Nile Rodgers Celebrity Interview with Paul Williams

I had the opportunity to meet legendary musician Nile Rodgers four times. I was on the phone trying to get guided to the bottom floor of the Mariott Hotel past security to attend the Nile Rodgers interview, and there he was walking past me. That was missed opportunity one. I attended the fantastic interview and had a chance to ask a question during a Q&A. I waited too long and it was too late for me to get a chance to ask a question. Strike two. At the end of his interview, he stayed to shake some hands and sign some pamphlets. As soon as I was about to say hello, security whisked him away and pushed us aside. That was it: Third chance was over. That was the end of it. I was waiting at the Mariott for another event which got postponed due to a fire alarm, and as I was leaving and on the phone, Nile Rodgers walked past yet again. I was up to bat again some how. I didn’t waste the opportunity to walk up to him and greet him. I thanked him for being an inspiration. He thanked me. The person on the other end of the line, of whom happened to be Live in Limbo’s Sean Chin, was a witness of this event. Not of me talking to an idol of mine, but of how down to earth and cool Nile Rodgers is. This individual who has worked with so many of the biggest names in contemporary music history, has sold millions of albums and worked on countless songs and has now become a Grammy winner, was grounded and humble.

In his interview he was incredibly approachable as well. “‘Row well and live’, and that was always my thing” he said as he quoted the film Ben Hur; A quote that inspired him to be the best producer and “arranger” that he could be. He always saw himself as a collaborator and rarely as a sole orchestrator. A popular example of this is his work with Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams with last year’s Grammy winning song Get Lucky, as well as a few other songs on Daft Punk’s acclaimed album Random Access Memories. He has worked with many names, ranging from Madonna and David Bowie to his groundbreaking band Chic. Interviewing Rodgers was another guest musician on Random Access Memories and another music legend: Paul Williams. Williams, too, knows what it is like to cater music to people asking for help as he is primarily a song writer. Both Rodgers and Williams know what it is like to keep paddling to survive in the mainstream of the industry of which never stops running, and both legends have the credentials to showcase their work. “Not to be egotistical but to be statistical”, Rodgers said tossing up his shield to block him from accusations as he later went on to say that he has been on hundreds of records and has worked solely with the best in the industry, and he isn’t lying. “Luther Vandross was my backing vocalist”, he laughs, and that alone can tell you the kind of legacy Rodgers has in case you aren’t too educated about his accomplishments (if that is the case, do your homework this very second).

“We were doing our own version of sampling” Rodgers admits when he tells Williams that bands “from the hood” covering songs are essentially doing the same thing as hip hop artists are doing now with sampling. He goes on to talk about his love for rap group Public Enemy and show his amazement for how these songs are pieced together with just clips of old songs. When he talked to one of Public Enemy’s producers and asked him how these songs were put together, he was told that rap musicians would be creating the academically trained music people like Rodgers were putting together if they had the abilities to do so. “Just stick to what you want to do”, he told an aspiring guitar player during a Q&A of whom was being racially profiled. This ended up being the running theme of today’s interview, whether it be the words spoken from the relaxed and dapper Rodgers or the excited Williams. If Rodgers expressed his passion for rap music and admitted that he couldn’t pull it off, you know that this leading producer is real and not letting these stats he talked of go to his head. He still knows where he is in the industry and where everyone else is, between the successful and the aspiring.

He talked about his large inspiration from Bernard Edwards, his fellow Chic band mate who unfortunately passed away back in 1996. With a jazz and classical guitar upbringing, Rodgers was guided into funk guitar playing by Edwards as he would practice in his bathroom for weeks. Initially using guitar playing to try and impress a girl (an attempt that failed), it was this part in his early career where Rodgers and his signature guitar playing style finally went hand in hand. When being persuaded to write poppy tunes, Rodgers was initially hesitant until his music teacher told him that anyone who sells a million records is “amazing” because anyone who can entertain “a million strangers” is someone with power. After being asked if Rodgers was smarter than these other one million people, Rodgers came up with the song Everybody Dance: Chic’s first song. When asked why the song’s chorus had “do do do’s” and not “la la la’s”, Rodgers comically retold us that the “la la la” era was over and it was time for the “do do do” era. Someone of whom was just introduced to these styles of music was already with the current of traffic, and Rodgers has been on top of the music world ever since.

Williams not only interviewed Rodgers but he talked of his own experiences as well, as he recalled his past alcohol abuse (of which he thankfully overcame), his work with The Muppets (and how it mirrored Rodgers’ work with Sesame Street), and his work with artists ranging from Barbara Streisand to Gladys Knight. At times, there wasn’t an interview at all but instead two good friends exchanging memories, and it was quite an incredible sight. Nothing was forced. There was very little planning here, so it seemed. There was just experience and passion to guide each and every passage of this session. It ended abruptly when Williams opened the floor to questions which further adds to my theory that there is just so much wisdom pouring out of the heads of these two icons that any conversation between them must be analytical gold. “You have to mine tons of ore to get an ounce of gold”, Rodgers said to us as yet another quote that has helped him throughout his career, and many years of work has turned both him and Williams into shining representatives of the music industry with nothing but kind words and powerful stories to tell.

Canadian Music Week conducted this event, and they created a new award named after Nile Rodgers for important people within the industry. Rodgers, being the first winner of this award, was surprised with this trophy by Williams at the end of the interview. He mentioned that he was awarded with the best selling single in Canada back in the 70’s and that he usually wasn’t one to win many big awards; He even doubted winning a Grammy at last year’s ceremonies. He received another award today and it is named in his honor, further embedding his legacy in music history. It is this massive individual that shook my hand. It is this significant figure in music history that softly thanked me for my words. If anything, it was me who showed my ego by going up to him and representing myself, although I doubt he minded. In the end, Nile Rodgers just wants to be a part of music, and he is ever so thankful for all of his achievements. He’s just a music lover at heart, and he probably respects that many of us that greet him are as well. As he said, he’s primarily a collaborator. He wants to be a part of anyone’s aspiring artistic lives, which is why his interview with Paul Williams was absolutely breathtaking, and, for people like myself, essential. If there’s anyone willing and excited to be a part of any up and coming artist’s lives, it’s Nile Rodgers.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.