We’re not sure there’s a person on Planet Earth who doesn’t know a song Nile Rodgers has touched. The self-proclaimed ‘hitmaker’ is not only known for being a solid member of 70s band Chic, he’s written hits for Madonna, Diana Ross, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Sister Sledge, Daft Punk, Sam Smith, George Michael, basically everyone. He actually has 30 songs he collaborated on in the charts right now, and recently received a certificate that says he’s made more recordings than anyone in America (‘I almost started crying seeing that,’ he tells us.).
In the flesh, he’s cooler than cool. Dressed in a bedazzled suit with snakeskin boots (he’s off to an awards bash after our chat, but tells us he feels terribly overdressed), he’s everything you want him to be. Sincere, funny, engaging and a true gent. Although they never actually went away, Chic have released their first record in 40 years and the world has gone crazy for a resurgence of disco funk music.
Having beaten cancer twice (he got the all-clear in 2013), he’s settled with girlfriend Nancy Hunt and has made making everybody dance a full-time job. The icon talks good times, not so good times and why he isn’t going anywhere…
- Disco king Nile Rodgers to turn his life story into a musical
You’ve toured for over 40 years, you must love it?
I do. Financially, Chic never had to work again after Diana Ross’s self-titled album in 1980 (which included the iconic track I’m Coming Out). It sold over 10 million copies in America alone. We had more money than you could ever imagine. Even just from Le Freak, one of the biggest-selling songs of all time. We had so much cash and success in our 20s, why would we stop now when we’ve never slowed down?
Will it be weird playing new music as Chic after all this time?
It’s different. Every Chic album has meaning, but I wanted the fans to know I’ve had cancer twice in my life and I still go out and have fun. That’s what the record’s about. My fun is different now – I don’t drink or do drugs, but if I could do it safely I probably would still do it now. It’s great when people are drunk and partying at our shows.
And you quit the booze after playing a bad gig?
Exactly. The last time I did drugs I played a show so badly. Afterwards, I went to Madonna’s birthday party at her house. I had to be carried out. Never again after that night.
What’s your vice now?
Certainly nothing illegal. I’m unbelievably simple. I do the
same damn thing every day.
You’re a creature of habit?
You don’t know how freaked out I get if my manager calls me or knocks on the door if I’m packing for a tour. Then I know I’m going to leave something, because I do everything in exactly the same way, everything’s in the right place in my case. Every day I do the same thing… I like the same foods. Every single day I eat lamb vindaloo as hot as they can make it. But hey, I’m taking advantage that I’m in England. Great Indian food.
What’s touring like now compared to 40 years ago?
It’s got better because I’ve got richer, so I can afford private jets. The basis is the same – all we want to do is get on stage and make people happy.
Do you think audiences will just want to hear the old stuff?
Well, I love the old stuff, so I’m not worried about that.
What’s the most rock ’n’ roll thing you’ve ever done?
Sex with triplets. I don’t even know how it happened. They were drop-dead gorgeous too. I woke up the next day and thought, ‘Wow, how did I pull that off?’
Blimey, that is rock ’n’ roll…
I was just high. I mean, what are the odds? I don’t know their names, how they got there… God, it would be a cool photo, I wish I’d taken one. If only I had a camera phone then I could have been like, ‘Stay there a minute!’ So people would know it wasn’t fake.
Did this actually happen?
Oh, it happened, because my girlfriend found me the next morning and made sure I knew it happened.
Were you more angelic growing up?
I didn’t attend school all that much. When I was seven I set the national truancy record for skipping school –75 days in a row without getting caught. I’m still proud of that.
What did your parents say?
I skipped so much because we had to move neighbourhoods constantly because of my parents’ drug problems. They were heroin addicts. It was the era of hallucinogenic drugs, and they wouldn’t touch them because they wanted to ‘feel in control’. That used to crack me up. My mum sure seemed in control when she was passed out on the sofa and
I wanted help with my parallelogram.
So there wasn’t much discipline?
They were incredibly open-minded and terrifyingly smart.
My mum was hipper than hip. It took me a long time to have the confidence to out-do my parents because they were so cool. Everyone else’s parents were going, ‘Hey honey, time to wash the dishes,’ and my father was going, ‘Hey man, you feel like groovin’ up those plates today?’ And if I said no, he’d say, ‘OK man, only do it if you think it’s cool.’
What qualities did your parents pass on to you?
Coolness. And care. To care about other people is the best. It’s stuck on me. If something happens to somebody, they trip up or whatever, I’m the guy who goes to try to help them. It happens automatically. I want to try to make things pleasant for everyone.
Do you ever get angry?
No. I think people get anger and hurt confused. I believe one can show their emotions, but anger is like ‘F*ck!’ or hitting something. Only time I do that is when I stub my toe. A few weeks ago, I’m so clumsy,
I broke my nose and almost died. I was running up stairs, missed the last step went flying across my library, and a small latch on the door stopped my full body weight when my nose hit it. The doctor said I was the luckiest guy in the world. Not only was it a clean break, an inch higher I could have brain damage or be dead, an inch lower I’d have no teeth.
You’re a lucky man…
Yes, I am, having beat cancer. I’m just so glad it’s allowed me to be me longer. I like who I am. This guy is cool.
Have you ever been starstruck?
All the time. Nelson Mandela. But he was geeking out at meeting me. He said, ‘Wait, you wrote Africa?’ He thought the words to Le Freak were ‘Ahhhfrica’ instead of ‘Ahhhh, freak out’. I fan-boyed over Stephen Hawking too and we became friends. I love science. I’d love to go into space.
Will you ever retire?
The only way I’d retire is if I was unable to do it. Hopefully I’ll invent a way to live and play until I’m 205 anyway. Or go into space and sit and watch the world end with the best seat in the house.
On The X Factor judging panel, filling in for Robbie
- X Factor fans convinced Cheryl was snubbed by Nile Rodgers after performance
What’s your most valued possession?
The guitar I bought in 1973, which is affectionately called ‘The HitMaker’. It’s the single most valuable piece of real estate I own.
What’s your biggest achievement?
Le Freak. The original lyrics were ‘f*ck off’ and it started as a protest song, because we were told to f*ck off when me and the band tried to get into Studio 54. By not getting what we wanted that night, we got more than we ever wanted. Imagine how different life could be if they’d let us in.
What are your best and worst habits?
They’re the same thing. Best is that I don’t sleep very much, so I get a massive amount of work done. My worst quality is that I don’t sleep very much, so I get so little rest I have no idea how I’m still alive.
Tickets for Nile Rodgers and Chic’s headline UK arena tour are available at livenation.co.uk