Nile Rodgers had a colorful life long before being the one of the founding members of Chic. This native New Yorker was born to a teen mother who, like his father, was a beatnik and heavy drug user. More importantly, it was an environment filled with music. Being drawn to the guitar at an early age, Nile began as a session player with the Sesame Street band-which was led by the iconic composer Joe Raposo. He gained much of his experience as the guitarist for the Apollo Theater house band. With them, he backed up acts as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King and P-Funk.
It was while working for a Sesame Street stage show that he met up with bassist Bernard Edwards. Together they formed the Big Apple Band, who became the backup musicians for the vocal group New York City. After seeing a Roxy Music concert, Rodgers was inspired to change the name of the band to Chic. Their self titled debut helped establish disco as a genre of dance music-with songs such as “Dance,Dance,Dance” and “Everybody Dance” leading the way. The album also showcased what strong composers and musicians they were. Especially with album tracks like “Est-Ce Que C’est Chic”.
The song starts right off with an instrumental version of its chorus. This consists of Tony Thompson’s pocket dance beat with Nile and ‘Nard’s classic bass run/chunky rhythm guitar based rhythm dynamic providing the base of the song. Over that, there’s a chromatic walk down on piano. A glockenspiel and what sounds like an ARP string synth provide the harmonic sweeteners to the bottom of the song. The refrain take the song up a key slightly-emphasizing Nile and ‘Nard’s bass/guitar and closer piano riffs higher in the mix. After a barer version of it on the bridge, an extended chorus fades out the song.
“Es-Ce Que C’est Chic” showcases many examples of different trademarks this disco outfit would have in their time. One was the use of their name in song titles-along with a chorus that was sung partly in French. Instrumentally, it takes older black American ideas from bluesy soul jazz and R&B. And really stylizes them with a lot of sonic polish and elegance. The song lyrics about about an actress seducing people to get to the top, sung sweetly by Norma Jean Wright, showcase the witty (sometimes topical) story songs that reflect the disco era realities of which Chic were part of the soundtrack to.
Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.
Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums) following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.
A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.
It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.
Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder
Nile Rodgers remains one of my musical heroes to this very day. He’s survived the anti disco backlash his band Chic received,drug addiction and most recently a cancer scare. He’s also done so with gusto,a confident smile and strut,and plenty of new musical activity. Among them (so I hear) working with Janelle Monae on her upcoming album. His rhythm guitar style became one of the most identifiable and influential of the final quarter of the 20th century. That guitar style also shaped his second career as a producer for some of the 80’s biggest acts such as Duran Duran,Inxs and Madonna.
On another level,he actually had a third musical career. And its one that didn’t earn him quite the accolades that he had with Chic or as a producer. That was,irony aside,his own solo career. It all occurred when Chic petered out following their final album Believer. That same year Rodgers embarked on his solo career-presenting himself primarily as a multi instrumentalist/writer/producer/singer. This first solo album was a wonderfully conceptualized package called Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove. One song that stands out strongly for me is called “It’s All In Your Hands”.
A brittle yet rolling drum machine beat starts out the song unaccompanied-sounding very in keeping with early 80’s hip-hop spareness. After 10 seconds of this,a lead melodic synthesized piano comes in-along with a brittle synth bass line. Rodgers brings in a smooth,reverbed rhythm guitar repeating a rather jazzy melodic theme over this. This acts as the primary body of the entire song. The sexual surrender expressed in the lyrics also remain on the one throughout. The bridge of the song emphasizes Rodgers’ rhythm guitar riffing before that ongoing chorus fades out the song.
Listening to this song outside the context of the wonderfully grooving album its from,it becomes clear how many bridges this song actually crosses. It has the hard break beats and stripped down ethic of period hip-hop-along with the rhythmic instrumental exchanges of funk. Not to mention some of the smoother production values of new wave pop/rock of the mid 80’s. This song represented the transition between Chic’s funky,often jazzy type of disco to the rock friendly dance productions of Nile Rodgers career of the 80’s. And is a superb example of his solo sound.
Over the years my understanding of Wham! and the role they played in the UK post disco scene of the early 80’s had become so much more pronounced. Today they are primarily known for their mid decade hits such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and even the now iconic holiday favorite “Last Christmas”. George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley also made for the prototypical boy band in terms of their image. Still they came to prominence in a period where such labels didn’t create such a negative stigma for anyone. As a result, both of these men had plenty of chance to hone and polish their craft even before they came into the public eye in such a huge way.
When I was a young adult about a decade and a half ago, there was a record store in my area called Summit Sound. A pre owned copy of Wham!’s debut album Fantastic was something of a fixture there until I finally picked it up when the store was closing out a few years later. Turns out the album was recorded over the course of three years. The album was actually very impressive as well as being very catchy and radio friendly for it’s day. The songs are also very soulful and have a strong groove to them as a whole. One song on the record stood out as…well at least to me one of the finest pieces of music Wham! ever made. And it was called “Club Tropicana”.
The stage is set by the sound of crickets and a car pulling up to music behind closed doors. With the sound of the door opening,Dion Estes thumping slap bass line and Trevor Morell’s pushing drum beat opens the groove with the sound of crowd sounds before Ridgeley’s strident,dance floor friendly rhythm guitar comes in-the Brazilian style percussion opening up the beat even further. The horns of Ian Ritchie and Roddy Lorimer come in with just the right melodic spice on each chorus of the song. The instrumental bridge isolating the slap bass and synth accents is sandwiched in between two jazzy acoustic piano solos courtesy of Tommy Eyre before George Michael literally coos the song into it’s fade out.
A key conversational point between Henrique and myself has been a tendency in the early 80’s to focus in on the more brightly melodic elements of the Caribbean pop music when it came to American uptempo funk grooves of the period. And this song does something wonderful with what Henrique referred to (in specific reference to the Earth Wind & Fire song “And Love Goes On”) as the “cruise ship sound”. The slap bass is bumping,the piano’s swinging,the horns are hot and the funk is turned right up. Andrew Ridgeley really channels Chic’s Nile Rodgers disco era guitar wonderfully on what is surely one of the funkiest jams Wham! ever threw down.
Filed under 1980's, Andrew Ridgeley, Caribbean Funk, Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, Funk, George Michael, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, slap bass, UK Funk, Uncategorized, Wham!
A dozen years ago,Snoop Dogg’s career was revitalized by The Neptunes. Half of which is Pharrell Williams,now the modern day Quincy Jones (as producer) himself. This was on the song “Let’s Get Blown”,featuring guest singer “Uncle Charlie” Wilson himself-the original Gapper. Today Pharrell,withdrawn musically from The Neptunes is absolutely on fire as a funky hit making producer/musician in his own right. And having the same effect on Snoop and Charlie yet again on the new song “Peaches ‘N Cream”.
A rigid,insistent beat counts down the full body of the song. The chorus consists of a clean,bubbling mid to higher toned electric bass line backed by a looser and slower 4/4 beat,accented with the ringing percussion on the last bar of the that bass line. The refrain of the song,which showcases Snoop’s melodic singsong rap, adds in a wonderfully Nile Rodgers style rhythm guitar along with a very dreamy style 70’s jazz/funk high electric piano solo wash hugging the guitar like a musical pillow to a blanket. This dynamic stretches in and out in variations as the melody and rhythm evolve as the song itself fades out.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this song is how musically elastic it is. On that level alone? It treats funk as a genre worthy of great respect and dignity. The main rhythmic thrust of it is very much out of the boogie/post disco late 70’s/early 80’s dance-funk kick that’s defined Pharell’s current productions. Also in classic P-Funk style? The danceable mean beat really concentrates ones attention on the Paulinho Da Costa like ringing percussion and other rhythmic accents. That harmonic element of jazziness that comes from the keyboard playing on this song helps expand out it’s funky elasticity.
The vocal arrangement is fantastic. It seems to melt Snoop,Charlie and perhaps Pharrell himself on a thick vocal chorus of male tenor funkiness. Charlie himself provides his typically thick (and in this case distant) call and response cries in the back round. Snoop Dogg is clearly keeping up with the playing sexuality that’s at the core of his lyricism. Only thing is? I’ve heard him do this so many times before,in exactly the same way. Snoops lyricism goes very much to the core of funk at it’s most lustful end. Just feel he sounds bored here-as if it’s become a bit of a formula. Nonetheless that cannot diminish the musical power and funky serenity this songs instrumental and vocal arrangement provides.
Filed under 2015, Boogie Funk, Charlie Wilson, dance funk, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, Nile Rodgers, P-Funk, Pharrell Willaims, post disco, Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg, The Neptunes
The contributions to every sub-genre of instrumental oriented funky dance music owes a great debt of gratitude to Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organization. Ever since his major commercial comeback in 2013 with creatively promising most millennial nu funk/disco icons Daft Punk Pharrell Williams on “Get Lucky”. Back in the game of hit production work with new artists such as Tensnake and Sam Smith? Nile began fine tuning some discarded tapes recorded originally for Sister Sledge and featuring the late bassist Bernard Edwards and singer Luther Vandross on vocals, and re-introduced his much anticipated comeback with Chic on a new groove entitled “I’ll Be There”.
It begins with the rolling percussion of Ralph Rolle,with Jerry Barnes bass weaving itself into the mix for a colorful rhythmic tapestry. ‘Nard himself then chimes in on his iconic mid toned rhythm guitar for his always danceable,rhythmic and chunky groove along with melodic (and sometimes spacey) accenting horns.-having Barnes take over on bass as the lead instrument on the vocal refrains. Just before the bridge of the song,the music again reduces down to the bass and percussion sound before even the bass strips out-leaving nothing but the fast paced Afro-Latin percussion before the song fads out on Nile’s chorus.
First thing that I can say about this Chic groove is that it has the complete flavor of a Chic song from their late 70’s,early 80’s heyday. The emphasis is again on the rhythm instruments such as bass,guitar and percussion. These are the elements that made Nile and Chic some of the funkiest musicians of the disco era. As well as being the core element of the post “Rapper’s Delight” take on commercially viable hip-hop that used live musicians as opposed to samples. The music video featuring a then and now look at a fashion conscious lady enjoying old Soul Train episodes,and spinning Chic vinyl records while the current band perform in a contemporary club perfectly captures their modern/retro disco vibe.
Wanted to close off with a little personal story time about myself and Chic. My own adolescence in the mid/late 90’s seemed to represent a gradual change in the music world’s attitude towards disco. It started out with a very virulent hatred in the “disco sucks” mold of the early 80’s freeze out of the music. Yet it ended with huge popular rappers such as Biggie Smalls and even Will Smith sampling disco/post disco era songs with total pride. Not to mention the importance of those songs complete embrace by the public in a positive light. This reminds me of my favorite lyric in this song which says “I don’t want to live in the past,but it’s a nice place to visit”. The disco era at it’s most musically vital represented a full channeling of Afro-Latin world music,big band jazz and the long form rhythms of funk. And it’s wonderful to hear that Chic and Nile Rodgers are still able to pull it all together so wonderfully!
Filed under 2015, Bernard Edwards, Chic, Daft Punk, Disco, Funk, Funk Bass, Get Lucky, Jerry Barnes, Luther Vandross, Nile Rodgers, nu disco, Pharrell Willaims, Ralpe Rolle, Sam Smith, Sister Sledge, Tensnake
Philadelphia’s original sisters of soul Kathy,Debbie,Joni and Kim Sledge took their beautiful traded vocal leads and harmonies into the public consciousness in 1975. Five years and two albums later they began a hugely successful period with Nile Rodgers’ Chic organization-churning out songs that,among many excellent ones,include the anthem “We Are Family”. After 1985 the group had an eight year hiatus from recording to emerge as a trio,produced by the British acid jazz outfit Incognito, while Kathy pursued a solo career.
Another seven years later the group re-emerged,again as a trio, with a brand new album called African Eyes. It was independently released,self produced,self written and the only reason I ever heard about it was because of my mother. She very much enjoyed hearing new music at the now defunct Borders Books & Music listening stations during the late 1990’s. This particular album seemed to not only surprise but very much excite her,which I know from experience is somewhat rare in this case. When I heard the title song for this album later that day? I completely understood her enthusiasm for it. And thanks to my friend from Kiev, Ukraine Andrew Osterov? I can now present this song to you.
The song begins with a pounding drum call before one of the sisters shouts out a declarative dialog in what sounds like Portuguese or Spanish. After this the percussive drum parts,speeding up and slowing down with each vocal refrain, breaks out into an intense uptempo frenzy accented by first by a steely slap bass pop from Kevin Mauch on the body of the song,and than joined by a jazzy improvised muted trumpet melody courtesy of Jessie Maguire on the choruses. The bridge of the song returns to a much cooler variation of the percussive drumming-juxtaposing the sounds of children playing with a full solo from that muted trumpet and an African flute before returning to the chorus as the song fades to a close.
Never before or since I heard or even conceived of the Sledge sisters as creating music that was so instrumentally and thematically Afrocentric. The song musically embraces the strong ethnic identification inherent in the original 70’s funk era-with it’s percussive rhythms and jazz oriented horn voicings. Even the solos and harmonies of the Sledge’s vocals have a totally rhythmic freedom in their projection. Lyrically the song boldly encourages young black American’s to see the beauty in their African roots-even declaring “civilization started near the Euphrates,when Adam and Eve started creating babies with those eyes”. Even evoking the chorus of their hit “We Are Family” with a new cultural context on the bridge of the song. To me this is the epitome of Sister Sledges musical journey. And impressed the music world so much that the African Eyes album was nominated for a best produced CD Grammy. The result is a high water mark for them in terms of funky cultural identity.
Filed under 1990s, Africa, Afrocentrism, Debbie Sledge, Funk, Incognito, Jazz, Joni Sledge, Kathy Sledge, Kim Sledge, Nile Rodgers, percussion, Sister Sledge, slap bass, trumpet
1986 was a crucially important year for funky music in the decade. The electro/synth based sound that tended to be the dominant force in the music within the past few years were giving way to a sound where electronic instruments were being used as accents to either a fully organic or organic sounding instrumental bed. This came to prominence with songs such as Prince’s “Kiss”,’Duran Duran’s “Notorious” and the late and great James Brown’s “Living In America”. After leaving her original label Island and singing up with Manhattan Records,she took a stab at co-production with Nile Rodgers for her first album on the label Inside Story. One of the songs on it that always caught my attention was “White Collar Crime”
The song begins with a slow,rolling shuffling beat that’s accompanied by a high pitched digital synthesizer playing a rather Asian style melodic phrase. Grace’s vocals than kick in with Nile’s guitar providing a subtle accent to the lyrics which,through a series of different stories,illustrates the songs chorus of “white collar crime/you don’t have to do time/blue collar crime/you do time every time”-sung to lower volume horn chart/guitar call-and-response playing opposite melodic statements. On the bridge of the song,the horns scale up as grace asks “do they get away with it” before the drum emulator shuffle is let to solo with the horns fanfaring back into the original phrase-after which Nile himself is heard saying “it’s all the same” as Grace responds “it’s a money/power game”
Showcasing Mac Gollehon,Steve Elson and Lenny Pickett on horns and co-writer/instrumentalist Bruce Woolley on synthesizers? This song has a similar quality to Grace’s “Slave To The Rhythm” in the sense that it is what they call a runaway groove. This amounts to a form of dance/funk which has a light and understated instrumental quality-rhythmic enough for a strutting model but un-intrusive enough where it doesn’t interrupt the focus. Of course Grace Jones,being a former model,is a natural to produce a song in such a way. Not only that,but the lightness of the production and arrangement take away from how hard hitting a groove this actually is. And it’s hard hitting in more ways than one.
By this time? The Reaganomics policy of trick down economics and the Wallstreet/Gordon Gekko attitude of “greed is good” was starting to contrast with how American society actually seemed to be functioning. Especially when it came to foreign policy and black Americans. Grace Jones,twice a foreigner as a Jamaican woman having began who career out of Europe,than crossed over in the US,really made her comment very strongly here. Using tabloid/yellow journalistic expletives such as “it’s outrageous nobody cared” and “shocking,it’s all so mocking”? Jones makes lyrical points that would be made in far more direct ways by hip-hoppers such as Public Enemy and NWA in a short two years time. And that was already being explored by hip-hop by KRS-1 and Eric B & Rakim. And that’s basically the treatment of a wealthier criminal versus that of a smaller time hustler. Indeed Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers provide a very stylish groove out of the money/power game.