Recording Academy Honoree Nile Rodgers Still Old School After All These Years

As the Producers and Engineers Wing of the Recording Academy prepares to honor him at its annual pre-Grammy celebration, producer-songwriter-musician Nile Rodgers is both humbled and reflective. “Life began for me when a single DJ dropped the needle on my vinyl record, and it’s true,” says Rodgers from his Connecticut home studio. “With the P&E Wing of the Grammys, you are with the people who actually make the music.”

Rodgers, a producer on last year’s multi-Grammy winning Daft Punk triumph “Random Access Memories,” will receive the award for recording excellence on Tuesday at an event being staged at the Village Studios in West Los Angeles.

Making the music is something Rodgers knows how to do well. He has been affiliated with chart-topping hits every decade since the mid-’70s, recordings for the likes of Diana Ross, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Madonna, INXS, Eric Clapton, the B-52s, Sister Sledge and, more recently, Pharrell Williams and Sam Smith.

“We were all just musicians doing what we love to do, which is getting together with someone of a like-minded spirit and creating art,” he says of his work in the studio. “You create something from nothing.”

Rodgers grew up in a mixed-race home in New York’s Greenwich Village. While working as a guitarist in the Sesame Street stage show road production in 1970, he met his partner and bandmate, Bernard Edwards. A year later, they would be part of the legendary Apollo Theater house band and, by the mid ’70s, were backing several R&B singers, including the late Luther Vandross.

While working with Vandross, they formed Chic, with drummer Tony Thompson, scoring a number of top-10 dance and pop hits at the dawn of the disco era, among them “Dance Dance Dance” and “Le Freak.” However, by the early 1980s, disco and Chic had gone out of fashion, and Rodgers and Edwards turned to producing and session work.

“When it got to 1982, I met David Bowie and I was working on these new funky grooves,” says Rodgers. “I wanted them to be funky but not disco.” The result was “Let’s Dance,” Bowie’s commercial comeback and the record that launched Rodgers as a producer in high demand.

While his offers to write and produce for other platinum artists continues to grow, Rodgers is about to release a new Chic record on Warner Brothers, “It’s About Time,” due in stores March 20. The record mixes both new members with the original lineup of Chic and new recordings with uncovered lost Chic tapes from the early 1980s.

“This is very old school,” says Rodgers. “My first single that is coming out has everyone who was on my very first album, including Luther Vandross.

“The process of recording in the old days was big and collaborative,” he adds. “There is no recording from these sessions that we put up that doesn’t sound extraordinary. It was like a time capsule.”

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music

    As Woodstock Turns 50, the Fest's 10 Most Sacred Music Moments (Watch)

    Cars were left abandoned along the New York Interstate. Electrical and speaker systems fuzzed and popped. Amps blew then went silent. The rain was endless as the mud sank deep and rank. Young children ran naked and dazed through crowds of strangers. Food was scarce. Water, unclean. Looking back, Woodstock seems a more apocalyptic, than [...]

  • 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band

    Film Review: 'ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas'

    Settling in to watch “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” you may have a burning question that applies to almost no other rock documentary, and that is: Who, exactly, are these guys? The ones behind the beards? If you’re old enough, of course, you probably know that ZZ Top started out, in 1969, [...]


    Jay-Z to Acquire Ownership Stake in NFL Team (Report)

    Jay-Z will soon acquire a “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team, TMZ reported on Friday. The team was not disclosed, but a source told the site the deal will happen in the “near future,” adding that the billionaire rapper “wants to continue to be a change agent for the NFL.” Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation, [...]


    How 'Blinded by the Light' Brought Bruce Springsteen's Music to the Screen for a Song

    Blinded by the Light co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider. Born in Kenya when the country was a British colony, she grew up part of the Indian/Asian diaspora who made their way from East Africa to London. For that reason, the 59-year-old’s movies has always dealt with the [...]

  • Blake Shelton, Trace AdkinsCMA Music Festival

    Blake Shelton Takes a Shot at 'Old Town Road' in New Single

    Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins have just released a duet, “Hell Right,” that seems to have a beef with “Old Town Road.” But is it a light-hearted, maybe even affectionate slam — or should anyone read culture-war significance into the two country stars expressing a preference for Hank Williams Jr. over Lil Nas X, the breakout [...]

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

  • Teddy Riley Walk of Fame

    From Blackstreet to Hollywood Blvd. as Teddy Riley Receives a Star on the Walk of Fame

    Many musical artists are responsible for hits, whether recording and writing for themselves or producing smashes for others. Teddy Riley’s got the success, having fashioned platinum-plated R&B works for, and with, Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson, Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh and more since the mid-’80s, not to mention the music of his own slick soul [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content