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Music

Watch Nile Rodgers break down some of his biggest hits

@TylerGolsen

Even calling Nile Rodgers a legend doesn’t seem to do the man justice. As a guitar player, songwriter, and producer, Rodgers created some of the most indelible music of the disco era, shepherded the likes of Diana Ross and Sister Sledge into the 1980s, and became David Bowie’s right-hand man during the Let’s Dance sessions. Even with those brief notes on his resume, Rodgers is already breathing some rarified air.

But Rodgers’ career is more than just his highlights. There are the deep cuts from Chic records that still sound like modern dancefloor, his number one hits that he produced with Duran Duran and Madonna, and his iconic contributions to the work of Daft Punk. Rodgers’ fingerprints can be found on six decades of popular music, with his recording style being adaptable enough to fit just about any artist.

Even though he’s got malleable sensibilities, Rodgers also has an unmistakable signature sound. That largely comes from his Fender Stratocaster, on which he created the “chucking” style of guitar that still provides the rhythm for so much of funk and R&B music. Highlighting syncopation, high intervals, and jazzy inversions, Rodgers was a one of one kind of player, even though scores of imitators copied him the second that Chic’s ‘Freak Out’ became a hit.

In a new interview where Rodgers breaks down some of his biggest songs with Fender, the guitarist starts with ‘Freak Out’, which actually came about through a possible Grace Jones collaboration. “She said, ‘What I want you to do is go to the back door of Studio 54 and you tell them that you are personal friends of Ms. Grace Jones,'” Rodgers recalls. “We knocked on the back door of Studio 54, and the guy slammed the door in our faces and said, ‘Awww fuck off!’ We banged on the door, we get his attention again, and he says, ‘Didn’t I tell you to fuck off?’ I had that lightbulb moment.”

A quick jam session at Rodgers’ apartment set the template for ‘Le Freak’, only the original refrain of, “Awww fuck off / Fuck Studio 54” had to be changed for radio play. It worked, and Rodgers beams with pride when he mentions that ‘Le Freak’ is still the best-selling single that Atlantic Records ever produced, outselling the likes of Aretha Franklin and Led Zeppelin.

Next, Rodgers walks through how he turned David Bowie‘s ‘Let’s Dance’ from a folk song into a chart-topping hit. “He played this for me, and I just thought that he was actually trying to test me to see if I was a sycophant,” Rodgers remembers. Rodgers then took the chords, rearranged them into a more jazzy style, incorporating his chucking technique, and produced the instantly recognisable guitar work that fills out ‘Let’s Dance’.

Finally, Rodgers shares his thoughts on collaborating with Daft Punk on the song ‘Get Lucky’. “They want to do a record as if the internet had never existed,” was how Rodgers described the French doe’s concept behind Random Access Memories. “And I said, ‘OK cool, you don’t have to play me any demos.'” Rodgers explained to them that he preferred to make records in the moment.

“I make records on the spot. As a studio musician, I don’t know what song I’m going to play before I get there, but when I get there, what I try and do is come up with the most clever part as quickly as possible because we started out like this,” Rodgers explained, pointing toward the analogue mixing desk in front of him. “You had to do records fast. You had to come up with clever parts fast. They were meaningful, they had to groove with everybody.”

Check out Rodgers’ full interview down below.