If you’ve been alive and breathing this past summer, you’ve likely heard the guitar work of our newest Unsung Guitar Hero. Indeed, the funky Stratocaster chops on Daft Punk’s hit single, “Get Lucky”, belong to none other than the great Nile Rodgers.
The success of “Get Lucky” has created a bit of a “revival of Nile”, especially among guitar players. I’m happy to say that Mr. Rodgers’ influence has been with me from the beginning (my formative years in music just happened to coincide with his initial success in the iconic 70’s disco band, Chic), but for many guitarists, Daft Punk is their introduction to his special brand of awesome.
Nile Rodgers is certainly far from unknown, but because he has made his reputation on his rhythm guitar playing, he immediately qualifies for “unsung” status in my book. And even most accomplished guitarists only really know him as a player; many folks have no idea of his enormous influence on modern pop music as a songwriter, soundtrack composer, and producer.
In fact, the Harry Fox Agency once calculated that more than two billion dollars in sales have flowed through Nile and his 59′ Strat! Convinced yet? Read on, funky ones…
The Hits: Disco Era
The Disco Era was not exactly known for producing great guitarists. The clear exception is Nile Rodgers.
In the 70’s, Nile formed the band Chic with friend and bassist, Bernard Edwards. Together they became not just one of the tightest, most polished rhythm sections ever (along with drummer, Tony Thompson), but also a hit machine that churned out chart-topping songs.
Chic songs were all about having fun and dancing, as the band’s heyday was at the height of the disco era. With hits like “I Want Your Love”, “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)”, “Everybody Dance” and the Studio 54 standards “Le Freak” and “Good Times”, Chic established themselves as one of the iconic pop acts of the late-70’s.
Since Rodgers and Edwards had such success with Chic songs, they were often asked to write songs and produce tracks for other artists. Although they provided music for quite a few acts, their songs for Sister Sledge (“We Are Family” and “He’s the Greatest Dancer”) and Diana Ross (“Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out”) are standards of that era and serve as those artists’ most successful singles.
The Hits: Heavy Influence
In the early 80’s, rap and hip-hop were taking off and Chic’s influence was felt heavily there, even though Rodgers and Edwards didn’t specifically produce songs for those artists. Chic’s rhythm tracks – even the string section parts – have been directly sampled or used as inspiration by a number of artists.
The prime example of sampling “Good Times” remains Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, one of the most important tracks in the history of rap. Fast forward to the 90’s and you’ll hear Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer” as the foundation for Will Smith’s massive hit, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”.
Other hit songs that were famously and directly influenced by Chic tracks are Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Blondie’s “Rapture”, which featured the first example of rap on a #1 song (and name-checked rap pioneers Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy to boot).
The Hits: Producer Extraordinaire
After Chic had run its course, Nile Rodgers turned his talents toward record production, and the results were just as spectacular. A small sampling of records Nile has played on and produced include:
Cosmic Thing by B-52s (“Love Shack”and “Roam”)
Like a Virgin by Madonna (“Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl”)
Notorious by Duran Duran (“Notorious”)
“The Reflex” and “Wild Boys” (singles) by Duran Duran
“Original Sin” (single) by INXS
Let’s Dance by David Bowie (“Let’s Dance, “China Girl” and “Modern Love”)
Here’s to Future Days by Thompson Twins (“Lay Your Hands on Me” and “King for a Day”)
Other production credits include artists such as The Vaughan Brothers, Sheena Easton, Diana Ross, Ric Ocasek, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Grace Jones, Philip Bailey, Al Jarreau and Mick Jagger.
As a studio guitarist, Nile has played on The Honeydrippers, Vol. 1, “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood, HIStory by Michael Jackson, So by Peter Gabriel, as well as recordings by Cyndi Lauper, Howard Jones, David Sanborn and many more.
When he was not producing tracks for radio, Rodgers devoted his time to composing and playing music for soundtracks. Among his work is Coming to America (his first orchestral soundtrack), Earth Girls Are Easy, Alphabet City, Gremlins, The Fly, White Nights, and Against All Odds.
The Hits: 2013
Most recently, of course, Nile has garnered yet another wave of kudos for his guitar work on Daft Punk’s chart-topping single, “Get Lucky”. For guitarists, this song has almost single-handedly revived interest in Rodgers’ sweet rhythm chops.
Here is the video to Daft Punk’s smash hit “Get Lucky”, featuring Pharrell Williams and the master, Nile Rodgers, on the impossibly funky Stratocaster.
In the next couple weeks, I’ll be releasing a lesson on the Nile style, which has a few distinct elements that guitarists should focus on if they want to cop his rhythm vibe. Until then, stay funky. 🙂
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