Nile Rodgers on Madonna, disco & more
The Chic guitarist and überproducer, 59, had almost finished his memoir, ''Le Freak,'' when he was diagnosed with cancer. He opens up about working with some of the biggest pop stars of all time — and battling for his life
In the late ’70s, Chic had a run of huge hits like ”Le Freak” and ”Good Times.” But the band’s career was torpedoed by the ”disco sucks” movement. Reading Le Freak, I got the impression that’s something you’ve never gotten over.
We were able to superimpose our stylistic, weird funk on the disco movement, but we didn’t understand how we could be called a disco group. It was like if you watch a person who’s wrongly accused and convicted, and they go to the gas chamber going, ”But I didn’t do it!”
After you became a producer, your first superstar client was Diana Ross. If there’s one thing I don’t believe in the book, it’s your claim that when you first met, she insisted on being taken to a White Castle.
That was one of the best experiences of my life. We drove across the 59th Street bridge to a White Castle on Queens Boulevard. We walk in, and this is exactly what the kid said: ”All right, I might be able to understand Nile Rodgers coming in here — although it’s going to be hard for me to convince my friends of that — but I will never be able to tell anybody that Diana Ross came into White Castle.”
You complain in the book that David Bowie didn’t give you enough credit for producing Let’s Dance.
That album was a fantastic experience, probably never to be duplicated in my life. [But] David was on the cover of Time and, like, my name was mentioned once. I was really hurt.
The first time you saw Madonna perform was at New York’s Roxy club in 1983 when you were high on cocaine you were openly sharing with a pair of lesbians. I believe if you look up ”New York in the ’80s” in the dictionary, there’s just a photograph of that scene.
That’s it! [Laughs] I absolutely wasn’t there to see Madonna. I was there to see [R&B singer] Jenny Burton. A lot of people were telling me Madonna was the bomb. I wasn’t positive she was the right one for me.
But you went on to produce her Like a Virgin album. What was she like to work with?
I don’t think I’ve ever met an artist so committed to making the records and perfecting the image. For a producer to find artists that want to work, that’s heaven. I can’t stop working. I can’t even stop talking!
You took so much cocaine in the ’80s, you eventually hallucinated that the Mafia had put out a contract on you. Was that when you hit bottom?
Yes. I had gotten so afraid that I had a .45 pistol and a samurai sword. I was hiding in the closet waiting for these guys to come and get me. I never, never took another snort of coke.
You had finished the book when you were diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. Did you think you wouldn’t live to see its publication?
I’m not that guy. I’m the ultimate optimist. They’ll probably be performing an autopsy and I’ll want to get up and say, ”Hey, let’s make a record out of this!”
Are you now cancer-free?
I guess. My last checkup seemed to go fine. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself. Other times I feel grateful that I have had an amazing life. You could live your whole life and just have Let’s Dance and, trust me, you would be cool with that. [Laughs] I’m cool. I got Let’s Dance. I’m cool.