During his most successful ’80s period and beyond, Chic’s Nile Rodgers was a key collaborator in David Bowie’s career. Here he discusses his work and relationship with the great man…
“It’s still shocking to me. It’s hard to accept it, but I’ve had a lot of tragedy in my rock’n’roll life. David Bowie introduced me to Stevie Ray Vaughan and I gave the eulogy at Stevie Ray’s funeral. We were doing a record and he and his brother left for a show and only one came back. With David, our relationship was a very interesting one in that people don’t realise that we’ve done quite a bit of music together. Everyone talks about ‘Let’s Dance’ but they never talk about ‘Black Tie White Noise’ and ‘Miracle Goodnight’ and ‘China Girl’ and ‘Modern Love’ and ‘Ricochet’ and all this other stuff. We’ve done a lot of music. So I feel, in a strange way, that we were in a holding pattern. When I work with artists I’m so immersed in the project that it feels like all I’m doing is living and breathing it for a while and as soon as that record’s over I’m on to the next thing, I’m immersed in the next person’s life. But because we’re tied together forever I’d always call and say, ‘Hey, we’re playing here, do you think David will come out and do a couple of songs with us?’. I was in contact with them, we called the office right away but I respect people’s boundaries, I don’t try to push myself on people.
“I have millions of memories, so many that are hysterical and funny and great and warm and loving. I remember when we were doing the song ‘Let’s Dance’ it was after we had discussed the album holistically. We hadn’t written any music at all, we had just gone out on an expedition, listening to different records and looking at rock’n’roll iconography. At a certain point David had come up with a concept – he had a picture of Little Richard in a red suit getting into a red Cadillac. He came to my apartment and he said ‘Nile darling, this is what I want my record to sound like, that’s rock’n’roll!’. I knew what he was talking about as soon as I saw the picture. He doesn’t want a record that’s going ‘Good golly Miss Molly!’, that’s not what he wanted, he wanted this record that was futuristic, that was modern but evergreen, that could’ve been made at any time. I was thinking about this the other day, if you had a brand new rock’n’roll band that they didn’t work with click tracks and they didn’t use sequencers and they walked in and they had the album ‘Let’s Dance’ and said, ‘Hey, here’s the record we just cut’.
“It was amazing to work on that record because we did it by ourselves. He had no record label, he financed the record himself and it was the easiest record I’ve ever made in my whole life. It took 17 days from the moment we walked into the studio to the moment we left. He had 21 days booked but I don’t think he thought we were gonna finish an album, he thought in those 21 days we’d record some songs then sit back and go’ okay, now where are we?’ But after 17 days we were finished. I always thought it was nineteen but I found out from the engineer Bob Clearmountain, he said, ‘No, you just didn’t show up those other days because you were out partying!’.”
Nile Rodgers is bringing his FOLD festival to the UK next year.
Taking place over three days at Fulham Palace, it sees Nile curating a bill involving artists who he has worked with over the past 40 years. Tickets go on sale on Friday (January 15).