Friday, May 26, 2017

Good Times: C’est Chic!

Life is made of those inevitable ups & downs, History invariably bringin’ us back to the souvenir of those who have (had) the knack of getting the quintessence out of’em. What would it be without Chic and how would have it been without them? A name which, no doubt, embodies the so called good times – the famous ‘Happy Days’- for a whole generation and way beyond, judging by the consequent amount of those who’ve sampled their music…

ChicIf it is possible for almost everyone to make a piece of music nowadays (should it be based on no more than three notes!!!), it’s far from being the same when it comes to art, speakin’ of which nothing is to replace time and experience as far as its concept and acquisition are concerned, respecting in this this good old French saying stating that there’s no better… soup than the one prepared out of an ol’jug! “We were far from thinking that we could make ourselves a name with Disco/Funk music when we first met (with the late Bernard Edwards), remembers Nile (Rodgers)…

In fact, and although having studied Classical music and Jazz, he thought for some time about evolving within this movement known as the Black Rock Coalition, itself connected with the Black Panthers, before bringing his already numerous skills to The Apollo Theater in Harlem, and joinin’ the house band known as the Big Apple Band where he met Bernard Edwards in 1972. The twosome would then contribute to various recordings incl. the famous ‘I’m Doing Fine Now’ for New York City (a cut redone some 15 years later by The Pasadenas), before debuting under their own guise with the release of ‘Dance Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’ on Buddah Records in 1977. A single followed the year after by the release of their ‘C’est Chic’ debut-album on Atlantic including classics such as ‘Le Freak’ and ‘I Want Your Love’ with an impressive line-up of peeps who would become more or less members of the Chic family such as drummer Tony Thompson, keyboardist Raymond Jones, singers Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin. But also percussionist Sammy Figueroa. Not to mention the late Luther Vandross as guest vocalist and, later on, Fonzi Thornton. All these people reunited on the production of the Norma Jean eponym album that same year on Bearsville Records featuring that famous guitar/bass/strings and piano funk sound which was aptly to take the Dance Music scene by storm, as shown by cuts such as ‘Saturday’, ‘Having A Party’ and ‘Sorcerer’ to name but a few…

“I was doin’ the ‘Let’s Dance’ album for David Bowie, and there was one track we were working on where the bass line didn’t fit with the drums, and the bass player we had was simply unable to do it. I remember how David started getting frustrated. I knew that Bernard was working somewhere upstairs in the same building and it was clear to me that he would be able to do it straight away. I said to David : “Look man, I’m gonna show you what a Chic musician can do. So I called Nard who came up, saw me, said hi to David, looked at the music chart and said: “Let’s roll the tape!” He came in at 3.05pm and by 3.20, it was all sorted out. This is something which I’ll never forget…”

A sound was born which would become a trademark, illustrating the predominance of production teams at the time, from Mauro Malavasi & Jacques Fred Petrus (Saturday Night Band, Change, BB&Q Band, High Fashion and Zinc to name but a few) to Willie Lester & Rodney Brown (Sharon Redd, Bobby Thurston)… Then later on Jam & Lewis, L.A. & Babyface, Jazzie B & Nellee Hooper (Soul II Soul), Cole & Clvilles, David Morales & Frankie Knuckles or Kenny Dope & Louie Vega more recently. But if ever a year was to be good for the newly formed Chic Organization Ltd company, this would then be 1979 with the release of their ‘Risqué’ album including the anthemic ‘Good Times’, ‘My Feet Keep Dancing’ and ‘My Forbidden Lover’. This in addition to their production for Sister Sledge with the ‘We Are Family’ album featuring the aforementioned track, ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ and ‘Lost In Music’. The classic ‘Spacer’ for French Pop star Sheila, doing a cameo appearance under the Sheila B. Devotion moniker. The ‘Diana’ album for Diana Ross incl. the evergreen ‘Upside Down’ a few months later. The following years seing the successive releases of the ‘Real People’ (1980), ‘Take It Off’ (1982) and ‘Believer’ in 1983, before an almost 9 year hiatus and the release of a return album called ‘Chicism’ which would give me the opportunity to meet Nile and Bernard in Paris by the beginning of 1992…
“Believer was quite depressing for us on many levels at the time”, explained Rodgers. “I mean the record didn’t do that well and also due to the technoligical changes that had been occurring at the time, I’d started using drum machines although I knew this would hurt our drummer (Tony Thompson). We also noticed drastic changes at the time in terms of lyrics, with the production going social and political, and eventually started being criticized by the press for sounding sort of dated which, to my point of view, was quite unfair. I mean, I’ve always seen music as a way to escape from the struggle of the day to day life. When jammin’ with Nard, I didn’t give a sh** about the politics in the streets. I just cared about the height I was getting off the music and the way I was feeling…
I guess we’ve started getting into drugs at the very moment when we felt that there was no more oxygen for us to keep on what we’d been doin’ so far. All the qualities that made us being who we became had simply gone and this was it.”

Nile also remembers what he got said by the VP of Atlantic at the time: “”You messed up. You’ve lost your Dance Music base”, he said, and it took some time for me to understand. I thought that if radios weren’t on our side, the clubs would be and this ended up being wrong, as when things began to change for us everything had already changed around us, such as technology within the R&B production. People like us would then become unimportant in the clubs. That was really a sad period, allowing only one type of music to emerge. And I gotta say with the time how the man was right judging by the noticable amount of soundalike electro-synth based vibes that came up before the emergence of the said Streetbeat/pre New Jack Swing kind of stuff in 1987 with producers such as L.A. & Babyface, Foster & McElroy or Teddy Riley. Not to mention the early daze of both House Music Stateside and Acid Jazz/Brit-Soul in the UK the year after…”

With Chic being disbanded, both their heads started separate activities either as artists and producers working for Pop stars such as David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Al Jarreau and Earth, Wind & Fire lead vocalist Phillip Bailey (Powerstation and Rod Stewart for Bernard Edwards)…
“When I got to do my own production work, the concept of doin’ music had changed in the sense of it wasn’t a band-based thing anymore as opposed to Pop, and I suppose this has been the main reason of me getting there”, as he would do later on for the late French author/singer Claude Nougaro on his ‘Nougayork’ LP.
“When I did ‘Like A Virgin’ for Madonna, I told her how the record would sound better with a live band as opposed to programming and when we came to cut the record, we just did it in one take with no overdubs…” Ironically, the recording of David Bowie‘s ‘Let’s Dance’ album (his first solo work as producer) would give Nile and his alter ego the opportunity to talk back to each other and eventually work together after their dispute…

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