The morning of the 26th, I had made a date for brunch with an acquaintance from the John Foxx Metamatic forum who was attending Moogfest from out of town with a friend. They described what they would be wearing at the restaurant and I arrived at the prescribed time and place only to discover that the two ladies were in fact, the same pair that I had met the night before in the line in front of me at Moderat! We had a short wait to sit and talk before having a delicious Asheville breakfast served in a reasonable amount of time. We chatted for a good 90 minutes about our mutual musical loves and life in general before it was time to head to the day’s first event, a Musical Masterclass with Nile Rodgers.
Nile Rodgers – Panel Discussion
The Nile Rodgers Masterclass was chaired by Greg Tate, who discussed the long trail of life and music that has conspired to shape the man in front of us in the Diana Wortham Theatre. I was never the biggest Nile Rodgers fan, but I certainly respect his talent and accomplishments. I was never a Chic fan but I have many of his productions and guest star turns in the Record Cell. The clean funky tone of his guitar playing has enlivened various Bryan Ferry solo albums for thirty years going. While I can’t get behind “Let’s Dance” as a David Bowie album, the blame for that record lies strictly in Bowie’s hands. Rodgers was incredulous when the star told him that the brief was to deliver a hit album, not explore artistic tributaries of the avant garde. The second album that Rodgers produced for Bowie, was the much more intriguing “Black Tie, White Noise,” which disappeared without much of a trace in the immediate collapse of Bowie’s record label at the time of its release in 1993. My all time favorite Rodgers production was for the incredibly cohesive Duran Duran album, “Notorious.” One of my all-time favorites by that group.
Rodgers had his guitar in place for any impromptu illustrations and Tate pointed in various directions while Rodgers took off and flew. Using his recent autobiography, “Le Freak,” as a touchstone, Rodgers discussed his difficult family life [both parents were junkies and dealers] as well as his humble beginnings helping his mother clean the likes of Elizabeth [“Bewitched”] Montgomery’s house or Frank Sinatra’s private jet. One killer anecdote was that in the mid 80s, when only Rodgers and Frank Zappa had Sony digital recording systems in America, Quincey Jones called up Rodgers to secure a loan of the hardware. Rodgers acquiesced, with the proviso that Q and Frank would use it in his studios. When Sinatra turned up to the session he was stunned when he discovered that the gent whose studio they flew into to use this exotic hardware was in fact, known to him as the former teenager who used to clean his jet.
Rodgers put across the notion that his life and background made him a musical Zelig, since no matter where he was, the main course of American music seemed to alter its flow to make sure it passed right by him. One significant factor was his parents predilections for using and dealing heroin. Rodgers said that there was no shortage of legendary jazzbos stopping by his house to score! Then, when cleaning Frank Sinatra’s private jet, performers like Ray Charles or Sammy Davis, Jr. filling his environment were just part of the deal.
With all of the people he’s met and known during his life, one gets the idea that should music ever lose it’s charm, that Rodgers could just make a successful go at being a talk show host. His natural loquaciousness, coupled with his formidable chops would make him a first class talk show host, and he could do double duty fronting the house band! The two hours flew by on this panel, and I was left with the immediate impression that I need to read his autobio next in my [apparently neglected] book queue. After seeing and hearing Rodgers play, the notion of blowing off the first half hour of Chic later that evening to catch Gordon Voidwell’s set pretty much lost its allure. What other time would Nile Rodgers and Chic be playing in my city again?
Next: … C’est Chic