What was the thinking behind the creation of Chic?
Our concept was to not be what we would call the gutbucket funk kind of band: we were going to be the sophisto-funk band. We were clearly not guys who came from the church: we were clearly not guys who were blues-based… we were modal guys. We were pretending to be French, frankly, when we first started. That was our whole bullshit. The idea came from me seeing Roxy Music in London. I saw Roxy Music and I was like wow, look at that, a rock band dressed up in couture clothing. That’s so cool and so different. When I first saw Roxy Music, it changed my whole life. If it weren’t for Roxy Music there would probably be no Kiss… I mean there would probably be no Chic. That was a good Freudian slip because after Roxy Music we went to put our sophisto-funk band together and one of the first people we hired after Tony Thompson was a guy named Rob Sabino. And Rob said: ‘hey man, you got to see my friends play.’ And he took us to see this band called Kiss, who didn’t even have a record deal. They were doing the whole make-up thing and we were like wow, if we can figure out a way to fuse the anonymity of Kiss and the couture look of Roxy Music into a black R&B band what would that be called? And Bernard said it will be called Chic.
Well, you certainly succeeded, didn’t you?
Yeah, and our logo, looks like the Kiss logo with the four letters. Put the Chic logo right next to the Kiss logo; it’s hysterical. And put the first Chic album cover next (with seductive-looking two girls on) to the Roxy Music cover…
One of the first soul acts that you worked with was Sister Sledge. How did you come to work with them?
The record company (Atlantic Records) had offered us Bette Midler, who was probably at the top of the food chain, and the Rolling Stones, because they believed that we had this whole Studio 54 sound – sort of the Studio 54 magic in a bottle. And I’ll tell you why Studio 54 was so unbelievably important to Atlantic Records: the CEO, Ahmet Ertegun, obviously was Mr Socialite in New York and Atlantic Records was on 52nd Street only two blocks away from Studio 54. And we had the record (‘Le Freak’) that was being played at Studio 54 more than any other act on Atlantic so they thought that if we could give that magic to the Rolling Stones or Bette Midler, all of a sudden their top acts would be played at Studio 54 because they weren’t really playing those kinds of records. So, we thought: well, how can we do that if we went to the Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones write their own songs; that’s who the Rolling Stones are. We can’t go in there and tell Mick and Keith: ‘ok, guys, just relax; we got this!(Laughs). We’ll call you in a week or so and then Mick can just come on in and sing and Keith can just copy my guitar parts and we got a record.’ We couldn’t do that. We knew we couldn’t do that: I mean we were smart enough to know who the Stones were and Bette Midler was such a big star, we just thought that people didn’t know who producers were or what producers did so we just thought that if we got a hit with those people they would just think that it was just another big Bette Midler or Rolling Stones record or whatever. So we said, instead of giving us your top acts, why don’t you give us one of your bottom acts and then we can show you what we really can do. And the president of the record label told us about this group called Sister Sledge, whom we vaguely knew of and basically his pitch to us about Sister Sledge became the libretto, if you will, or the template for ‘We Are Family.’ It was almost his words exactly. And we’ve got a lot of records like that, where we’ve interviewed people and the interview was the bedrock of the record. In the case of Sister Sledge, it was us interviewing the president of the record company (Jerry Greenberg) – we didn’t actually meet Sister Sledge until they came in to sing their record, which really caused a little bit of tension between us: basically, the day they walked in, their record was pretty much done.
Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’ which you wrote has led a charmed life, hasn’t it, and has been adopted as an anthem by various groups of people. What’s the key, do you think, to its enduring appeal?
I can’t really tell because I don’t know what other people get out of it. But as a composer, it was just me interpreting what Jerry Greenberg had said to Bernard and myself about Sister Sledge. That was our fantasy of who they were. So basically what we did was, we superimposed our reality onto them. It was not their reality by any stretch of the imagination, in fact. But it was sort of their reality based on what Jerry Greenberg thought of them. So we made this wonderful, loving, together song – which they are; they are that. But ‘We Are Family’ is just one song; we write albums and so the album told the whole story.
It’s a great album.
It’s the best album of our lives.
Do you consider it the pinnacle of your work as writers/producers then?
No, it just happened to be our best album of pop songs that we’ve ever done.
What’s been the highlight of your time with Chic?
Obviously, there are too many highlights recording-wise but live at Glastonbury would be the highlight of the new era of Chic. It was just amazing. I mean just mind-boggling – it was way more than we could have ever imagined. So that would be the modern era memory.
NILE RODGERS PRESENTS THE CHIC ORGANIZATION’S ‘UP ALL NIGHT’ IS OUT NOW VIA RHINO.
Read SJF’s review of ‘Up All Night’ here: http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/news/2276-chic-encore-.html
Read SJF’s review of the Chic box set ‘Savoir faire’ here: