You might not recognize the name Nile Rodgers, but it’s a virtual lock that you’ve heard – and enjoyed – some of his well-crafted, groove-laden recordings. And whether you’ve got vinyl, CDs, mp3s or even rattling old cassettes, there’s very likely something with his name on it in your music collection.
Rodgers, who performs tonight at the Mahaffey Theater, made his name as a record producer, starting in the 1980s: David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love,” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl,” “Notorious” and “The Reflex” by Duran Duran, “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” by Diana Ross, “Roam” and “Cosmic Thing” by the B-52’s. Tracks by Christina Aguilera, Keith Urban, Peter Gabriel, George Michael, INXS and Bryan Ferry. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mick Jagger, and not so very long ago, Pharrell, Lady Gaga and Daft Punk.
Then there’s the little matter of Rodgers’ work in the late ‘70s, as songwriter, producer and guitarist for the sinewy, sexy disco aggregate known as Chic: “Good Times” (which formed the core of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” widely considered the first hip hop record), “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah),” “I Want Your Love” and, most recognizably, “Le Freak” (“aaaaaaaah … Freak out!”)
He also wrote and produced (with his partner-in-Chic, the late Bernard Edwards) the massive dance hit “We Are Family,” an R&B chart-topper for Sister Sledge in 1979.
Yeah, that Nile Rodgers. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Rodgers has written, produced, and performed on records that have cumulatively sold more than 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide.
Tonight’s Mahaffey concert – billed as Nile Rodgers and Chic – comes during a brief respite from Cher’s global “Here We Go Again” tour, for which Rodgers and his band are the support act.
“I say this with complete humility,” the 66-year-old legend recently told the Knoxville News, “every song we play we play for the people. We don’t play for ourselves. The reason we get satisfaction is because of the trickle-down effect of the people being so happy that it makes us (happy).
“Every song we play, you will know. It’s everything from Chic to Diana Ross to Sister Sledge to Bowie sometimes to INXS. Sometimes we play Duran Duran. I perform as a conductor or leader of a band almost as a DJ would. I have to read the crowd. Our set list may have three hours’ worth of music, but half the time you’ll see me calling out stuff.”