Nile Rodgers is the owner of one of the sharpest minds in music. Few people have the same encyclopaedic knowledge of music as the Chic man, who, as well as being a bandleader, was also at the forefront of defining what pop music would become throughout the 1980s. Rodgers played an influential part in shaping the careers of David Bowie, Prince and Madonna, but it was a left-field English group that made him feel inspired to form Chic.
Rodgers formed his first band after he met bassist Bernard Edwards in 1970 while working as a touring musician for the Sesame Street stage show. The two of them formed the rock band The Boys after they hit it off after gigging as back-up musicians for the vocal group New York City, who had a hit single with ‘I’m Doin’ Fine Now’. The band allowed them to tour and gave Rodgers the first glimpse of his future. Although the first band would be shortlived, Rodgers and Bernard then formed a funk-rock band called The Big Apple Band but struggled to get off the ground as record labels thought it would be too difficult to promote black rock musicians.
A more successful rebrand would come in 1977, a time when they essentially just changed their name to Chic, and the work that Rodgers had put in over the previous years finally yielded dividends for him as they instantly became a hit. The influence of Chic would make David Bowie turn his hand to dance with help from Rodgers in 1983. Without the band breaking this pioneering ground, who knows if it would have been possible for Prince to have his purple reign over the world.
The Big Apple Band began in 1972. The inspiration for Rodgers and Edwards forming the group, who would eventually take over the world as Chic, came after his travels as a session musician brought him to England, where one gig would act as a life-changing event in his life. The two musicians were in a rock band called The Boys at the time, but something wasn’t clicking and, after witnessing Roxy Music, Rodgers realised that he needed to change his output.
“I’ve done a lot of records in my life, and in a strange way, even though I am an American, born in New York City, the UK has had so much to do with the development of my career,” Rodgers recounted at the Q Awards in 2018. Had it not been for me going around with this girl, who took me to see this then unknown band called Roxy Music, I never would have come up with the concept for Chic.
“We were in a bunch of punk bands, and whenever we got dressed up in the morning, that was what we went on stage in that night. I went out to this club, and I saw this beautiful band called Roxy Music and they were like gorgeous.
“They were decked out and dressed up to go on stage. The audience was beautiful. I got on the phone and called my boy in New York. I said: ‘(Co-founder of Chic) Bernard (Edwards), we have got to do the black version of this shit.’ It changed my life, and from that moment on, I was meeting people like David Bowie, George Michael and Duran Duran.”
Not only has Rodgers worked and inspired almost every artist under the sun, but he’s also linked up with Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry on a plethora of occasions over the last few daces. The two men have built up a strong working relationship, which started in 1984 on Ferry’s Boys & Girls record and most recently in 2014, Rodgers hopped on the album Avonmore, with him and Johnny Marr playing the guitar across the effort.
Although it would be over half a decade of perseverance with The Big Apple Band and then Chic before Rodgers would start to reap the fruits of his labour, he knew from the moment he saw Roxy Music that traditional rock music was holding him back. Seeing these young Englishmen expressing themselves no-holds-barred was a liberating experience that changed his life.