine.

It's in his blood. It's totally visceral.

He's an extraordinary musician and he's a great producer.

Duran Duran would definitely not have had the same career

without Nile.

[ Sister Sledge's "He's the Greatest Dancer" plays ]

He's on another level.

Bowie: Now, Nile is like this, you know,

international treasure.

♪ Let's dance

♪ Put on your red shoes and dance the blues ♪

♪ Like a virgin

♪ Touched for the very first time ♪

♪ When your heart beats

Narrator: He's behind some of the greatest hits

of the past 35 years.

He's crossed generations.

The co-founder of Chic and a producer of genius,

Nile Rodgers continues to get people onto the dance floor.

Rodgers: New York has always been my home.

I was a good child.

I was a hardworking, crazy child

that, you know, loved music and loved my city.

Narrator: Born in the 1950s in New York

to a child mother, age 13,

Nile Rodgers was often left to his own devices.

Music became his best friend, but nothing could have predicted

the musical genius he would later be.

Rodgers: I was raised by heroin addicts,

so there were drugs in the household.

But I was so young, so I didn't know

that any of that stuff was negative or bad.

That's just how my parents were.

So I saw them as wonderful.

They were fantastic to me. My parents almost felt magical.

Narrator: Nile was confronted by the racism and segregation

rampant at the time.

Movies like "Super Fly" and "Shaft"

belonging to the blaxploitation genre

had an impact on his awareness of his Black identity.

He rubbed shoulders with the Afro-American

revolutionary movement the Black Panthers,

but his involvement was more social than political.

When I was younger, my mother married a man

who was white, who was Jewish.

So I was raised in an interracial family

and a culture that had Black, white, Puerto Rican.

Also, my mom had a lot of gay friends.

So we had a very sort of bohemian,

a real hip kind of, you know, lifestyle.

So I didn't start to understand that people saw race differently

until I started to go out in the world

and other people started to either attack us...

But when I got older, I progressively realized

that other people started to recognize race,

politics, and music in a way that my family didn't.

Okay, great.

Okay, cool.

One, two, one, two, three.

Probably the reason why I chose music

was because music, at an early age,

you had to practice.

Music, I had to go by myself,

and I was by myself a lot of the time,

and I would just have to...

[ Playing scales ]

I didn't choose guitar until I was 16 years old.

By the time I was 19, I was already

a proficient reader and player on the guitar,

and I had my first job at "Sesame Street."

[ Cheers and applause ]

Narrator: In 1970, Nile Rodgers had an encounter

that would change his life with Bernard Edwards.

Together, they would found The Chic Organization.

Where did we first meet?

Edwards: We first met in the Bronx.

I was looking for a guitar player

and I was working at the post office.

That's when I realized that you were the guy --

the boyfriend of, uh, her daughter's boyfriend...

Whatever. Whatever, right.

And I had been looking for you, but I couldn't find you.

[ Speaking French ]

Interpreter: They made their guitar and bass playing

central to their songs

because they went so well together.

Nile and I have been together

since we were about 17, so I've known him about...

Whew! [ Chuckles ] ...about 25 years.

And when I first met him, he was a hippie

and he had really thick glasses

and a funny hairdo with his hair sticking up in the front.

He was a real skinny little guy, but a really big guitar.

So, that's my memory of him.

♪ Dance

♪ Dance, dance, dance

♪ Keep on dancin'

In the beginning, we didn't have enough money

to make a record. So what Nile and I used to do,

we had a friend that worked in a studio,

and at night when the studio would close,

we would sneak in afterwards and actually make our songs.

We recorded "Dance, Dance, Dance"

and "Everybody Dance" for free that way

'cause we didn't have any money and our friend worked

in the studio, and we'd sneak in at night.

And Luther was doing a job over at Radio City,

and we were the backup band.

So we'd go over there and play, and between shows,

we'd run back to the studio and put down some more parts

and come back and finish the show.

So we made our first tapes for free,

but it was, like, after hours. We were sneaking around.

Williams: Chic wasn't just the guitar --

it was, like, the groove, you know?

Nile is known for the groove.

His signature is the guitar, but the groove --

you know, those things are infectious.

John Taylor: Chic music --

they were almost like funky punk, I thought, Chic,

because they weren't terribly lush.

Narrator: In the late '70s, disco was everywhere

and helped to liberate the minorities

as Blacks, Hispanics, and gays hit the dance floors.

And Chic's "Everybody Dance" became a massive hit.

♪ Everybody dance

♪ Do-do-do-do, clap your hands

♪ Clap your hands

♪ Everybody dance

♪ Do-do-do-do, clap your hands

♪ Clap your hands

♪ Everybody dance

Narrator: Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards co-wrote

some of the greatest hits of the genre,

and yet they never considered themselves a disco band.

To them, Chic was a concept,

and they decided to rework their image.

Rodgers: In America, we had a big problem with racism.

So we thought if we pretended to be French playing American funk

and it was sophisticated,

we would bypass the racist element because we were French.

And in America, France is almost seen

not as people, but as a culture in a strange way.

But that was only a marketing gimmick at the very beginning.

That's why we didn't put our pictures on the first cover

or anything like that.

Once we became known and they saw that we were basically

just an R&B band from New York,

then at that point, we already had an audience.

You know, other records pretended and tried very hard

to be sophisticated.

I think Chic didn't need to do a lot

to have that incredible sophistication.

I mean, people have said that Chic were a Black disco band

trying to sound white, and I don't really think so.

I think they were trying to sound like themselves.

[ "Le Freak" playing ]

We were invited by Grace Jones to meet with her.

And it was New Year's Eve, biggest night of the year

at the biggest club in the world.

You know, she had personally invited us.

She told us to go to the back door and just tell them

that we were personal friends of Miss Grace Jones.

And we did it, and the guy didn't believe us.

And he slammed the door in our faces

and told us to f * k off.

and told us to f * k off.

We tried to do it again and we tried to imitate Grace's accent,

'cause she called us on the phone

and we never met her in person.

But, you know, on the phone, she had this strange accent.

So we said, "Oh, no, no, no, no.

We're personal friends of Miss Grace Jones."

And I sounded like Bela Lugosi

or a cross between Bela Lugosi and Bob Marley or something.

And once again, the guy slammed the door in our faces,

really angry, and said, "Man, f * k off."

really angry, and said, "Man, f * k off."

really angry, and said, "Man, f * k off."

So we went to my apartment,

which was just around the corner from Studio 54,

and we started jamming on...

♪ Ah, f * k off

♪ Ah, f * k off

♪ Ah, f * k off

♪ F * k Studio 54

♪ F * k Studio 54

♪ F * k off

♪ F * k off

♪ F * k off

♪ F * k Studio 54

♪ F * k Studio 54

♪ F * k Studio 54

♪ F * k off

♪ F * k off

♪ F * k off

♪ F * k Studio 54

♪ F * k Studio 54

And then we turned that into...

♪ Ah

♪ Ah, freak out

♪ Le freak, c'est chic

♪ Freak out

♪ Ah, freak out

♪ Le freak, c'est chic

♪ Freak out

♪ Have you heard about the new dance craze? ♪

Narrator: With "Le Freak," the founders of Chic

revealed the extent of their musical genius.

With a minimal number of instruments,

they managed to produce an incredibly effective hit,

sold at over 7 million copies worldwide.

[ Speaking French ]

Interpreter: Generally, when cutting dance or disco numbers,

you start with the rhythm section.

So, the first tracks lay down all the drums.

We can hear them here.

I don't know if you can hear that.

That's the basic rhythm of "Le Freak."

So, it's not recognizable yet,

but we'll now add Bernard Edwards' bass line.

We're starting to have some recognition.

But the amazing thing is you only need

one more rhythmic feature,

because the rhythm section can contain a number of instruments.

And here it's a little melodic feature

that gets the bells ringing.

And this was recorded chronologically

after the drums and bass.

And you discover the song in this order.

It's this.

We'll wait for the next cycle.

And there you say, "I'm really beginning to recognize it now."

That's Nile Rodgers' rhythm guitar track.

He always lays down two guitar tracks

which are interwoven.

And now we recognize it immediately.

There.

Very basically, with one guitar, two guitars,

drums, and bass -- four elements alone --

you already have 90% of the song.

That's Chic's secret --

making a groove with next to nothing.

Three guys in a room and they had the song.

Then they'd add a few things to liven it up.

Usually the bass is an accompaniment.

On its own, it has no meaning.

The guitar accompanies the bass and drums,

but on its own it has no meaning.

But here it's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.

It was their band, and you can hear it.

You have one, then the other,

and you've pretty much everything.

♪ Now freak

Interpreter: In general, bassists and guitarists

are accompanists,

so you don't usually remember them.

But these guys realize the dream of every accompanist musician

to be at the forefront of every number.

People still talk of Nile Rodgers today,

of Bernard Edwards today,

even though he passed away in 1996.

Not many people have managed that in the history of music.

'Cause that's what makes Chic unique.

We don't just stick to it -- we interpret it.

So I'll play...

When I'm playing the groove, I play...

Narrator: The hits "I Want Your Love"

and "Good Times" brought lasting fame

to Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.

♪ Good times

♪ These are the good times

♪ Our new state of mind

♪ These are the good times

♪ Good times

When Nile and I started out producing together,

we became producers because when we formed the band Chic,

nobody would produce us.

So we had to be the producers. We wrote the songs

and nobody wanted to do it, so Nile and I became producers.

We didn't know what a producer was.

Come on!

♪ I want your love

♪ I want your love

Rodgers: The Rolling Stones and Bette Midler,

they asked us to produce them.

Because at the time, disco music was so popular,

everybody felt in order to have a competitive record

on the charts, you had to have a disco record.

And for some reason, they thought that we were

the kings of disco,

that we had Studio 54 in a bottle

and we could just pour that on somebody

and they would have disco records.

And it's really interesting

because we didn't think of ourselves like that at all.

So the fact that everybody saw us with this lens,

we were the disco kings, it was interesting to us

because if we were to do a Rolling Stones record,

the last thing we would have done was a disco record.

I mean, they'd been offered names to work with --

famously, Aretha Franklin. And, you know, they said,

"We don't want to be the guys responsible

for making Aretha Franklin go disco."

And Ahmet Ertegun sort of offered them

the pick of Atlantic's artists,

including the Stones, you know, to work with.

And they chose Sister Sledge, who, you know,

were sort of fairly unknown at that point.

Rodgers: The president of the record company thought about us.

He thought we had this magical formula.

And I said, "Yes, and we have it so well

that I could make your secretary a star."

And he goes, "What do you mean?"

I said, "Because every song that we write is based on truth."

So then he tells us this story about this group

that's on the label called Sister Sledge,

and they're like family to the label

and they really believed in them

and all of this stuff.

And when we got home, we looked at what he had dictated to us,

and it was basically the lyrics

and the framework to "We Are Family."

♪ We are family

♪ I got all my sisters with me

♪ We are family

♪ Get up, everybody, and sing

Narrator: After the success of Sister Sledge,

no one doubted their expertise.

In Europe, French producer Claude Carrère chose them

to write the next album of his protégé -- Sheila.

[ Speaking French ]

Interpreter: Once Nile had taken on board someone like me,

who was totally unknown in the U.S.,

he set out to build the rest of my career.

So, we wrote songs about the things

that were more sophisticated in pop music at the time.

When "Spacer" came out, we didn't know if it would work,

because it was English for a French artist.

But somehow it resonated and it worked.

And it really worked, and it transformed her life,

and she became much more independent after that.

That record was so big for her. It did exactly what we wanted.

It gave her power and it made her stronger.

♪ He's a spacer

♪ A star chaser

♪ A spacer

Interpreter: My producer at the time

didn't think it was disco enough and was distraught.

He hated "Spacer." He wanted something

like the disco version of "Singin' in the Rain,"

my earlier hit.

Nile told him, "I'm not talking to you.

You're the guy who looks after the money.

I want to talk to the artist, and I'll deal with her."

I thought that was fantastic.

Those guys took my career, completely turned it around,

and placed me elsewhere.

It opened up the world to me.

He's always looking for that thing to make people move

and that uplifting feeling.

I've been very lucky that I've worked with

really great people all my life.

Like, I don't work with people that are just sort of okay.

I work with people that are great.

I think he has allegiance to the groove.

Narrator: The careers of the two young producers

reached new heights.

In 1980, the immense Diana Ross was looking to change her image

and escape the clutches of Motown.

Nile and Bernard put together a made-to-measure album for her.

Our relationship with Diana Ross,

that instead of being like Motown

and just giving her songs,

we interviewed her and wrote songs exactly for her.

We really wanted to write a song about the new Diana Ross.

She was going to turn the world upside down.

That's what she wanted to do. That was her big desire,

was to turn her world and her life upside down.

♪ Upside down

♪ Boy, you turn me inside out

♪ And 'round and 'round

♪ Upside down

♪ Boy, you turn me inside out

♪ And 'round and 'round

There was a transvestite club called the Gilded Grape,

and I went there one night

where I'm club-hopping at all the underground clubs.

And I go into the bathroom to use the urinal

and I'm standing there, and on either side of me,

there are a bunch of guys dressed in drag,

but they're all dressed up like Diana Ross.

And they all happen to be in the bathroom with me

at that one moment.

I was so taken with that picture, that image,

I ran outside and I called my partner.

I said, "Bernard, remember this.

We have to write a song called 'I'm Coming Out.'"

♪ I'm comin' out

♪ I want the world to know

♪ I gotta let it show

♪ I'm comin' out

♪ I want the world to know

Interpreter: He had this fantastic idea

of associating a term from the gay community

with the wish of Diana Ross to free herself from Motown

and to become a great artist.

So he wrote a song with two interpretations.

She got the first one, but not the second.

He never lied to her about it.

He just decided not to explain it.

So, when the first mixes of the Diana album

were sent to Motown,

Ms. Ross wasn't happy with them.

And I think there was just a fear that it might have been

a bit too out there for her, a bit too radical,

and her audiences might not accept the leap

from where she had been to where she was.

We went to her house, we were over-impressed,

and we wrote about what we saw and what we believed.

So this was an album of truth.

In the end, it all worked out great

because it's the biggest record of our life.

I mean, Diana Ross never had a 6 million selling album.

And that's huge for anybody,

but in those days, that was particularly large.

I mean, a Black artist with a 6 million selling album.

Huge.

In America in 1979, the sort of "disco sucks" movement

really started to take off.

And there was a deejay

at a Chicago radio station, Steve Dahl.

He had this idea,

at the halftime in a baseball game,

to have a Disco Demolition and encouraged everyone

to bring along their 12-inch singles,

disco records, and dynamite them.

Man: Between games, WLUP's Steve Dahl

and his followers in song and chants on the field

and then proceeded to blow up the disco records

collected in a box in center field.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Interpreter: There was disco in commercials,

disco on clothing products,

and people started getting fed up.

All the radio stations in the U.S.

had switched from pop/rock to disco

because that was what drew in listeners and sold advertising.

So you heard it everywhere.

And don't forget, it was a minority group genre.

It was certainly driven by racism,

homophobia, and things like that.

But I also think that it was driven by economics

and a cultural misunderstanding because the disco artists

seemed to be living a glamorous lifestyle

in the midst of the greatest financial recession

since the Great Depression.

So I could see how people in the Midwest,

especially white working-class people

and even white lower-class people,

felt that, "How could these, you know,

Puerto Rican, Black people, and gay people, and, you know,

and bra-burning women have such a great time

while meanwhile we're in such misery?

It's this music, it's this culture, it's these people."

And, you know, so I can understand both points of view.

But when it came to demonizing an entire segment of music,

well, that's why I get pissed off.

Interpreter: The very abrupt end of disco hit like an uppercut

for the group, and for Nile in particular.

It provoked a crisis of confidence and doubt.

But it also freed him up to do what he had always wanted to do,

break down racial barriers

and express his talent with artists from all musical scenes.

So it was also a great opportunity for him.

Narrator: At a low point in his career,

Nile Rodgers bumped into David Bowie in a New York bar.

Bowie needed hits, and Nile wanted to climb back

onto the main stage.

Despite their differences, the two artists,

then unattached to a label,

embarked on a fruitful collaboration

typified by the very first notes of the album, "Let's Dance."

[ "Let's Dance" plays ]

One morning, he walks into my room

and he starts playing a folk guitar.

And he's playing a little riff.

And I don't remember what it was exactly, but I do remember...

[ Playing guitar ]

...it had some kind of moving voice.

Something like this.

Now, this is probably not accurate,

but that's what I remember.

Something like that,

I was afraid of being Nile Rodgers.

I was afraid of being the disco guy.

I forced myself to not go...

It's cool, though.

I just went...

all upstrokes.

And then that's why when you listen to the record,

the brightness and the consistency of hearing

all the top notes first make a big difference in this record.

And David liked it. He liked the...

[ "Let's Dance" plays ]

♪ Let's dance

♪ Put on your red shoes and dance the blues ♪

♪ Let's dance

♪ To the song they're playing on the radio ♪

♪ Let's sway

♪ While color lights up your face ♪

♪ Let's sway

♪ Sway through the crowd to an empty space ♪

Bowie was sober at the time,

and I didn't even understand the concept of being sober,

being in the rock 'n' roll business.

I was totally out of control,

doing lots of drugs and drinking.

But David had talked to me about being sober and becoming sober

and how it was an important part of his life.

And, you know, coming from a family of heroin addicts,

you know, everything has a slang.

And in heroin and drug culture, "China" is heroin

and "girl" is cocaine.

So I thought it was a song that he and Iggy Pop

had originally written, 'cause it wasn't a new song --

it was the song that they had written years ago.

And I'm sure he wrote it before he became sober.

So I thought it was a song about speedballing.

I thought it was a perfectly clever song

about China White and Girl.

[ Playing "China Girl" ]

But I was nervous as hell.

I thought he was going to fire me

'cause it was so corny and so pop.

So I pulled David aside

and I said, "You know, David, you know,

I'm thinking about that song 'China Girl,'

and here's a little riff I came up with."

And I played that ♪ dee dee dee dee, do do do

And instead of him firing me, he actually got happy

and he went, "Wow, that's brilliant."

And I said, "Really? You like that?"

I said, "Well, check this out."

And I had the whole band go, "One, two, three!"

[ "China Girl" playing ]

♪ Oh, oh, oh, ohhh

♪ Little China girl

♪ Oh, oh, oh, ohhh

♪ Little China girl

♪ I couldn't escape this feeling ♪

♪ With my China girl

♪ I feel a wreck without my

♪ Little China girl

"Let's Dance" album was done, start to finish,

mixed and everything, in 17 days.

Interviewer: What can we expect, not knowing --

I've heard the track, but not knowing

what vision we can look forward to.

I think it it's a lot more straightforward

than anything I've done for a long time.

It's not so concerned with

juxtaposing surreal images together.

Right. And it's a very direct statement

about integration of one culture with another.

Interpreter: Niles' main concern was to supply hit singles

to his artist clients.

These artists already had their own credibility.

He didn't work with an artist to make them credible.

He did it to make them extremely popular.

♪ You might

♪ Know of

♪ The original sin

♪ And you might

♪ Know how

♪ To play with fire

My INXS record was really big.

I mean, I did INXS right after Bowie,

and that record broke them all around the world.

It was their only number-one record.

And then this INXS song comes along

and I'm like, "Damn!"

You know, that's got -- There was something in it.

And we later found out who it was

and that Nile Rodgers had produced it,

and we wanted some of that.

♪ Dream on, white boy, white boy ♪

♪ Dream on, black girl, black girl ♪

♪ And wake up to a brand-new day ♪

Narrator: In the 1980s, Duran Duran's pop was at a peak,

but Nile would transform the band's sound

to take them even farther.

♪ Somebody's fooling around

♪ With my chances on the danger line ♪

John Taylor: We just really connected right away,

and it just felt like we're going to be friends, you know.

And I found that remarkable

because we were coming from such different backgrounds.

I remember he spent a lot of his time

actually out of the studio,

in the reception space

making phone calls, you know.

He was kind of hooking up

to book his next session with the next band.

And then he'd come in for a few minutes

and, you know, he'd listen, he'd make a suggestion.

But the focus in those few minutes would be incredible.

You know, almost genius-like. You know, he'd come in

and say, "Okay, the drums needs to go --

bum, bum, bum, bum-bum-bum!

Okay, the bass needs to do that, the vocal that and that.

Okay, get on with it."

You know, and we'd do what he says,

and he'd come back in a bit later.

And it was like, almost like laser.

"The Reflex" --

I wanted to bring in this new sound

that was happening in hip hop, which was sampling,

which was doing repetitive notes,

which is obviously still very popular to this day.

Some 30-something years later,

people are still doing, you know...

I mean, Rihanna is doing "Umbrella, ella, ella, ay, ay,"

You know, everybody's still, you know, sampling

and manipulating single notes.

But certainly that was the first time that

they did it on a Duran record, and it was revolutionary.

♪ Fl-fl-fl-fl-flex

♪ Why-y-y-y-y

♪ W-W-Why-y-y

♪ Yeah

♪ Why-y-y-y-y

♪ W-W-Why-y-y

♪ Why-y-y-y-y don't you use it

♪ The reflex is a lonely child

♪ Who's waiting in the park

After I did "The Reflex," I did "The Wild Boys,"

which was my conscious decision to try and take them

into a much more avant garde direction.

♪ Wild boys never lose it

♪ Wild boys never chose this way ♪

♪ Wild boys never close your eyes ♪

♪ Wild boys always shine

Le Bon: We just wanted some of that sort of

that hip hop funky stuff,

something that really only Black dudes were doing in music.

And we wanted a little bit of that.

We wanted to get a little darker,

and we picked the right man.

♪ Oh, ohhh

Narrator: In 1984, a young, still largely unknown artist

approached Nile Rodgers

about producing her second album.

Their collaboration turned the young woman

into a global pop star.

The Madonna legend was born.

[ Speaking French ]

Interpreter: Madonna needed Nile Rodgers

because she was devoured by ambition.

What she needed was someone to help her

to acquire the worldwide success she so craved.

The first time I saw her, I wasn't quite convinced.

The second time I saw her, I was marching in her parade.

I chose to work with Nile Rodgers

because I think that he's a genius

and I wanted to work with a genius on my record.

And I think that he embodies a lot of different styles

that I think my music embodies.

He's very close to the Black sound, funk.

I mean, the stuff he did with Chic and Sister Sledge

and Diana Ross is phenomenal.

But he's also made a lot of great pop records

with David Bowie and Duran Duran.

Madonna had something that was really brilliant,

is that she keyed in on the story and she knew

that the largest segment of music buyers were girls,

the age of 13 to so-and-so,

and she's got this whole rap down.

"Yes, the largest buyers of music in the pop segment

are girls between the age of this and that,

and losing virginity is..." It was like,

I'm listening to her, going, "What are you talking about?"

♪ Like a virgin, hey

♪ Touched for the very first time ♪

♪ Like a virgin

♪ With your heartbeat next to mine ♪

♪ Whoa, whoa, ohh

♪ Whoa, whoa, ohh

♪ Ah!

♪ Whoa, whoa, oh

[ Speaking French ]

Interpreter: Nile was convinced "Material Girl"

should be her first single

because although he thought "Like a Virgin" was a good song,

he didn't find the chorus strong enough.

But she disagreed and was adamant

about starting with this song, that the album should be called

"Like a Virgin."

She imposed that when it was only her second album,

but history proved her right.

"Like a Virgin" is the biggest album of my life,

and it's really the biggest album.

It's, like, a lot bigger than other records

that are really big records.

And I made a deal for what I believed would be

the next Madonna record at that same deal level.

So a lot of times people ask me, "Man, after that big success,

how come you guys never did another record?"

I was thinking, "Well, if I were Madonna,

I wouldn't do a record with me either at that price."

The first thing I would do is try and renegotiate.

♪ You know that we are living in a material world ♪

♪ And I am a material girl

♪ Some boys romance, some boys slow dance ♪

♪ That's alright with me

People forget that it was Nile that did that,

that took her from relative obscurity,

made a proper album with her

with real musicians, real production,

and made her an international star.

Narrator: In the '80s,

Nile Rodgers' career was at its peak.

The world's top artists called on his talent --

Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry, Paul Simon, and Grace Jones.

And in 1985, Billboard magazine crowned him

the greatest singles producer in the world.

But drugs and excesses

had become part of Nile's daily life,

and he gradually deserted the recording studios

to avoid temptation.

In 1992,

Bernard Edwards rekindled his desire to write a new album.

Chic was back.

I mean, when Chic got back together in the '90s,

again the world had turned a little bit.

And it's almost like it seemed a bit too soon for it.

They tried to sort of go down a more sort of funky house route

with the "Chic Mystique" single and the "Chic-ism" album.

It was a bit like the wrong -- just the wrong moment for it.

♪ Dance, dance, do that dance ♪

♪ Everybody get on the floor and dance ♪

Nile and I have been together since we're about 17 years old,

and this is the first time we've done a live show

in about...

God, it's been about eight years.

So I'm very excited about that.

And it's our first time performing live in Japan,

so I'm really excited.

Come on, everybody, dance with us!

This was Bernard and I practicing for our tour.

This was in April of 1996.

This is just a few days before he died.

And we were at rehearsal

and we were having the time of our lives.

We were having so much fun.

And we would have never known that only a few days later

he would pass away.

Um...

It's -- It was -- It was an amazing --

It was an amazing time for me,

you know, getting back together with my partner.

A day or so after we did this rehearsal,

they interviewed him,

and he said something that was so poignant.

He says that, you know, "Nile's my guitar player

and I'm his bass player."

And, uh...

To me, that's...

I almost get choked up talking about it now.

It's...

It defines our relationship perfectly.

You know, not only did I think of him

as my songwriting partner, my business partner.

He was my bass player, and I was his guitar player.

- Whoo! - Are we done, boss?

[ People cheering ]

Narrator: On April 18, 1996, after a Chic concert in Tokyo,

Bernard Edwards died of pneumonia in his hotel room.

His sudden death left Nile with a feeling of helplessness.

To combat it, he decided to make their music last

so the public would never forget Bernard.

When we do the Sister Sledge song called "Thinking of You,"

it's almost obvious.

It's -- I can't ever play that without thinking of him,

because the way that we wrote the song,

the way we did the lyric was, honestly,

I had come up with the music.

And Bernard and I were talking on the phone

and he asked me, what was I thinking of?

And I said, "Actually, I'm thinking of you,"

'cause I'm always thinking about what

he's going to play in the bass. And he said,

"That's funny 'cause I was thinking about you.

I was wondering what you were writing."

And we got together

and we called the song "Thinking of You."

So every time I play it, I always think of him.

It's impossible not to.

We're gonna do a song that Bernard Edwards wrote

for Sister Sledge.

[ Bass line from "Good Times" playing ]

[ The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" plays ]

♪ I said-a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie ♪

♪ To the hip hip hop-a you don't stop the rock ♪

♪ It to the bang-bang boogie

Narrator: Nile Rodgers' and Bernard Edwards' productions

have survived for decades,

thanks to the talent of other artists

who sampled their greatest hits.

In 1979, the famous bass line of "Good Times"

was sampled by the Sugarhill Gang

and made their number "Rapper's Delight"

the first ever hip hop mega hit.

♪ The white, the red, and the brown ♪

Avicii: I think myself and most deejays are influenced by him,

and most producers who produce house music

and electronic music.

I don't know how many songs of his has been sampled

and gone into different, you know,

house music songs and stuff.

So I think everyone who is a deejay has taking inspiration

from him, or is a producer/deejay

has taken inspiration from him.

Narrator: Nile Rodgers' and Bernard Edwards' repertoire

is the most-sampled in the world.

Since the '90s,

the hip hop, R&B, and electro generations

embodied by Modjo, Faith Evans, Notorious B.I.G.,

and even Will Smith have borrowed their biggest hits.

The two artists' numbers have become part of posterity.

When I got sick with cancer

and it was not clear

whether I was going to live or die,

I reverted to doing more music.

Um, I wouldn't say revert.

That's not quite right. But I chose to do more music.

I chose to write more music. I chose to perform more.

Because whenever I was thinking about music

and the performance

or the creative process,

I always felt like I had a friend,

I had something that I could depend upon.

And I always felt like I had something

that I didn't want to let down.

Because I booked so many concerts,

because I worked on so many records,

I looked at it as if I were going to die,

this would give me a reason to wake up the next morning.

So every night that I went to bed,

I always felt positive that I wasn't going to die in my sleep

because I had a job to do the next day.

And it gave me a very positive outlook.

♪ Like the legend of the phoenix ♪

Narrator: After disco, pop, and hip hop,

the always avant garde Nile Rodgers began working

with the electro scene.

His talent and know-how blended perfectly

with that of the top deejay-producers.

♪ We've come too far

♪ To give up who we are

♪ So let's raise the bar

♪ And our cups to the stars

♪ She's up all night till the sun ♪

Narrator: Other than "Get Lucky,"

Nile worked with Daft Punk on two other numbers,

including "Lose Yourself to Dance."

This collaboration was a true renaissance for Nile Rodgers.

Williams: When the robots asked me to come to the studio

to work on "Get Lucky"

before it was even "Get Lucky"

and it was just a track,

they asked me to play them some stuff

that I had been working on, and that's when I played them

like, you know, the Adam Lambert record

and I played a couple of other records.

And then I said to them, I was like, "Yeah, you know,

I've just been influenced as of recent by Nile Rodgers."

And they was like, "Oh, yeah, that's funny.

He actually played on this song that we want you to write to."

I started with playing like...

So once I said, if that's what the basic chords are,

that in and of itself doesn't sound interesting to me,

because you want to have improvisation

in the middle of it. So you play...

[ Strumming ]

And I would play...

And I'd play...

And I'd play...

And then play...

And I'd play...

It was unbelievably comfortable for me to work with them

because they were taking me back to a place

that feels so normal to me.

Man: And the Grammy goes to...

Woman: "Get Lucky," Daft Punk.

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪ She's up all night till the sun ♪

♪ I'm up all night to get some ♪

♪ She's up all night for good fun ♪

♪ I'm up all night to get lucky ♪

Narrator: Daft Punk's album is one of the biggest

musical successes in recent years.

Four Grammy Awards

crowned the collaboration between these artists

who have such admiration for each other.

[ Beeping, whirring ]

♪ La di da di da

♪ La di da di da

♪ La di da di da

♪ La di da di da

♪ Why does your love hurt so much? ♪

♪ Why?

♪ Why does your love

Narrator: As he showed with Daft Punk,

Nile Rodgers is always up-to-date

and on the lookout for new trends,

which is why he works with Avicii.

At the same time as he is known for a certain sound,

for that kind of funkiness,

he's very open-minded to doing all sorts of music.

♪ Lay me down in darkness

♪ Tell me what you see

♪ Love is where the heart is

Avicii: I always have a vision when it comes to, like, melody

and where I want the track to go, and so does he.

And I think we just kind of inspire each other, too,

even though, like you said, we're from such different

generations, and it's crazy how it works.

That even though, like, he's from a different time,

we still get along so well together.

Rodgers: The great thing about working

with a person like Avicii

is people call people like that deejays,

and I find that's almost like when people used to

call Chic a disco band.

It made it seem one-dimensional.

Avicii is not just a deejay. He's a deejay

because he's playing back his music live

and playing other people's music live.

But he's a composer. He's a musician.

He's a composer. He's just like me.

It's just that he doesn't play the guitar,

but he does his compositions on an electronic instrument.

[ Playing guitar ]

In the year 1960 when they built this body,

in the year '59 when they built this neck,

you'd have only probably had three bodies like this

and you wouldn't have had any guitars

that would have had this body and neck combination.

I didn't know that everything was thinner than normal

and the whole scale is thinner. My guitar as light as a feather

compared to any of these other Stratocasters.

So this mistake,

which I didn't know was a mistake,

wound up becoming an essential part of my sound.

It's springier...

[ Strumming ]

...and more vibrant

than a normal Strat.

Even though you hear me --

I'm not plugged in,

I have no amplification, you can always hear the...

A lot of my engineers say

that it has a sort of hollow character to it,

and you can hear whenever I play any other guitar.

None of them sound like this,

no matter how brilliant they sound.

♪ At last I am free

♪ I can hardly see in front of me ♪

♪ I can hardly see in front of me ♪

I'm talking to him all the time about new sessions.

It's just -- It's just -- It's always an ongoing...

He's definitely one of the best or the best production partner,

you know, I've ever sat down with.

Nile is responsible for a huge portion of the '70s

and '80s and even '90s.

And look at him now, you know, even into the 2000s.

Rodgers: Unfortunately, now that Bernard Edwards

is no longer with me,

I sort of have to hold up the house.

The house that I'm holding up is still the house that we built.

I want to be a guitar player and a composer.

And after I make those compositions,

I want to be able to go out on stage and play them.

[ Instruments sound checking ]

So, not a lot louder.

Can we just groove?

[ Speaking French ]

Interpreter: Now everyone considers him a living legend.

He's always looking ahead.

He wants to continue promoting the Chic brand.

But not the Chic of the time, because times have moved on.

He tried it in 1992

and he no longer wants to make an album for purists.

They would never be satisfied with what he could do now,

because we live with the Chic albums of the past

and you can't reproduce something

that was already perfect.

Now it's my record or Chic's record.

You know, it's got the name Chic on it,

but the process is still the same.

If you go back to our very first record

and you look at every record up until now,

it's me working with the best people

that are available

to do what they do.

Williams: If I'm lucky enough to make the cut,

I would love to be -- you know, to work with him

on something he's done for Chic.

I think he told me he wanted me to,

which I was like, yes!

But like, you know, whenever he's ready.

It's him. I mean, come on, he's a living legend.

Not many people can say that. A living legend.

Narrator: The next Chic album is a renaissance

for this musical genius.

He hasn't finished surprising us in a business where it is

difficult to stay at the top.

Nile Rodgers has lived several lives,

but he may not have revealed all his secrets yet.

The reason why I think that I do music so well

in the moment is because I want to do it fast,

I want to save you money,

I want to -- I want to make you happy.

I want you to walk around going,

"I can't wait to work with this person again!"

If Nile does have a secret as a hit-maker,

I think it's keeping it simple and keeping in the groove.

He has great energy. He's great with people.

You know, they're the main things

that you need as a producer.

Interpreter: His brain is working all the time.

It's filled with music.

Great musicianship,

great understanding of every instrument.

And he's so talented,

so he can do pretty much anything you ask of him.

He is a prolific producer, an incredible writer.

He dominates. When he does it, he dominates.

And it's something that I know that after I'm dead,

people will still sing "We Are Family."

That's an amazing thing to have happen.

I pretty much have an idea that people will sing "Good Times."

I pretty much have an idea that people will sing,

"Ah, freak out."

And on some level, they'll sing "Upside Down"

and "I'm Coming Out" and many other compositions.

So I'm now in that phase where I want to create music

not so that I can add to my legacy, if you will.

That's not what's important. I want to create music

because it gives me drive and determination and focus

and it gives me a reason to wake up in the morning.

And the day that I don't wake up, they'll say,

"Oh, I guess he wasn't thinking about a song last night."

[ Cheers and applause ]

♪ Ah, freak out

Come on!

♪ Le freak, c'est chic

♪ Freak out

♪ Ah, freak out

♪ Good times

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