"I have a fucking blast!" - Nile Rodgers on making records
Nile giving a quick guitar tutorial at LEAF.
Last Friday legendary songwriter, guitarist, Daft Punk collaborator and Chic frontman, Nile Rodgers, entertained a room of 300 lucky people with a three and a bit hour Q&A session about his life, his music, and everything else in-between. I think i speak for everyone in attendance that Nile was totally captivating and that the mammoth three hour session flew by.
It's hard to distill such a lengthy talk into a digestible read, but I've had a go anyway. Here are my favourite fourteen things I learnt about Nile last week.
1. Donna Summers - "Love To Love You Baby" was the first disco track Nile ever heard.
"I walked into a club, heard that track and was like 'wow, that's what I want to make'. Before that I was a total jazz snob. If we weren't playing Coletrane, I wasn't into it."
2. Nile wasn't much of a dancer in the early days, but luckily that didn't matter.
"What was awesome about the disco movement was that even if you didn't know what you were doing [on the dancefloor] people were still down with it. You didn't have to be a good dancer to fit in"
3. "I Want Your Love" came to Nile in a dream.
They recorded it note-for-note, lyric-for-lyric, exactly how it was in his dream. He says the only difference between the one we know today and the one in his song, was that a small part of the strings were taken up an octave.
4. Nile's always worked with close friends as much as possible.
"Our [Chic's] first record, we were working with Luther Vandross. We'd finish up sound check for him and run across to the studio, work on our record, then work for him. When our record became a hit and we hired him to work for us. So it was a real family feel in those days. I was working with people I had went to high school with."
5. 'Chic' wasn't their original name.
Before they were known as Chic they were called "The Boys" because they always covered Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town".
6. "Good Times" was the track that catapulted them into the big league.
Nile wrote "Good Times" the morning after an all night drinking session with John Deacon from Queen. He thought it'd take a long time to break, but he was wrong - "it went to number one so quick, when we had a gig to open up for Marvin Gaye we didn't know how to play it as a band yet. We'd just finished "Le Freak" and the crowd were cheering for "Good Times". We had to bluff our way through it, people lost their shit. They wouldn't let Marvin come on - they kept chanting 'Chic! Chic'. It was probably the most important gig I've ever played."
7. Without Nile, Daft Punk might still be working on Random Access Memories.
Daft Punk had been working on the album for eight years before Nile was brought into the studio. He recorded his parts in three hours. After Daft Punk saw how Nile worked, they called up all the other contributors and asked them to re-recorded all their parts. After this the album was complete in a matter of months.
8. Nile and Daft Punk thought "Loose Yourself To Dance" would be the big hit from Random Access Memories.
"Get Lucky" was meant to set up the record. They had no idea it'd be so big. "You never know if you've got a hit record. You might feel it, but you don't see it. I have loads of records lying around that I thought would be the bomb and for whatever reason didn't make it. A lot of times it's because your record label isn't in sync with were you are as an artist."
9. He treasures one instrument above all others.
Nile's been playing the same guitar on 95% of records since he bought it in 1973 when he opened for the Jackson Five. When asked does it have a name he replied - "Yeah, I call it The Hit Maker." He estimated that it has been played on nearly 2 billion dollars worth of music - "and that was before Get Lucky".
Nile playing Le Freak on The Hit Maker at LEAF.
10. Sometimes music really can save your life.
When Nile was diagnosed with cancer four years ago he decided to play more shows and make more music than he ever had before. He never missed a show during the years he was battling the disease.
11. The worst thing about touring - Ryan Air.
When asked what the one bad thing about touring was, his answer was simple - Ryan Air. "I couldn't believe that shit. I'd just had a cancer operation and all I wanted was a cup of water to take my medicine. They wanted to charge me and they wouldn't accept card. The person beside me had to buy it for me. I'm still not over that."
12. Nile's help write most of your favourite albums.
Madonna's Like A Virgin, Bowie's Lets Dance, Duran Duran's Notorious and classic albums by Depeche Mode, B-52's, INXS, Grace Jones, Sheena Easton, Peter Gabrielle, Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry and Debbie Harry and many, many more.
13. But despite all that, Nile has no plans to slow down.
He's just written 15 songs with Carl Cox and his track with Krystal Klear will be on the new Chic record.
14. And his advice for songwriters? Don't chase the money.
Hits are illusive, don't get into music looking to make a hit. Do it because you love it. If you go out looking for hits, you won't be in this business for long. If you do it because you love it, you'll be in it your whole life.