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.”