40 Years of Hooks with Chic’s Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers

From his musical beginnings on flute and clarinet in elementary school to his latest hit with Bruno Mars, Nile Rodgers is the man with a hook. He is the man who wrote, produced, played, you name it, on hundreds of records, including the hook that was sampled to make the first bona fide rap hit record. His band, Chic, was the sound of the disco era, with hits like “Le Freak” and “I Want Your Love,” and has heavily influenced many current acts. From his classic tunes to his time on the road with Bert & Ernie (for Sesame Street Live in the 1970s) to Earth, Wind & Fire (the present), Nile Rodgers has entertained millions. This weekend you can experience Chic and Nile Rodgers at The Pearl—and those will be some “Good Times” you shouldn’t miss.

How did you get into music?

I started out when I went to elementary school. I’ve been playing music my entire life. I started out with flute, I switched to clarinet and then I switched to guitar. I write all the orchestration for Chic; we’re one of the few bands that does our own. Chic is a completely self-contained band. We grew up in the era where that was a big deal. We realized that even the Beatles, who coined that phrase, were not self-contained. They had George Martin to do the strings and the horns and all that stuff. We did that ourselves.

I did symphonic scores. I did the movie Coming to America. I did Thelma and Louise. I’ve done seven or eight big films. I do video games, I do symphonic music, so to do ensemble music and the suite thing was right up my aisle. The disco movement was the perfect time for a guy like me.

If you could make a band of the people that you most would want in a band together, who would it be?

It would be my band right now. I can’t think of a better person that I have on drums, a better person that I have on bass. I can’t think of a better person I’d have on my keyboard, unless I happen to get Prince back. I always have the band that I want.

Since I was younger, I’ve never played in a band that wasn’t exceptional. If you go on YouTube and you look at the earliest bands that I’ve played with, you can see how good we are. We’re going on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire and there’s a version of us playing “Getaway” by Earth, Wind & Fire, and we’re basically a guitar trio. We were trying to get high school dances, so we put together a little video tape, and we put one white guy in the band so that we’d feel like an integrated band for the high schools. It’s just three musicians and a singer, and it sounded like a full record—Earth, Wind & Fire no less.

You’re going on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire starting on Sunday.

It’s going to be crazy. Then we finish the year out with Lionel Richie. This is a crazy, wonderful year for us. I got all the hit singles that I’ve had this year. Now I get to put out my full Chic album and go out with Earth, Wind & Fire, who are our great friends, we admire them immensely. [I get to] go out with Lionel Richie, who is a really great friend—we used to take vacations together. Then after that, we do another show with Duran Duran in Japan. Then I have a Chic record coming out. All of those big events, just from now until the end of the year.

Would you guys ever want to do a residency in Las Vegas?

Yeah, that’s what we’re thinking about doing. We would love to do a residency in Vegas. That would be killer. I’m actually working with some other theater people on putting together a disco situation in Vegas.

I think it would be incredible, because there are no other live bands that play at the EDM festivals. We’re the only one. They really appreciate Chic’s live dance music … and we’d be pretty entertaining. My concept would be a new-age Playboy After Dark kind of thing, where we get all of our cool friends to drop by. You wouldn’t know from one week to the next whether it’s going to be Chic with Gaga or Madonna or Lionel Richie or whoever. Just come in and take a tune or two with us.

Any artists that you’re working with now?

I just finished working with Anderson .Paak, and Bruno Mars came in and did a song with us. … There’s a bunch of stuff. I have so many records coming out, so many artists that I love.

Are you doing any more movies?

I’m being called for three different projects like that, and they’re really good friends, so I don’t want to say no. But, right now, I’m writing a Broadway show, and I’m having so much fun doing that, and that’s a real commitment. To do a film, it’s easy compared to writing a show, because I’m writing the book as well as the music.

I know I’ll do some other films and some other television shows in the future. Last year I did Vinyl and The Get Down. It’s always so fun, it was great. I had a hit with Christina Aguilera and Alex Gould. I just like to work. I wish I had a clever way of saying it.

Do you have any advice for someone starting a career in music?

I don’t really have advice, because everything I did, on paper was probably wrong. The one thing that I say is, I don’t know if it’s advice, but I always say to people: learn how to embrace failure, because it’s the one part of our business that is inevitable, no matter who you are. But, if you learn how to love the bad, you really learn how to appreciate the good, and it keeps you balanced.

Chic featuring Nile Rodgers

July 16, 8 p.m., tickets start at $40, The Pearl inside The Palms, palms.com/pearl-theater.html