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GUITAR SOUND ALL HIS OWN; CHIC CO-FOUNDER NILE ROGERS MADE IMPRINT ON DANCE MUSIC THAT FAR OUTLASTED DISCO FLUFF.

Byline: Fred Shuster Daily News Music Writer

It's a sound as distinctive as that of Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton.

When you hear the rhythm guitar on ``Like a King,'' the opening cut on Texas guitarist Jimmie Vaughan's new album, ``Out There,'' you know it's Nile Rodgers, guitarist and producer extraordinaire who wrote, produced and played on the tune.

Rodgers, best-known as co-founder of Chic, the polished disco-era band that influenced dance music throughout the past two decades, has produced and written songs for million-selling albums by Madonna, the B-52's, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Eric Clapton and many others.

These days, the New York-based Rodgers is busy writing material for the next Ross album, and putting the finishing touches on a Chic album recorded live in Tokyo in April 1996, just before his longtime partner, bassist Bernard Edwards, died suddenly of pneumonia.

``It's my last record with Bernard,'' Rodgers explained. ``It's taken me a year and a half to decide to release it because I was so emotional about it.''

At the show, Rodgers and Edwards were joined by Steve Winwood, Simon LeBon of Duran Duran, Slash of Guns N' Roses on guitar and singers Sister Sledge.

``When you hear Slash playing with Chic, you say he should have always played with us,'' Rodgers said.

Rodgers says the first Chic production, ``Everybody Dance,'' was released as a white-label disc given only to New York club disc jockeys in 1977, thus ensuring a hip underground following at first.

``It's a pop dance ditty, but when we wrote it, it was really avant-garde,'' Rodgers, 45, said. ``That was the song that allowed us to make hit records and hold our head up high. At first we didn't have a label - it went to the DJs at Studio 54 and other clubs, and that's how you knew the place was hip.''

Chic's first major-label single, ``Dance, Dance, Dance,'' which sold a million copies for Atlantic, hit the top 10, followed by further Chic hits like the earlier ``Everybody Dance'' (with Luther Vandross on backing vocals), ``Le Freak,'' ``I Want Your Love'' and the 1979 chart-topper ``Good Times.''

While disco was often dismissed as banal, disposable dance-floor fodder, Chic was actually a highly polished, imaginative band like Steely Dan, which was also unfairly derided and misunderstood for its perceived synthetic sound.

Utilizing lush arrangements, sharp, syncopated grooves and a chorus of talented singers such as Alfa Anderson, Norma Jean Wright and Luci Martin, Chic built a reputation as one of the best pop groups of all time.

Unfortunately, the group was often lumped in with disco novelty acts such as the Village People or pure disco divas like Donna Summer.

But according to the second edition of the ``All Music Guide to Rock,'' Chic's patented ``crisp grooves and walloping boogie'' influenced an entire generation of artists from David Byrne to Prince.

Critic Ken Barnes said Chic was the tightest rhythm ensemble at least since Booker T. & the MG's, maybe ever.

Edwards' ``Good Times'' bass riff was the basis for both Sugarhill Gang's ``Rapper's Delight'' and Queen's ``Another One Bites the Dust.'' Meanwhile, Rodgers and Edwards produced and played on ``We Are Family,'' the Sister Sledge pop masterpiece.

``The whole disco phenomenon was so big you forget about the passion of some individuals,'' Rodgers explained. ``The disco format allowed primarily r&b/pjazz-fusion musicians like us to make sophisticated popular music as long as we had good grooves and beats. It allowed us to stretch the harmonic possibilities of pop music.''

Rodgers said the era of soul-funk bands like Chic, Cameo, Con Funk Shun and Average White Band ended in the early '80s when dance music became mechanized with drum machines standing in for human percussionists.

``When mechanical music came in, it was easy for Lipps Inc. to have a No. 1 hit with `Funkytown,' '' Rodgers recalled. ``Disco acts had flourished, but Lipps changed the way dance music was being made. Disco was now created by producers while artists just sang over tracks. We just couldn't bring ourselves to do that.''

After eight Chic albums in six years, the group disbanded in 1983 and Rodgers went on to produce or co-produce such top-selling albums as Bowie's ``Let's Dance,'' Madonna's ``Like a Virgin,'' Duran Duran's ``Notorious,'' the B-52's' ``Cosmic Thing'' and the Vaughan Brothers' ``Family Style,'' among others.

``We became producers,'' Rodgers said. ``And the new romantic bands like Power Station and Duran Duran became an extension of Chic.''

Rodgers said if Edwards hadn't died, Chic would be touring now with Slash, Winwood and others in the lineup.

``That Tokyo gig was the beginning of us doing a whole new thing,'' the guitarist said.

Thanks to sampling, Chic's infectious sound hasn't disappeared from the charts entirely. Last year, for example, saw Chic samples as the basis for such smashes as ``Gettin' Jiggy Wit It'' by Will Smith and ``Mo Money Mo Problems'' by the Notorious B.I.G.

Rodgers credits his innovative rhythm guitar style - a blend of clean sevenths and warm ninth chords delivered with razor-sharp syncopation - to his former partner, who helped develop the sound when the pair were touring as part of an early pop-r&b group called New York City in the mid-'70s.

``We were gigging down south and Bernard kept trying to explain to me the rhythm style called `chucking,' '' Rodgers remembered. ``The other guitarist in the band had the style down and I got jealous. Finally, I said to Bernard, `I give up. Show me how to do this.' So, we went back to the hotel and he showed me the basics.''

Rodgers, whose background in jazz harmony allowed him to use the style with a wide variety of chords and musical progressions, first had to switch instruments.

``I was one of those guys that always used big old Gibsons for that warm jazz sound,'' Rodgers said. ``One day, Bernard just couldn't take it anymore and said, `Why don't you go buy a Fender?' So, I switched to a Stratocaster and I've been playing it ever since.''

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Photo: Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers: ``The disco format allowed primarily r&b/jazz-fusion musicians like us to make sophisticated popular music as long as we had good grooves and beats.''
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 19, 1998
Words:1042
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