Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers (left) sits in during Nile Rodgers’ acceptance talk during the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing’s eighth annual Grammy Week event. Photo: Steve Harvey
W. Los Angeles, CA—The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing celebrated its eighth annual Grammy Week with an event at The Village Studios on February 3, 2015, honoring musician, composer, arranger and producer Nile Rodgers.
Rodgers, perhaps best known for his work with Chic, the band that he started in the mid-1970s with the late bassist Bernard Edwards, last year won three Grammy Awards—his first ever—for his collaboration with Daft Punk on their album Random Access Memories, including Album of the Year and Song of the Year.
“I started as a jazz guy; I never thought that dance music would be my life,” said Rodgers after accepting the Recording Academy President’s Merit Award from Neil Portnow, the Recording Academy’s president. Rodgers then moved to center stage where he proceeded to take the audience through a musical history of his career with the aid of his signature Fender Stratocaster, dubbed The Hitmaker.
Rodgers revealed that he wrote his first dance song for Chic, “Everybody Dance,” after hearing Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby.” Rodgers parlayed his extensive knowledge of jazz chord inversions into a string of hits with Chic, but the hits dried up overnight following the “Disco Sucks” campaign and Disco Demolition Night in mid-1979, he reported.
After Chic disbanded in 1983, Rodgers embarked on a solo production career, getting his first major break working with David Bowie on the Let’s Dance album of that same year. Rodgers demonstrated how he took Bowie’s original idea for the title track, played on a 12-string guitar with six strings, he recalled, to the finished song, also pointing out the considerable contributions of mixer Bob Clearmountain—in the audience—to the entire project.
On stage for over an hour, Rodgers regaled the crowd with the stories behind many of his hits. “I’m Coming Out,” written for Diana Ross, was inspired by an encounter with “at least” six Diana Ross impersonators in the men’s room of a gay nightclub, he revealed. He reportedly ran straight to a payphone to call Edwards and have him note down the idea, telling him, “You won’t believe this—it was like a Fellini movie.”
The evening was something of a star-studded affair, with Diane Warren, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White, Duran Duran’s John Taylor, “Weird Al” Yankovic and others reportedly in the audience. Kathy Sledge, of Sister Sledge, joined Rodgers and Red Hot Chilli Peppers bass player Flea for a rendition of “We Are Family,” with the two guitarists also jamming on various Chic favorites before finishing with McCoy Tyner’s “Naima,” popularized by John Coltrane.
Earlier in the evening, before Portnow made his presentation, Daryl Friedman, The Recording Academy’s chief advocacy and industry relations officer, announced that the organization is working with SoundExchange, the independent digital performing rights organization, to advocate for legislation to enable the direct payment of performance royalties to record producers. Friedman encouraged the assembled P&E Wing and Recording Academy members to help lobby for the producer legislation on Capitol Hill.