Nile Rodgers is a young New York guitarist who is best known as the coleader of Chic, the enormously successful dance-music outfit responsible for such hits as 1978's "Le Freak" and 1979's "Good Times." Rodgers and his partner, bassist Bernard Edwards, have also established a reputation as producers, having been behind the board for such records as Sister Sledge's "We Are Family"; Diana Ross' Diana LP, which yielded the hits "I'm Comin' Out" and "Upside Down"; and the highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing Deborah Harry solo album, Koo-Koo. Recently, Rodgers and Edwards took some time off to work on solo albums. Rodgers had just completed his LP, Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove, when he got a call from David Bowie. The two had met at a party months before, and Bowie asked Nile whether he would be interested in producing his new LP. Bowie was between labels and wanted a new sound, so be and Rodgers booked four weeks' worth of time at Chic's main base, the Power Station studio on Manhattan's West Side. Working daily from 10:30 a.m. to six p.m., they completed the record in twenty days. The resulting album, which is tentatively titled Let's Dance, will be released sometime in April as the first record in Bowie's reported $17.5 million deal with EMI-America Records. Bowie will follow it with a U.S. tour. Rodgers' account of the sessions follows.
Would you say this is a totally different direction for Bowie?
I don't think anything is totally different, really. It's all a collection of stuff. As you get older, you learn more; you want to incorporate all those different things into your style . . . But if I had to describe the album, I'd call it modern big-band rock. Very modern. It's Bowie.
Did you use the same people with Bowie that you used on your upcoming solo album?
No. On Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove, I wrote all the songs at home, playing everything myself. In the studio, I wanted that bare feel I got at home. I tried not to use the same musicians on every track. Sarah Dash sings on one. Rachel Sweet is on another. Tony [Thompson, Chic's drummer] is on both David's album and mine. David composed all his own material; I did the arrangements and suggested musicians. He wanted a much larger sound than on my album. That big-band approach. But for Eighties rock, of course.
How did you and Bowie collaborate?
In a sense, it was like working with Bernard. By the way, 'Nard saved our ass on one track. We were desperate to get a bass line done a certain way, so I called Bernard; he came down, heard the track, laid the line down perfectly on one take and was gone fifteen minutes later. David was impressed. The way we worked together, David would sing some musical idea, some part he wanted from some instrument or section, and I'm into orchestration, so we did some real nice things with the brass. There are no synthesizers to speak of. There are a lot of different drum things: David heard these drums in the South Pacific that sound like 6/8 time. It's like salsa, or junkanoo from the Bahamas. We used it on one cut, and it sounds great.
When this album comes out, it's possible you'll get calls from people who dismissed you from rock because of your work with Chic.
I hope so, because it's time now. See, when I was coming up, people were just into music. I was one of those fortunate kids who was around when Hendrix was happenin', so if you had a black rock & roller, that could have been an inspiration. Whereas now, things have gotten into a strange . . . but with people like Prince, that barrier is starting to be chipped away. Who knows? One day I guess they'll think of it as regular music.
This story is from the March 17th, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone.