Nile Rodgers is “obviously happy, obviously humbled” to be receiving an Award For Musical Excellence at next year’s 32nd Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
But he’s also “perplexed” and “ambivalent.”
The honor — most recently presented to Ringo Starr in 2015 — comes to Rodgers after his band Chic failed for an 11th time to be voted into the Rock Hall. And the disparity has left him unsure of exactly how to feel about the award.
“I’m more shocked than anybody right now,” Rodgers, who’s in the midst of mixing a new album for Blondie, tells Billboard. “I’m blown over because I didn’t expect to be singled out of Chic. So that’s weird right away. It’s just weird for me to be picked out of Chic and say, ‘Nile, you belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but those other guys…’ Of course I am flattered and honored like crazy, but it’s sort of bittersweet for me because of all the things I’ve done that I’m exceptionally proud of, I’m really proud of Chic.”
Rodgers, of course, is receiving his award for his collaborative work as a producer, writer and guest performer with the likes of David Bowie, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Keith Urban and scores of others — right up to the Daft Punk smash “Get Lucky” in 2013 and his current single with Christina Aguilera, “Telepathy.” But he contends that his own accomplishments cannot be separated from Chic.
“I’ve done a lot of great work, but I wouldn’t have done any of that stuff if it weren’t for Chic,” Rodgers explains. “That’s the springboard for any of the stuff I”ve done. David Bowie’s knowledge of me came because of Chic. I don’t think he said, ‘I wanna work with Nile Rodgers because of what he did with Diana Ross…’ I really do believe, and I’m not trying to brag, but we were that band to other bands. Musicians don’t lie. We know who we influenced and who heard Chic and loved it and picked up things from us to use themselves.”
So what Rodgers wants most is for Chic — which is planning to release a new album, It’s About Time, during 2017 — to get another shot at getting voted into the Rock Hall. “I would be beyond thrilled if Chic got nominated again next year, a 12th time,” he says. “Chic is still Chic. We had the No. 1 selling record for Atlantic Records for 37 years. We had a single [“Le Freak”] that went No. 1 three times. I think there should be some kind of standard that is applied across the board. I mean, if you’re a baseball player and you hit .300 every year, you know you are automatically going into the Hall of Fame, period, end of story. So I think there’s got to be some sort of measurable thing that’s applied here, too.”
Rodgers acknowledges that some view Chic as a disco band, and therefore not rock and roll, but he’s quick to dismiss that bias. “We started out as your basic rock and roll/blues band. It was only after we couldn’t get a deal with our original rock songs that we finally wrote our very first dance record, and that got us a deal,” Rodgers recalls. “I lived in a world that was just considered rock ‘n’ roll for a very, very long time, and it was through pure frustration that we changed our style of writing because we couldn’t get a record deal. But to me rock and roll is a state of mind, and that doesn’t change. You just get better and more open to other things.”
Don’t expect Rodgers to get too caught up in championing Chic over himself on April 7 at the Barclays Center, however. “I’m not that guy. That’s not my personality,” he says. “I’m not a person who feels like it’s my responsibility to disrupt whatever decorum an institution has because of my personal opinion. It’s like, ‘Hey, if you don’t think that we belong, I guess we don’t belong. I’m fine with that.’ But I just feel a little weird that Chic doesn’t belong, but I do? Like, how do we get to that conclusion?”