It was good times for Chic co-founder and disco legend Nile Rodgers, who was saluted Tuesday night by the producers and engineers wing of the Recording Academy. The triple Grammy winner told the packed audience of audio professionals that when he started out, "I just wanted to be a jazz guy, playing club dates." But a fateful trip to a disco with his then-girlfriend changed everything. "I heard [Donna Summer's] 'Love To Love You Baby,' and it blew me away."
The eighth annual event, held at Los Angeles recording studio the Village in Los Angeles, honored Rodgers for his support for the art and craft of recorded music. Past honorees include Neil Young, T Bone Burnett and Jimmy Iovine.
Rodgers, who has produced more than 200 projects for such artists as David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Duran Duran and Madonna, won three Grammys last year -- the first in his storied career -- for his work on Daft Punk's album of the year, Random Access Memories.
In an acceptance speech that lasted more than 40 minutes, Rodgers chronicled his career, including being fired from his first gig arranging for Ashford & Simpson. Valerie Simpson, however, in a bit of prognostication, told him at the time, "I've never seen anybody do that much with two chords in my life."
"He's just got great ears, he knows exactly what he wants it to sound like, and he's a phenomenal songwriter," Slash told Billboard. The pair have worked together numerous times, including on the Beverly Hills Cop 3 soundtrack. "He's just somebody that you know is listening and has the chops. When he gets behind the board, he knows how to make it sound better than you would ever imagine. Madonna and Duran Duran never sounded better."
Kathy Sledge recalled to Billboard how Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, his late producing partner and Chic co-founder, turned down working with the Rolling Stones to produce Sister Sledge. "They wanted a group that no one knew because they wanted to prove to themselves they were these great producers," she said. "Nile has this amazing sound, everything is so clean. He was very direct in what he wanted. I didn't hear 'We Are Family' until it was time to record it and I did the ad-lib in one take. They believed in spontaneity. While we were recording 'We Are Family,' they were writing 'He's The Greatest Dancer'."
Sledge joined Rodgers and Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea on stage to perform "We Are Family" as part of a rambling medley of a number of Rodgers' hits, which also included Chic's "Good Times" and "Le Freak."
Also in attendance were "Weird Al" Yankovic, Ric Ocasek, producer Peter Asher, songwriter Diane Warren, Duran Duran's John Taylor, Lalah Hathaway, and Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow. Warner Bros. chairman/CEO Cameron Strang and veteran label exec Michael Ostin served as honorary event co-chairs.
Earlier this week, Warner Bros. announced the label had signed Rodgers and his band Chic to a global deal through Land of the Good Groove, an imprint formed by Rodgers and Ostin. Rodgers' history with Warner Bros. goes back to 1984 and his production work on Madonna's Like A Virgin.
The lead single from Chic's first album in more than 25 years comes out March 20. Warner Bros. will release the album in June. Chic's first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, 1978's "Le Freak," will be inducted into the 2015 Grammy Hall of Fame.