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‘The Hitmaker’: excellent doc on the legendary Nile Rodgers
08:02 am


Nile Rodgers

Nile during his Soul Glo phase
This 2013 BBC documentary about living legend Nile Rodgers could not be more appropriately named, seeing as he has just given Daft Punk the biggest hit of their careers. Thankfully, this program includes none of the recent “Get Lucky” hyperbole (I mean, I like that song and all, but enough is enough already!) Judging by the concert footage it was filmed last summer.

You may know most of Rodger’s incredible story already (and if you haven’t read his autobiography Le Freak, you are really missing out on one of the best music biogrpahies of recent years) but there’s enough anecdata to make it a very worthwhile watch.

My own personal fave story is the one concerning Rodgers’ initial work on “Let’s Dance” with David Bowie. Worried that he may have been taking Bowie in too much of a “dance” direction, Nile asks him if perhaps the track is too funky, to which Bowie responds: “Is there such a thing, Nile?”

Try getting that quote, in Bowie-voice, out of your head the next time you see either of these two legends.

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Giorgio Moroder signs Nile Rodgers’ guitar
11:43 pm


Giorgio Moroder
Nile Rodgers

The masters meet. What a moment. 

The guy in the background gets it.

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Nile Rodgers’ pre-Chic Big Apple Band plays ‘You Should Be Dancing’

From one disco legend to another, Nile Rodgers has just posted this to his Facebook wall, saying:

“Our pre-CHIC tribute to the Bee Gees “You Should Be Dancing.” Robin Gibb RIP”

The Big Apple Band was indeed Rodgers’ pre-Chic project, and are not to be confused with composer Walter Murphy’s disco outfit of the same name. The sound of The Big Apple Band is rawer and grittier than either Chic or the Bee Gees (even though the Chic rhythm section of Rodgers on guitar, Bernard Edwards on bass and Tony Thompson on drums are all present and correct).

Rodgers says this of the Big Apple Band (who have another clip, this time performing Earth Wind And Fire’s “Get Away,” here):

It’s The Big Apple Band, which is us pre-CHIC playing live in a video recording studio. It was made by Kenny Lehman, the co-writer of CHIC’s debut single “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Kenny was also a booking agent who was trying to get us gigs doing high-school proms. We never got one prom gig but did lots of gigs on the chittlin’ circuit, and the seeds of CHIC were being planted.

In my memoir “Le Freak,” I tell how Bernard and I were developing into sophisto-funkers while others around us weren’t quite convinced. Notice that only he and I are wearing suits while our band mates are more Rock & Roll casual. The band was forced to change its name after composer/arranger/producer extraordinaire Walter Murphy, had major success with a great disco reworking of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. He called it “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band.

It’s been a bad few weeks for fans of disco and soul, with the passing of Donna Summer, Donald Dunn and now Robin Gibb. Rodgers himself has been very ill recently with cancer (which he writes about movingly on his blog), so here’s hoping he’s not added to that list.

And here’s a great testament ot the songwriting genius of the brothers Gibb. Rest In Peace Robin: 

The Big Apple Band “You Should Be Dancing”:

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Nile Rodgers in talks to work with Daft Punk
06:35 pm


Nile Rodgers
Daft Punk

This really has to happen - it would be a match made in Disco Heaven! From a recent Nile Rodgers interview on the Culture Map Houston website:

Since receiving his cancer diagnosis in fall 2010, Rodgers has committed himself to an impressive array of new projects — ranging from production work for Adam Lambert’s sophomore effort Trespassing to finishing up his bestselling memoirs Le Freak.

Upon his return to New York, he said he would be meeting with the acclaimed French electronic music duo Daft Punk to discuss their long-awaited fourth album, rumored by fans to be drawing upon the group’s R&B influences.

The mind boggles at the potential funkiness these guys could brew up together… I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to hear one of the best guitarists of all time jamming over “Around The World”, a song that sounds like he practically wrote it?

Daft Punk “Around The World (live)”

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Nile Rodgers’ ‘Le Freak’: music biography of the year
Miles Davis talks about his art on Nile Rodgers’ ‘New Visions’
Nile Rodgers dishes the dirt on Atlantic Records

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Nile Rodgers’ ‘Le Freak’: Music biography of the year

Yes, I am aware that Marc Campbell writing on this blog last month claimed that Everything Is An Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson is the music book of the year—which is why I have fudged the terms here and inserted the word “biography” into the headline. Shouldn’t there be a distinction between writers on music and musicians who write anyway? Well, it doesn’t really matter if you are more interested in the story or the music, as Nile Rodgers’ autobiography Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny is packed to the last page with stories and anecdotes that will have you picking your jaw up off the floor.

If you consider yourself a music fan, then Nile Rodgers needs no introduction. He is a hardcore, bona-fide music industry legend. He not only co-wrote some of the biggest hits of the Seventies with his partner Bernard Edwards in the band Chic (“Le Freak”, “Good Times”, “We Are Family”), and produced some of the biggest records of the 80s (Madonna’s Like A Virgin, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Duran Duran’s Notorious, Diana Ross’ Diana.) His skills as a guitarist are beyond any doubt and have influenced a generation of musicians not only in the disco, funk and dance genres but further afield in post-punk and even hard rock. At a recent gig in Manchester, Rodgers’ Chic Organisation was joined onstage by The Smiths’ Johnny Marr who sat in on “Le Freak”—the pairing might seem unusual, but listen to their guitar styles and the influence is clear.

Le Freak is Rodgers’ candid autobiography, and what a tale he has to tell. Not only is this one of the most fascinating stories in modern music, with a cast list of some of the biggest stars in the world, but it’s also one of the most under-documented so to hear it coming from the proverbial horse’s mouth is a delight. There’s drugs, sex, rock’n’roll, drugs, booze, disco, hippies, drugs, Black Panthers, bohemians, buppies, drugs and some more drugs for good measure. The years spent playing and writing in Chic, while not given short thrift, are not the main focus of the book. Chic have been well documented elsewhere, in particular the book Everbody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco by Darren Easley. But where that book leaves off—namely the coke-fuelled 80s—is where Le Freak really kicks in to gear, with Rodgers working with Ross, Bowie, Ciccone and snorting his way through the GDP of a small country. Any mere mortal would be dead from the amount of coke Rodgers scoffed, but what’s even more impressive is his hardcore work ethic and the fact that he managed to keep it all together (and tight!) while under the influence.

But it’s the early years of Rodgers’ life that are the unexpected highlight. To call his upbringing unusual would be an understatement. Born to his mother when she was just 13, and only a few years before she became a full-time heroin addict, Nile travelled with his mother or one of his grandmothers between New York and LA during the 50s and 60s. His musically gifted father wasn’t present, but Nile ran into him in a couple of times on the street, and got to witness his vagrant lifestyle first hand in a couple of heart-breaking reminiscences. In Los Angeles, at the age of 13, Rodgers drops acid at a hippie pad and ends up hanging out with Timothy Leary. In New York, at the more wizened age of 17, he finds himself tripping balls in a hospital emergency ward as Andy Warhol is wheeled in, having just been shot by Valerie Solanas. This being the kind of incredible life that Rodgers leads, he is able to meet both men later on in life, in very different circumstances, and recount these tales directly to them. He credits events and coincidences like this in his life as something called “hippie happenstance.”

Yet, despite all the major celebrities who make regular appearances throughout the book (I particularly liked the story of meeting Eddie Murphy), this remains distinctly the Nile Rodgers story. It’s clear how important family is to the man, and despite his own family’s unusual set-up and dysfunction, it’s the Rodgers’ clan who are the anchor in this wild tale (even despite their own wild times consuming and selling drugs). Nile’s parents may have been junkies, and genetically predisposed him to his alcoholism, but they taught him about fine art, music, fashion and culture, which is not how heroin-addicted parents are generally perceived by the public.

Le Freak is an excellent book, and worth reading whether you like disco music or not. Nile Rodgers’  is one of the most important composers/musicians/producers of the 20th century, and it’s good to see him finally getting his due. But despite creating the biggest selling single for his then label, Atlantic, and producing the biggest break-out records for a generation of 80s pop superstars, it still packs a punch to read about the discrimination that Rodgers and his music faced from within the industry:

A few weeks later I did a remix of a song of [Duran Duran’s] called “The Reflex”. Unfortunately, as much as Duran Duran liked the remix, their record company wasn’t happy, and I was soon in an oddly similar situation to the conflict Nard and I had had with Diana Ross’ people.

Nick Rhodes called me moments after the band had excitedly previewed my retooling of “The Reflex” to the suits at Capitol Records. “Nile” he began, his monotone stiff-upper-lip English accent barely hiding his despair. “We have a problem”.

My stomach tightened. “What’s up Nick?”

He struggled to find the words. “Capitol hates the record” he finally said.

I was stunned. “The Reflex” was a smash. I was sure of it. This was déja vu all over again.

“How do you guys feel about it?” I asked a little defensively.

“Nile, we love it. But Capitol hates it so much they don’t want to release it. They say it’s too black sounding.”

Too black sounding? I tried not to hit the roof, but in a way it was nice to hear it put so plain. Finally someone had just come out and said it.

Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny by Nile Rodgers is available here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Nile Rodgers dishes the dirt on Atlantic Records
Miles Davis talks about his art on Nile Rodgers’ ‘New Visions

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Miles Davis talks about his art on Nile Rodgers’ ‘New Visions’

The great Nile Rodgers has started uploading clips from his old TV show New Visions to his new YouTube account. This short clip gives a fascinating insight into the artwork made by Miles Davis, of which there is an example above, called “The Kiss”.

Here Miles talks candidly about the shapes and colours in his work and what they mean to him, in his wonderfully gravelly voice. It all seems very sexual. The only downside is that this video is agonisingly short - Nile, if you have the full length version of this episode then you HAVE to put it online for the whole world to see!

Another clip from New Visions, this time featuring guitarists John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Robert Fripp and more:

Previously on DM:
Nile Rodgers: Walking On Planet C
Nile Rodgers dishes the dirt on Atlantic Records
Miles Davis Quintet skateboards
Miles Davis: Louis Malle’s ‘Elevator To The Gallows’ recording session

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