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Taken from Double J (Sep 06, 2023)

'I don't believe this life!' Nile Rodgers on Paul McCartney, Chaka Khan and touring Australia

by Double J


(Meredith Music Festival: Ty Johnson)
Nile Rodgers & CHIC onstage at Meredith Music Festival 2013 (Meredith Music Festival: Ty Johnson)


Nile Rodgers knows everybody in music. And he's a champion name-dropper.


"I don't talk about this very often, but we played President Obama's final party. I looked out in the audience and saw Paul McCartney - who was my hero, the very first song I ever learned to play on guitar was 'A Day In The Life' by The Beatles.


"To watch Paul McCartney singing the lyrics to all my songs blew me away. And now, Paul McCartney's like my family. He lives down the block from Abbey Road [studios]. I am chief creative at Abbey Road... I don't believe this life, it's insane!"


These kinds of star-studded yarns are sort of an occupational hazard when you've been involved with some of the most iconic hits of all time.


Madonna's 'Like A Virgin', Bowie 'Let's Dance', Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky', INXS' 'Original Sin'. And most recently Beyonce's 'CUFF IT'. Rodgers has had a hand in them all.


Now age 70, the guitarist, producer, and composer has a very long list of credits to his name but his first major success was fronting CHIC. They're the disco-pop icons responsible for 'Le Freak', 'Everybody Dance', and 'Good Times', one of the most sampled grooves in history.


But Rodgers actually got his start working with another iconic institution: Sesame Street.


"When I started playing guitar and I decided to go into pop music, that was a big decision for me," Rodgers tells Double J's Tim Shiel. "Because I was making a pretty good living playing classical guitar [and scoring] television commercials.


"Then I got the gig with Sesame Street."


It was 1970 and Rodgers was a 19-year-old performing as part of the house band at Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre, playing with legends like Aretha Franklin and Parliament Funkadelic night after night.


By day, he was supplying music for Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster and the gang as part of the Sesame Street studio band. Being off-screen was perfect for the young, shy Rodgers.


"It fit my personality, I'm not a star. I'm not some Hollywood heartthrob or anything like that."


Also playing in the children's TV ensemble was bassist and future CHIC member Bernard Edwards.


"So, when I wrote 'Everybody Dance', now I had to form a band and become CHIC and the leader? I honestly didn't know how to do it. I had to learn how to become somewhat of an extrovert, which I'm not naturally. And this has been a journey."


Nile Rodgers and CHIC are returning to tour Australia for the first time since 2018, playing shows in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, and headlining Harvest Rock festival in Adelaide.


They also play a special show at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival with old friend and acclaimed 'Queen Of Funk', Chaka Khan.


"I'm super excited because the very first CHIC tour we were with Chaka Khan, Heatwave, Con Funk Shun and all these amazing R&B funk bands. I've known Chaka Khan ever since then.


"We've had incredible moments. We did 'Higher Love' with Steve Winwood, we've done so many shows together. I haven't seen her for a couple of years, so this is going to be phenomenal for me."



The setlist at a Nile Rodgers & CHIC concert is nothing less than formidable, a dazzling parade of classics that only gets bigger and longer with each new hit he adds to his CV.


Currently touring Europe with Duran Duran (Rodgers produced their 1986 album Notorious), the musician estimates they've played to "5 or 6 million people so far."


"I don't want to get too hyped up but right now, we've been having maybe the best summer of our lives... It's been extraordinary."


And he's looking forward to returning to one of his favourite countries.


"We have never ever had a bad show in Australia."


"Now I hope I didn't jinx myself but it's been mega every city, every town. It's just been memorable."


The feeling's mutual.


Anybody who's attended a Rodgers & CHIC show down under can vouch for that. His performance at Meredith Music Festival in 2013, where he joined the crowd in chanting 'fuck cancer!' after explaining he got the all-clear from an aggressive prostate diagnosis, is not something anyone there will soon forget.


But what about the man himself? What's his most memorable moment in Australia?


It's tied to WOMADelaide festival in 2012.


"The gig was amazing, it was awesome to look down and see Peter Gabriel - one of my best friends - and all the security people dancing.


"But, here's what I remember...


"This is so stupid," he pauses to chuckle. "I was standing on the street and the sun was at one end of the street, and the moon was at the other end of the street. I took a picture and I swung the camera around so you could see.


"I don't know if it was this weird street in Adelaide at that weird time but it was amazing to me. Just the perfect ending to an amazing gig."


(Double J: Steve Ford)
Nile Rodgers & CHIC perform at Bluesfest 2018 (Double J: Steve Ford)


From the outside, it seems like Rodgers is living the dream - travelling the world with collaborators-turned-friends over decades, his days filled with plenty of pinch-yourself moments.


"It's amazing. I mean, last night, The Roots showed up at our show because they just happened to be in Denver. It was hysterical because they came backstage, and I'm working on a film with [Roots drummer and ringleader] Questlove and he was showing me my parts and was trying to fast forward.


"I'm going 'Dude, I believe I'm in the movie. It's okay. We're here doing a show'. We were so excited to see him and all the other guys."


Having beaten cancer twice and stayed sober nearly 30 years, Rodgers arguably has more joie de vivre than ever. And has no intention of escaping the limelight for a cushy retirement.


"Anyone can figure out I've made millions and millions of dollars very early on in my career because I wrote everything," he says candidly.


"People ask me, why am I still doing this? ... People don't understand that playing live? There's nothing like watching strangers sing your song."


No wonder he squealed like a fanboy seeing Paul McCartney singing along at Obama's party.


It's Nile Rodgers' world. We're just living in it.


Catch Nile Rodgers & CHIC at the following Australian shows:

Friday 20 October - Fortitude Music Hall: Turrbal Jagera Land, Brisbane


Saturday 21 October - Sidney Myer Music Bowl: Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Land, Melbourne
(Co-headline show with Chaka Khan for Melbourne International Jazz Festival)


Wednesday 25 October - Enmore Theatre: Gadigal Land, Sydney


Friday 27 October - Fremantle Prison: Whajuk Noongar Land, Perth


Saturday 28 October - Harvest Rock Festival - Rymill & King Rodney Parks: Murlawirrapurka & Ityamai-Itpina, Adelaide



 
 

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