Happy Birthday to Nile Rodgers, one of the most influential & important figures in pop music

By on September 19, 2017

On the anniversary of Nile Rodgers‘ birthday — he was born on September 19, 1952, in New York City — we’re sharing this part two episode of Night Flight’s “Visions of Platinum,” which featured a brief interview with the famed producer.

In this special “Visions” episode — which originally aired on June 12, 1985, and you can now watch steaming in its entirety on Night Flight Plus — we took a look at a few of 1985’s top-selling platinum artists and bands, including David Bowie, whose 1983 album Let’s Dance was co-produced by Rodgers.

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It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Grammy-winning composer, producer, arranger and guitarist — who earlier this year was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame — has been one of the most influential and important figures in pop music since the late ’70s.

He’s produced so many platinum-selling artists in his more than 200 production credits (and counting!) that listing them is like looking at a veritable Who’s Who of ’70s and ’80s pop culture icons.

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In addition to Bowie, Nile Rodgers has also worked with and/or produced (in no particular order):

Michael Jackson, Prince, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, David Lee Roth, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, Steve Winwood, INXS, the B-52’s, Philip Bailey, Thompson Twins, Sheena Easton, Bryan Ferry, Al Jarreau, Cyndi Lauper, Howard Jones, David Sanborn, Britney Spears, Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera and many, many more.

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Some of the biggest hits he’s at least partly responsible for — including Chic’s “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out,” among hundreds of others — have sold upwards of a combined 100 million copies.

Read more about Nile Rodgers below.

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Rodgers burst on to the 70s disco scene with their band Chic, a hugely successful group whose songs — with their fat bass lines and funky chucked rhythm guitar riffs — sparked the advent of hip-hop and rap, both of which have dominated the dance charts ever since.

Rodgers was born in 1952, growing up in culturally-rich households all over NYC — Greenwich Village, Alphabet City, and the South Bronx — and by the time he was fifteen and picking up a guitar for the first time, he was already a fairly accomplished classical musician.

Rodgers’ first professional gigs were quite varied, including “Sesame Street”‘s road show and the Apollo Theater’s house band, where he backed R&B giants like Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, among others.

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In 1970, working as a studio guitarist, he met music director and bassist Bernard Edwards, and together they formed The Big Apple Band, who backed up a vocal group called New York City.

They had a minor hit (“I’m Doin’ Fine Now”), which led to them opening for the Jackson 5 on their first world tour in 1973.

Eventually, in 1977, Rodgers and Edwards formed Chic, who then rode the disco wave to much success even though they were actually an R&B band like Kool & the Gang or Earth, Wind & Fire.

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Chic would end up scoring multiple Top Ten hits, including the Grammy-nominated “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah).”

Their success led to the opportunity to work with other Atlantic roster acts, which is how they ended up producing Sister Sledge’s massive hit “We Are Family,” and that led to them, separately and together, to becoming highly sought-after producers, but it also played a part in Chic disbanding in 1983.

Rodgers focused for a time on his own solo career, but ultimately he ended up spent more time in the studio working with other top acts of the day, including David Bowie.

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Let’s Dance, Bowie’s fifteenth studio album, released on April 14, 1983, would feature three of his most enduring hit singles: the title track, “Let’s Dance” (a massive #1 hit in the UK, U.S. and several other counties), “Modern Love,” and “China Girl,” which Bowie had originally co-written for Iggy Pop‘s 1977 album The Idiot.

Rodgers — who talks a bit about “China Girl” in this excerpted interview for “Visions of Platinum” — originally thought the song was about drugs, specifically “speedballing.”

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Let’s Dance also featured Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played on several tracks.

The entire album, according to interviews with Nile Rodgers was recorded in just seventeen days.

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Left-to-right: Jeff Beck, Diana Ross, Nile Rodgers, Madonna and Jellybean Benitez celebrating Keith Haring’s birthday at Paradise Garage, 1984

In 1984, Rodgers was back behind the boards and remixing Duran Duran’s “The Reflex,” which went on to top the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their biggest-selling single.

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Rodgers produced Duran Duran’s fourth album, Notorious, recorded after the departure of two members, leaving Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor to soldier on as a trio.

Released on November 21, 1986, Notorious showed that Rodgers had turned out to the perfect choice to lead the band in a new stylistic direction towards funk and soul.

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There’s much, much more to Nile Rodgers story, of course, and if you’re interested, Rodgers writes about a lot of it in his 2011 autobiography, Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny.

Happy Birthday, Nile Rodgers!

Check out part two of Night Flight’s “Visions of Platinum” episode from 1985, which also examines the careers of Madonna, Bruce Springsteen (he’s got a birthday coming up too, on September 23rd) and several others; we also spoke with Phil Ramone (who produced Billy Joel and Julian Lennon) and Jellybean Benitez (Madonna’s producer). It’s streaming on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.