This week marks four years since the death of Prince and, remarkably, it has been the same amount of time since we lost David Bowie; two iconic figures who could easily put up a case for either of them to have a place on the Mount Rushmore of music. One person who played a prominent part in each of their stories was Nile Rodgers so, in their memory, we thought now was an appropriate time to revisit his poignant tribute to his two friends in 2016 following their passing.
Rodgers famously produced Bowie’s Let’s Dance which was his highest-selling record and spawned timeless hits including the title track as well as ‘China Girl’ and ‘Modern Love’. He also struck up a lifelong friendship with Prince from the first time they encountered each other at the start of the ’80s and, given their standing in the annals of music history, there was great respect between two each other which lasted until The Purple One departed us in 2016.
The Chic man penned an open letter at the end of 2016, offering fans an insight into the persona of both Bowie and Prince off the stage. Rodgers recounted the lifechanging moment where he first witnessed the genius of Prince, writing: “I first met Prince when he was just starting out—he played in New York at The Palladium on 14th Street in 1981. Prince came back to that club rather frequently, and we would have amazing chats. Playing with Prince was almost like having a conversatio—it was just, ‘Hey, this is what I’m thinking‘.”
He then went on to add: “He was an extraordinary virtuoso, and it made me feel like a million dollars to play with someone who is that talented. He would put down his guitar when I walked in and happily sit at the piano and let me play the guitar. He said to the audience’, Ladies and gentlemen, Nile Rodgers! Now, this man has the funk.”
Rodgers then went on to lovingly detail his final meeting with Prince when they shared the stage for one last time: “The last time I saw Prince was at the Superdome [in New Orleans] on July 4, 2015. He came onstage and played with Chic—funny enough, we did David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. We said goodbye, not like ‘Goodbye forever‘, but like, That was killer. See you in a minute.”
His relationship with Bowie was of a different nature to his one with Prince as he felt like The Thin White Duke wanted to learn from him: “With Bowie, it was a very different type of experience, because he gave me an enormous responsibility. He said: “Nile, I want you to do what you do best… I want you to make hits.” I was nervous as hell when I played him the ‘China Girl’ guitar lick because it was very hooky—I told the band, “Get ready to get fired today because he’s going to laugh his head off.” But he looked at me and went, ‘Nile, darling, that’s fantastic!’ I’m more proud of ‘Let’s Dance’ than damn near anything I’ve ever done, and it’s the easiest record I’ve ever made in my life — we did it from start to finish in 17 days.”
He then dotingly added: “I always go back to [Bowie’s 1972 album] The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars: It was a real story and you could see it—it’s like a film. Everything Bowie did was theatre—even if we were having dinner, it was theatre. And Prince could make music with and out of anything. When you break down ‘When Doves Cry’, it’s so musical, but there’s actually not much going on. How do you make a record and have no bass? And it was a smash.”
Rodgers would go on to finish his letter in moving fashion so try to hold back the tears or stop chopping onions: “David didn’t talk to me about [his illness]. But I knew that he was ill. I love and miss them both. What they’ve given to the world, what they’ve given to me as an individual, is extraordinary—wonderful moments of brilliance. To have friends like that, unique thinkers in your midst is a great gift.”
Watch Prince join forces with Nile Rodgers and Chic for one final occasion to perform Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, below.