Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Good Times: C’est Chic!

Life is made of those inevitable ups and 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 everyone to make a piece of music nowadays (be it 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. Therefore 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 Bernard and I first met, remembers Nile Rodgers

In fact, and although having studied Classical music and Jazz, he thought for some time about evolving within the Black Rock Coalition. A movement itself connected with the Black Panthers. That was before bringing his already numerous skills to The Apollo Theater in Harlem and joinin’ the Big Apple Band. A house band where he met Bernard Edwards back in 1972.
The twosome would then contribute to various recordings. Beginning with the memorable ‘I’m Doing Fine Now’ for New York City. A cut which UK band The Pasadenas would eventually cover some 15 years later.

‘Dance Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’ marked Chic‘s debut back in 1977 on Buddah Records. A single soon after followed by the release of ‘Chic’. Their debut-album which features the memorable ‘Everybody Dance’.
‘C’est Chic’, their follow up, saw the light the year after. Including extra gems such as the anthemic ‘Le Freak’ and ‘I Want Your Love’. But also ‘Chic Cheer’ which Faith Evans actually sampled back in 1998 on ‘Love Like This’. Not to mention the outstanding ‘Happy Man’ which, for some reason, didn’t get a single release.

In the meantime, the band had turned into an impressive reunion of talents. As many people who would become more or less members of the Chic family. From drummer Tony Thompson to keyboardist Raymond Jones and 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 of them contributing to the recording of Norma Jean‘s eponymous album that same year. This giving birth to extra goodies such as ‘Saturday’, ‘Having A Party’ and ‘Sorcerer’…

“I was doin’ the ‘Let’s Dance’ album for David Bowie. And there was one track we were working on where the bassline didn’t fit with the drums. With the bass player we had 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. Then he 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. Blending infectious guitar, strings and piano lines over some bumpin’ funk basslines. Meanwhile illustrating the predominance of production teams at the time. From Mauro Malavasi & Jacques Fred Petrus (Change, BB&Q Band…). To Willie Lester & Rodney Brown (Sharon Redd)… Then later on Jam & Lewis, L.A. & Babyface or Jazzie B & Nellee Hooper. Not to mention 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 ‘Risqué’. An album including the seminal ‘Good Times’, ‘My Feet Keep Dancing’ and ‘My Forbidden Lover’. This in addition to their production for Sister Sledge. The latter comin’ up with the ‘We Are Family’ album featuring the aforementioned track, ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ and ‘Lost In Music’. The classic ‘Spacer’ for Sheila B. Devotion completing the series. With the production of The ‘Diana’ album for Diana Ross including the evergreen ‘Upside Down’ comin’ up a few months later.

The following years seing the successive releases of the ‘Real People’ (1980), ‘Take It Off’ (1982) and ‘Believer’ in 1983. This before an almost 9 year hiatus and the release of a return album called ‘Chicism’. Itself givin’ 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 the press started criticising us 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 the VP of Atlantic told him 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. But 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 for some time. Before the emergence of the Swingbeat / New Jack Swing in 1987 with producers such as L.A. & Babyface or Teddy Riley. Not to mention the early daze of both House Music Stateside. Or the Acid Jazz/Brit-Soul in the UK the year after…”

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