Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers co-produced David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Black Tie White Noise albums. The former was a huge commercial success: It became Bowie’s first platinum-certified studio album by the Recording Industry Association of America and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart. Let’s Dance launched the most chart hits — four — on the Billboard Hot 100 of any Bowie album. Among those were the No. 1 title track (his second, and so far, final chart-topper) “China Girl” (peaking at No. 10) and “Modern Love” (No. 14). Rodgers spoke to Billboard about his decades-long bond with the iconic musician.
My love for David is immeasurable.
It’s an amazing amount of love and respect that I have for him. Some people get offended when I say that he is probably just as important to my life as Bernard Edwards (Rodgers’ partner in Chic). And I really mean that. Had it not been for Bowie, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
I had six flops in a row, after having no flops. The one thing you know about music is flops are pretty much… [laughs] they’re comin’. You can depend on that. Hits are the things that are elusive, but flops… they’re coming.
[And] the “disco sucks” [backlash] happened. Had nothing to do with me. I’m still trying to make good records, and now somebody tells me that my entire way of expressing myself sucks. My art form sucks. I’m persona non grata. No one wants to talk to me. And this guy David Bowie, who is a rock god, says, “Not only do I want to take a chance with him, I believe in him.” That’s amazing to me.
He rescued me. He pulled a drowning man onto the boat. And not only did we row to shore, we rowed into Monaco.
Because I’ve had my own fight with cancer for five years now, and even if I had a scintilla of a clue [about Bowie’s battle with cancer], I’d be there for him in a minute. The best advice my friends who’ve gone through cancer have given me is this wonderful support mechanism. I would have really been there. Many musicians have reached out to me because I was very public about cancer. But, the one thing I really respect is everybody deals with this stuff their own way. I could never criticize anyone on this earth for keeping it silent, doing whatever they want to do, because it’s terrifying. You go through every possible emotion, ever. I get it. I really do understand.
I’ve lost a lot of friends. From Stevie Ray Vaughan to Bernard Edwards to Tony Thompson to now David Bowie… I just feel like they’re waiting for me to call… they’re waiting on me to call on the next project. Does that sound crazy?
Even when I’m not with a person, I still feel like we’re just in limbo. If I were to talk about Stevie Ray Vaughan, I’d talk in the present tense. When I talk about Bernard Edwards, I say, “Yeah, you know what we always do? We’re always laughing every time we do a session.” We always talk about our heroes and our colleagues in the present tense — at least I do, in music. And that’s mainly because I spend so much time with them, and then I spend so much time being away from them. So the love is still there, they’re just not physically around me. But I don’t feel like they’ve gone anywhere. They’re just waiting for me to do the next record.
— As told to Keith Caulfield