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Nile Rodgers: From Jazz Roots

More than four hitmaking decades into his career, the leader of Chic still regards jazz as an inherent part of who he is

Nile Rodgers
Nile Rodgers (photo: Jill Furmanovsky)

There’s a story Nile Rodgers likes to share, an early career lesson. It was at the onset of the 1970s; the precocious guitarist—still a teenager yet already with years of classical and jazz training under his belt—was starting to get calls for gigs. “$15 was the going rate for pickup gigs back then,” he relates. “15 cents, we’d call it. I’d say, ‘Hmm, let me think about it.’ Of course I said yes—I wasn’t turning anything down. If they had said 10 dollars I would have said yes.”

Some gigs Rodgers fancied, but one left him less than inspired, and his guitar teacher at the time noticed “a sour look on my face and said, ‘Hey Nile, what’s wrong, man?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m doing a bullshit R&B/boogaloo gig tonight.’ He said, ‘Wait—what do you mean bullshit gig?’ I said, ‘I have to play songs in the Top 40,’ and I specifically referenced a song called ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by the Archies, saying, ‘It’s corny, it’s bubble gum.’”

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Originally Published

Ashley Kahn

Ashley Kahn is a Grammy-winning American music historian, journalist, producer, and professor. He teaches at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, and has written books on two legendary recordings—Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane—as well as one book on a legendary record label: The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. He also co-authored the Carlos Santana autobiography The Universal Tone, and edited Rolling Stone: The Seventies, a 70-essay overview of that pivotal decade.