Chic's Nile Rodgers on David Bowie and Disco's Greatest Band
Nile Rodgers. Additional images and videos below.
Photo courtesy of Diego Paul Sánchez (Burning6)
Chic, which headlines the Paramount Theatre on February 19, has been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ten times (a record), but has not yet been enshrined — a fact that leaves group leader Nile Rodgers perplexed, to say the least.
But in many ways, that doesn't matter — since Rodgers, in a very real sense, is a hall of fame, as well as the most amazing name-dropper of all-time. Not that he seems to realize he's doing it. His mentions of friends, colleagues and acquaintances such as Paul McCartney, Pharrell, Prince, Elton John, Diana Ross, Adam Lambert and so many more are as casual as if he was discussing his plumber or the kid who sacks his groceries.
In addition to leading Chic, which is inarguably the best band to emerge from the disco movement, Rodgers is among the most accomplished producers of the past half-century. He's helmed benchmark projects such as Madonna's Like a Virgin and Let's Dance, the biggest-selling album ever made by David Bowie, who he remembers with grace and gratitude.
Moreover, Rodgers continues to be an active and vital presence on the contemporary music scene, putting his stamp on tracks from EDM superstars such as Avicii and playing a vital role on the 2013 Daft Punk album Random Access Memories, for which he won his first-ever Grammys — a fact that's flat-out astonishing.
Last year, "Le Freak," Chic's most popular song, joined the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Rodgers received the President's Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). But he has no interest in resting on his laurels. Chic is about to release its first album in decades, and Rodgers is producing the forthcoming collection by country-crossover artist Keith Urban, among other projects. Yet he still found time to chat with Westword about the width and breadth of his remarkable career.
Below, he talks about Chic's history, with references to the band's late co-founder, Bernard Edwards; the rise and fall of disco; family challenges, including a cancer battle; Chic's status as one of the most sampled bands ever ("Good Times" forms the backbone of hip-hop's first hit single, "Rappers Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang); cocaine psychosis (really); work with a who's who of music industry noteworthies (Bowie, Duran Duran, Blondie's Debbie Harry, Al Jarreau and so many more); the R&R Hall; and the ass-shaking wonder that is Chic live.
Prepare to freak out.
Westword: With "Le Freak" having been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and you receiving the NARAS President's Award, not to mention prepping the first new Chic album in a long time, you've had an incredibly busy past year or so. How does your schedule today compare to the busiest periods you've had during your career?
Nile Rodgers: It's the busiest period I've had during my career, which has always been busy from my very first record.
Does it surprise you that you've hit a new peak of craziness after so many decades in the music business?
No, because it's actually just normal for me. I remember twenty, twenty-five years ago, I was up for an award as producer of the year and I didn't win it — and this guy said, "Maybe we should just come up with a special category for Nile Rodgers, just for sheer volume alone." The level, the sheer volume of music I put out in a year. People don't realize it. They only focus when I have hits.
So on a daily basis, are you always creating new music? Does a day go by when you don't?
Rarely. Even that statement seems weird to me. Out of 365 days a year, there may be one day, but I can't remember that day; I don't know it for a fact. So I might say "maybe," but in my recollections of my actions, I do music every single day of my life.
Does that mean there are not just hundreds but thousands of songs in various states of completion that people haven't heard yet?
That's a 100 percent correct statement.
Have you thought about how to get that out to people?
I don't think in terms of believing that everything I write and everything I love has to be loved and liked by somebody else. Many times I write songs purely for intellectual and artistic development. In other words, it makes me better as any artist, and that's what the song is for. It expresses some form of non-fiction event I'm going through. Like right now, I'm having the most traumatic time of my life with my family. My mom has Alzheimer's and it's really killing me. It just came on so suddenly and so severely, and show business doesn't care. I have to do my work. Like I'm working on Keith Urban's album right now. I can't not show up, even though he's the most loving, understanding guy in the world. He's got to tour, so I've got to finish it. And I've got to put out my Chic album. The date is locked. It's incredible.
I say there's a blessing and a curse in my life. I only get three hours of sleep a night — that's my blessing. And my curse is, I only sleep three hours a night! (Laughs.)
Are you able to keep your mother's health issues more in perspective given your own bout with cancer a few years back?
I think that helps me. But what cancer has really done for me the most is it made me have a certain amount of peace with the inevitability of death. When I was first diagnosed, I was terrified, and one of my great friends, who I've known since I was fifteen years old — he's a doctor and very well respected, has traveled all over the world. He sat me down and said, "Nile, this is something I've never told you before. When we were kids and I was going to medical school, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was in the o.r. for three days that week. Two days I was operating on patients. The other day, they were operating on me. I was stricken with cancer when I was 21 and I never told you." He helped me get through it, and it was the most beautiful session I ever had with him.
As an outsider looking in, it seems that beating cancer was actually energizing for you from a creative standpoint. Was that the case? Did the idea of a ticking clock motivate you to rev things up to even a higher level?
Yes, that part is actually true. But in my own mind, I don't look at myself as having beaten cancer. To me, if you beat something, you are in an equal fight and you have a chance. I look at cancer and think, well, maybe I won round one. I do the best I can, I do what the doctors tell me to do and I do more music than I've ever done in my life. So spiritually, it keeps me grounded. I wake up in the morning and I've got a job to do. My job isn't to fight cancer; my job is to make music. And hopefully my doctors can help me fight cancer.
I don't consciously think about cancer every day, now that I've reached the five-year plateau. But I've gotten very smart about it. I talk to a lot of people and I know that once you get it, it wants to come back. I know people who've had it five, six, seven, eight times. My guitar roadie died last year, one hour before we went on stage. He thought he had a cold and he had stage four lung cancer. My handyman here at my house had a stomach ache. He went to the doctor and he had stomach cancer.
Is what's happened to you personally, as well as to people close to you, a reminder that you need to make the most of the time you have?
That's really wonderfully put. Yes. That's what I try to do. My life is consumed with creative projects as much as possible. And then unfortunately comes the time when you have to do the business side. I hate that, but it's a necessary part of life. And my mom having severe Alzheimer's now puts me in the position of not only having to do all of my business but also all of her business. And then I have a charity that's operating 365 days a year. I have hundreds of kids who write me every day and call me every day. It's like, oh my God!
I get the sense, though, that you love having a full plate as opposed to wondering what you're going to do next.
Than being sedentary? Absolutely right. My life...I hope this doesn't come across as complaining, because I'm far from feeling overwhelmed. I've chosen this life and I love doing it. But the sheer volume of activity and stuff that I have to be responsible for is mind-boggling. And I'm not one of those producers.... If you look at modern producers, I don't think you could name one that doesn't have a staff of people writing all that stuff for him. I know them all. I meet them and I meet the guys who work for them. But that's not the way I do it. You walk into a room with me and I'm writing the music. I have one or two assistants and I usually work with one of them at a time. And they're doing either my copying or playing along with me, jamming, being the other musical orchestra in the room. Because I'm most comfortable in a room with twenty or thirty people, developing an idea from start to finish.
Let's talk about Chic. It's closely associated with the disco era, but it was also a real band, not a shifting group of studio musicians working anonymously with the kind of production team you were just talking about. Is that one of the most important distinctions for you — that Chic was and is a band?
Yeah. When you see Chic perform live — and once again, I really need to apologize, because it sounds like braggadocio — but when you see Chic perform live, you understand. You understand why I love it, why I'm completely dedicated to Chic as a band. Because there is no place we go in the world that we don't make people feel good. There's no situation we play in where we do not hold our own. And it makes no difference whether we're with Paul McCartney or Elton John or Earth, Wind and Fire or Herbie Hancock, quite frankly. We played many gigs with big, big, big, big jazz artists, and we have the time of our lives playing with Herbie Hancock, George Duke, John McLaughlin, who's one of my best friends, Carlos Santana. We're the real deal. We don't play to click tracks, we don't have other stuff running off-stage and we're synched to it. There aren't any hidden tracks playing. We're just a band. We call ourselves the Grateful Dead of dance music.
Is that one of the reasons that Chic stands apart from disco? Is that umbrella too small to cover everything you do?
That's very correct, but don't get me wrong. I am proud we can be on some level the representation of the musical embodiment of disco. If a person's brain hears the word "disco" and the default representative is Chic, well, my God. I feel like I'm king of the world. It's the greatest thing in the world to me.
My band is a very serious band. If you look at the players that my group has spawned, all the way from Luther Vandross to Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson and Omar Hakim, who's one of the most respected drummers in the world. Everybody in my band goes on to become a historically important musician, because I only work with people who are of that caliber. So, once again, not to brag, but I had a chat with Elton John a week or so ago and I said, "Have you ever seen a bad Chic show?" And he's seen me play a million times — and he said, "Wow. No, I haven't."
We don't have bad shows. Even when something goes wrong, we turn that into music and real life. There are variables you can't control, but because we don't have things mechanized with click tracks, we can just start the song again. If something goes wrong, I say, "Hold on, wait a minute. This sucks, and we don't suck! Let's count this off again. One, two, freak out!"
One of my favorite Chic stories — one of everybody's favorite Chic stories — is about how the "Le Freak" hook was originally "Fuck off" because you guys couldn't get into Studio 54. That may suggest to some people that you have a love-hate relationship with disco. But I'm hearing a lot more love than hate here.
Way more love. There's like zero hate. As a matter of fact, if it weren't for the openness of the disco movement, I don't know that we'd be talking to each other right now, because when I started out, I was wholly consumed by jazz and classical music. It was only when I started to watch my jazz heroes get hit records.... Like, whoa, you mean Joe Beck has a hit record? Herbie Mann has a hit record on the pop charts? Herbie Hancock has "Rock-It"? Holy cow, you can do that. I wrote my very first Chic song, "Everybody Dance," and it's basically a jazz kind of song. It's got pop lyrics, but the progression is very jazzy and cool, and if we didn't interpret it like that, it could easily be on a Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock album. But we interpreted it as disco, and it made people dance and it made people feel a certain intellectual satisfaction, as well as feeling primal.
It started my career, and I didn't even know it was good until I walked into a club and a DJ had stolen two copies of the record! I didn't even know he had them, and he invited me down to the club. He'd been playing it for three weeks and I walked into the club and I said, "That's my song!" And the people jumped up and let out a blood-curdling scream and they all started singing a record I didn't even have. I didn't have enough money to even make a tape of it. I had just enough money to record the song; we recorded it for $10 and I couldn't even get a copy. The first time I heard "Everybody Dance" outside a recording studio was when I walked into that disco and heard it.
When the backlash against disco hit, it definitely affected Chic. And now, when I hear some of the songs that weren't huge hits, like "Rebels Are We," they're just as good as the ones that were huge sellers. Was there a frustration in that? To watch people turning against Chic because they were turning against disco, even though the music was just as good as it ever was?
Yeah, it was very difficult for us, because we didn't think it applied to us. It was only once we started making phone calls to people who we thought were friends and they wouldn't even talk to us. We were like, "Wait a minute. What's going on? This is really serious," even though it looked like a joke to us. I've got a good sense of humor, and it looked professional wrestling. The whole disco demolition, I was fine with it. Like, you want to go blow up records? That was funny to me. But then I saw the violence and the vitriol. And I was like, "These guys are taking this seriously? Really? You mean to tell me all those people in that crowd don't like 'We are Family'? Are you kidding? You don't like 'He's the Greatest Dancer' or 'Everybody Dance'? Or are you now being led by a mob-violence mentality, which is the kind of thing that will make a person do what they normally wouldn't do?" And you know that's a fact.
There are kind, gentle people who are afraid of bullies — and when they get in a bully situation, rather than going against the bullies, they'd rather go against the person who's helped them in order to save their own skin.
This was a joke I thought was funny and people started to take it as real. And the next thing I know, nobody wouldn't answer our calls. And thank God we'd already had our contract signed with Diana Ross — and we gave her the biggest record of her whole life.
That album [1980's Diana] really launched your production career, and you wound up working with some of the biggest stars of the era, including David Bowie on Let's Dance. I know people have been asking you a lot about that lately. What was he like to work with? And what are some of your favorite recollections of that time?
Let me just put it to you simply: He was the greatest person to come along in my life at the greatest period in my life. I was so down after "disco sucks." I'd had six failures in a row and nobody would call me. But guess who calls me? David Bowie, a rock god, an iconic, god-like artist. And he calls me when normal people I'm trying to get work with won't talk to me. This guy calls me — we meet accidentally, and then we get together early in the morning and I talk to David. And just from that one conversation turned into Let's Dance within a few weeks.
A lot of the tributes to David Bowie that came out after his death focused on his earlier work. But the fact is, the hits from Let's Dance are the Bowie songs that have been played the most over the intervening decades and continue to be played the most. Why do you think those songs stand up so well?
Because they're awesome! (Laughs.) Look, David Bowie can't be defined by any one project. I called him the Picasso of rock and roll, because that's really how he was to me. He saw the world very differently. He gave you the world through his eyes, through my eyes, through anyone he was working with, and then reinterpreted the music based on that new partnership. But Let's Dance sold eleven million albums. There's no David Bowie album before or after that ever sold three million or four million, let alone eleven. That's just unheard of. Like I said, he was the right person in my life at the right time.
I was totally down in the dumps — and here's what's really interesting. David's record before Let's Dance was a flop, but he didn't feel like a flop. He had no record deal. He had nothing. We did the record on our own. He paid for it out of his own pocket. We weren't beholden to anyone but each other, and we made a record that was the biggest record of his life, an eleven-million seller.
You worked with a lot of other stars from that era on projects that didn't become that big but were just as strong. For example, I love the Debbie Harry album Koo Koo, and I have no idea why that wasn't a huge smash.
Thank you, thank you. But think about it. Once again, we were victims of personality and the times. Everybody was anti-disco, so they were anti-Chic. And Debbie Harry was this absolutely gorgeous blond in Blondie, but she decided not to be Blondie anymore. So now we have this beautiful sex symbol who's no longer Blondie, and she's on the cover of her new album in this Gieger photo with needles through her neck. It was so hardcore for people to understand. And my fault with the project is, I was running away from disco. So instead of me trying to make it that great, uplifting record, we were just exploring the dark side, and we were living into it. Maybe the song "The Jam Was Moving," which was an up-song, but most of the stuff was on the darker side, and I'm not that kind of guy. I don't like to wallow in pain. You have something bad happen to you, and that's inevitable — but what do you do with it? Do you wallow in it? Or do you try to overcome it? So we were wallowing in it.
I'm the first to say that the two biggest disappointments of my professional life were the album with Debbie Harry and my album with Al Jarreau. They're two of the greatest records I've ever made — especially the Al Jarreau. We took the song "Moonlighting" — I did the TV show song "Moonlighting" with Al Jarreau — we took that off our album and put it on an album of TV theme songs. And that record went double platinum. And our record got basically no recognition. We thought, "Let's take this corny song off our brilliant jazz record," and our brilliant jazz record got no love, but the TV theme album basically relaunched Irving Azoff's career. The next thing you knew, he had the Eagles again and he started Giant Records and I was like, "Wow." We give away a song and it becomes this huge thing for him, and he's still one of the biggest people in the business — and our record was a flop.
In retrospect, do you think if you'd left "Moonlighting" on the album, it would have drawn people to this other great music they never got a chance to hear?
It would have been a multiple platinum album. Moonlighting was a very popular show, Bruce Willis was very popular at the time. If we had left that on, the record would probably have gone to number one. I never predict number ones, but that one went to number one on the other guy's record. So imagine if it was on our record and we were now representing it and doing gigs and going out and playing it. Al Jarreau and me playing together? It would have been amazing.
You also produced Madonna's Like a Virgin, another one of those iconic album of the Eighties. And I understand that you went into cocaine psychosis while at her home in Miami in 1994. That's one of those anecdotes that's so amazing it almost seems made up — but that really happened, didn't it?
That's exactly what happened. That's the last time I touched a drink or a drug in my life. Madonna's next birthday, if I make it, it'll have been 22 years without a drink or a drug.
That happened on her birthday?
Well, it was her birthday party. Her birthday would have been the next day, but she decided she wanted to have a party on Saturday.
Are some of those years during the '80s and '90s a blur for you? Or do you remember them pretty accurately?
I have a great memory. The only time that things are a blur is when I got to the point where I was so high where everything was a blur. Like that night of which you just spoke, the last I did drugs, the only reason I have a memory of it is because people told me the story. I don't have independent memory because I was so totally blasted. But people told me how they carried me out of Madonna's house and took me to a hotel.
I do remember leaving the hotel after they delivered me. I went back out and a couple of girls robbed me at gunpoint, which was pretty funny — that I didn't get shot. They took my cocaine and then I got back to the hotel and I thought, "Whoa!" And then I started hearing voices and all types of stuff — and I said, "I'm done."
During the 1990s and beyond, you've remained in the public consciousness in part because your work was sampled so often — something that had been happening for years, going all the way back to "Rapper's Delight" using "Good Times." How do you feel when people take parts of what you do and turn it into something else? Is it strange for you to hear it in a different context? Or is it exciting?
It's exciting. When you hear people reinterpret your stuff, it's unbelievable. If I told you about every time that happened, we'd be on the phone all day. But the first time I heard "Rapper's Delight," it was unbelievable to me. The first time I heard Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy With It," I couldn't believe it. When I heard Faith Evans, I just felt like, "This is so totally cool." When I heard the Notorious B.I.G., "Mo Money Mo Problems," I was like, "This is the coolest thing ever." And on and on and on and on. It's never stopped. I remember we did a record that was a flop. We did a film called Soup for One that closed in less than a week, it was that poorly attended. But guess what? Fast-forward ten, fifteen years into the future, a little French group called Modjo takes the song "Soup for One" and comes up with a song called "Lady, Hear Me Tonight," and it goes to number one.
That kind of thing has given so many of your songs new life, or different life.
Exactly. Certainly new life and certainly different. Those go hand in hand.
You've used the same guitar throughout your career — a 1959 Stratocaster nicknamed The Hitmaker. A lot of people have used 1959 Stratocasters, but nobody sounds like you playing it. Is there something technical that you're doing? Or is it simply that your personality pouring through the instrument is unique?
It's a combination of both. It's a unique instrument, a one of a kind instrument. It was a factory second, which I didn't realize. I only bought it because it was the cheapest Stratocaster in the store. I didn't realize there was something wrong with it — that it didn't meet factory specs. It's smaller than a regular Stratocaster — smaller in every way. It's basically like I left my guitar in the rain and then put it in a clothing drier and it shrank (laughs). It looks like a regular Stratocaster to most people, but when they stand next to me, they're like, "Oh, wow. Your guitar is so small."
That's what happened. And Leo Fender — and I'm not casting aspersions, but he was known as being notoriously cheap. If he saw a screw lying on the ground in a factory, he'd pick that screw up and try to fit it into something. So they never got rid of a guitar, even if it was a factory second. They'd just send it to some weird place that didn't understand the standards and they'd sell the guitar. So I picked it up at a little pawn shop in Miami in 1973, and it's laying right next to me in bed right now while I'm talking to you.
Did anyone from the company after you started having hits think, "We need to start making guitars like that one"?
They didn't know it until a few years ago. But now we've made a couple of hundred of them. Everyone of them is sold out and they're very valued and very prized. My bass player owns one, and one of the finest guitar players in New York City told him he'd give him every guitar in his collection for his Hitmaker. He said it's the best sounding guitar he's ever heard.
So they managed to get the new guitars to sound like yours?
They sound perfect. They sound exactly like mine.
With the Daft Punk song "Get Lucky," you had the type of global success you hadn't experienced in a while. Was it more satisfying because there'd been that kind of gap?
The only difference with "Get Lucky" was that it was such a big hit. The experience was the same. Playing with Pharrell and Guy-Manuel [de Homem-Christo] and Thomas [Bangalter] was exactly the same as when I played with Madonna or Avicii or Adam Lambert. I've had a lot of records in the last few years, well before "Get Lucky." But "Get Lucky" just happened to be a hit.
My guitar teacher used to tell me, "You have to mine a ton of ore to get an ounce of gold." So "Get Lucky" was just one of hundreds of songs I made, but it was the ounce of gold — the ounce of gold that hit. All of the members of the Daft Punk collective on that record, we thought the hit song was going to be "Lose Yourself to Dance." How shocked were we when "Get Lucky" became what it became. It had more number ones around the world than any record. I think we went number one in something like 137 countries — and there aren't even 200 countries in the world. It was like, "Wow, we're almost number one in every country on the planet!"
You're a hero to so many people in the electronic dance music world. For you, is the EDM that works best the kind that has a human element — that isn't entirely machine-driven?
Oh no, no, no, no, no. All music is the same to me. I have a special moment coming up where I'm going to conduct a symphony orchestra, and I feel just as comfortable with classical musicians as I do with Avicii or Diplo or Basement Jaxx. It's the same. I did three records yesterday. Two of them were with EDM artists and one of them was with what I'd call a straight R&B solo artist. But it was new R&B, where everything they did was electronic — so I was the only one who was live, my guitar playing and singing. But everything else was programmed.
And that's fine by you? That no matter what instrument or sound device you're using, the only thing that matters is if it works?
Not only is it fine for me. I think that being able to expand our pallet of colors is a great thing. If a painter can express himself with just blacks and grays and whites, that's fabulous. But when you start to introduce blue, green, red, orange, and all kinds of subtleties and variations, that's a much better world. Don't you want to live in a world where there's more rather than less? And technology allows us to have more rather than less.
Avicii is one of my favorite composers in the world. He and I can write six songs in a day without dropping a beat. It's not even difficult. As a matter of fact, I wrote a song with Avicii and Adam Lambert. Avicii had just come home from a show and he was really tired, and he was sick. So we worked on the song and got it to the point where it was grooving, and he said, "Okay, I'm really tired. I've got to go to bed." And he didn't know, behind his back, I called Prince and I called Adam Lambert. Prince sent me over some girls he was managing. Adam Lambert had a hangover and I told him to get on the treadmill and walk it off. He came over, I wrote the song, finished the song, and when Avicii woke up at 8:30 the next morning, I said, "Check your inbox." And it was ready. The record was finished — a record called "Lay Me Down" that did really well.
At this point, most people probably assume that Chic is you and you are Chic. But is it important to you that people look at it as more than just you with a group of supporting musicians?
Chic has always been this: It's hard for people to understand it, but I'm going to try and make it as easy as possible. The entity that's called Chic is the vessel for my compositions. In other words, Beethoven can write the Ninth Symphony, but he couldn't play it. He needed a symphony orchestra to play it. I can write "I Want Your Love," but I need all those people to help me play it. And that's what Chic does. I write it and we play it.
Are you having as much fun playing it today as you did back in the '70s and '80s?
I might be having even more fun, because as you get older, you notice that physically there are things you can no longer do, even if the muscle memory is great. If you could, baseball players and boxers would keep playing baseball and boxing until they died. But physically, things start to change. Your hands cramp up, you can't go as fast. That's just how it is. So the reason I have more fun now is that I've come up with a curve ball. When I was younger, I could throw fast balls all the time. But now, I come up with a change-up and think, "Wow. How cool is that?" A pitch I never used when I was younger has now become the life blood, because I can only throw the fast ball every now and then. But the change-up and the curve ball have become incredible. They've helped me develop my guitar playing to a level I never believed I could achieve. Now when I play on a jazz record, I go, "Wow, I can't believe that's me playing. I'm killing on jazz records!" When I was younger, I thought I was pretty good, but as I've gotten older, I understand the ergonomics of the guitar neck a lot better than I did then. When I was a kid, I was just showing off. But now, I'm playing inside the guitar. I'm playing it from inside out. And it changes the whole way I think of it.
One more thing: I've got to ask about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Tenth nomination for Chic, but you didn't make it again. Do you think the people who voted for Chicago thought they were voting for Chic, because the words are so close?
No, no, no. (Laughs.) This is sort of my annual kick. And thinking about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame brings a smile to my face, because if people knew me — and a lot of people at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame know me — they'd know I don't make music for awards. Think about this: If you look at my discography, the amount of hits and number one records I've had is pretty staggering, but I never got a Grammy until Daft Punk. And when we were getting all those Grammys that night, Pharrell kept looking at me and saying, "Wait a minute. You didn't get a Grammy for Let's Dance and 'China Girl' and 'Dress You Up' and 'Good Times' and 'Le Freak'?" And he kept going on and on and on and on. Every time we'd sit back down, he'd say, "Wait a minute." It was almost like a running joke. But when he said, "How could you not get a Grammy for Let's Dance? That's insane," I'd say, "How about Michael Jackson's Thriller? We came out the same year." That's why we didn't get a Grammy. If Michael hadn't come out, we'd probably have gotten a Grammy, but Thriller was the biggest record of all time.
I don't do records for awards. I do records because I'm compelled to do them, and this is what the artists demand of me. I want to make the best record I can. So when we're nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I always laugh, because hall of fames should be based on statistics, right? Anytime I've heard about a hall of fame — baseball, basketball, whatever it is — they're all based on statistics. Anything other than that is what we'd call an opinion poll. So if you base it on statistics, not only would I be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — I might be sitting on the throne or something! (Laughs.) How many people have sold more records than me? The Beatles or something?
Take three records. Like a Virgin was more than a double-diamond album: 27 million records. We sold 25 million at the time. Let's Dance: a diamond album, eleven million albums. And look at "Le Freak," the only triple platinum single in Atlantic Records history. And this is a label that's got Bruno Mars, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin. But guess what? There's been one triple platinum single, and it's (sings) "Freak out!" So you say to yourself, wouldn't that guy be pretty important? So whenever we get nominated by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I think, what is the secret sauce? What did I not do? I have more hit records than most of the people in there. What didn't I do? Didn't I steal enough bases? Because if you base it on hits and home runs, we should be up there with Babe Ruth and some of those guys. Or did I have too many errors? Maybe that's it, because I've had so many flops. Like I said, you have to mine a ton of ore for an ounce of gold — so maybe they're counting the tons and tons of flops that I've had instead of all the hits.
I don't know. It's a funny thing. It makes me laugh, because I don't know how you could call it the Hall of Fame. Maybe they should call it the Hall of Fame opinion poll. It's like when they'd do readers polls, where it's based on your artistic and intellectual achievements. I can accept that. But if they're saying it's a Hall of Fame, which is based on your performance, then I don't get it.
When they finally let you in, will you be able to enjoy it? Or will you be thinking, "What took you so long"?
I don't know. I don't know if we'll never get in. We're the most nominated group of all time. How can you get nominated ten times and not get in? What are they going to do? Wait until I die, like Donna Summer, and then let me in? At that point, I can't make a good joke. (Laughs.) I just want to tell a joke!
Your NARAS President's Award is a pretty good answer to those Hall of Fame voters....
Trust me, I'm honored by things like that. But I also can tell you, the reason I'm talking to you today and feeling so happy is because I'm making music. I wrote some really good songs last night, I'm gigging, I'm coming to Denver with my band.
We just played in Denver a few months ago. We played Red Rocks with Duran Duran and it was awesome, it was really great. But people didn't see our whole show, because we weren't headlining. Now we're headlining. You're going to get to see the full Chic show, with our videos and our films and what we do. That's the real deal, and I'm telling you, I cannot wait. We had so much fun in Denver, so much fun with the people. The hotel we stayed at, if you look at my Facebook page, it was great. The show with Duran Duran was great. They're like my second band. I call them my other Chic. I gave them their highest charting record in years and years and years. They hit the charts at number 22. They hadn't been at that chart position in 25 years. That was so rewarding for me. And we get to play with my other Chic — and then come back and show people what our real show is like, when we're headlining. And you'll get all of this stuff. You'll get Chic, you'll get Bowie, you'll get Madonna, you'll get Diana Ross. All of my big hits. And you say to yourself, "Jesus Christ, this guy did all of this stuff?"
CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers performs at the Paramount Theatre on Friday, February 19.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.