Skip to main content

A Mostly Good Collection.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews Miles Davis works from the 70's which have been reissued on Columbia Records.

05:33

Contributor

Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on November 7, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 7, 1997: Interview with Niles Rodgers; Review of Miles Davis's album "Live-Evil"; Review of the film "Mad City."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 07, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Nile Rogers
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Disco is back in a couple of current movies. The adult filmmakers in "Boogie Nights" boogie to it. The guys in "The Full Monty" strip to it. On this archive edition of FRESH AIR, we have an interview about the disco era with guitarist and record producer Nile Rogers. He co-founded "Chic," one of the most successful disco groups. Their hits included "Dance, Dance, Dance," "Le Freak," and "Good Times."

Rogers also produced Madonna's album "Like A Virgin," David Bowie's "Let's Dance," Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," Diana Ross' album "Diana," and Mick Jagger's solo album "She's The Boss."

He continues to produce records and he has a music production house that specializes in advertising spots.

The record we're listening to now, Chic's Le Freak, is the bestselling single ever released by Warner Brothers.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "LE FREAK")

CHIC, SINGERS, SINGING: Have you heard about the new dance craze?
Listen to us, I'm sure you'll be amazed
Big fun
To be had by everyone
It's up to you, surely can be done

Young and old are doing it, I'm told
Just one try, and you too will be sold
It's called Le Freak
They're doin' it night and day
(Unintelligible)
We'll show you the way.

Ah, freak out. Le Freak, c'est chic
Freak out
Ah, freak out. Le Freak, c'est chic
Freak out

GROSS: I spoke with Nile Rogers last year and asked him how he came up with the refrain of Le Freak and with the title of the band, Chic, which is mentioned in the song.

NILE ROGERS, RECORD PRODUCER AND FORMER GUITARIST WITH DISCO BAND CHIC: The song Le Freak was actually subtitled "Freak Out" 'cause that was the hook, "ah, freak out." What happened was my partner Bernard Edwards (ph) and I, we went to Studio 54 one night. We were -- we were going to visit with Grace Jones who wanted us to produce her album.

Anyway, this was our first time going to Studio 54, so we were really excited and plus we wanted to meet Grace Jones and have the whole backstage thing go on. And we go to the back door and we give our names, and the guy looks at the list and says he doesn't see our names on there. And so we say, well, maybe it's under the group Chic. And then he really doesn't see that.

So, he doesn't let us in. We go home.

LAUGHTER

I happen to live around the corner -- yeah, it's -- oh, it wasn't so funny to us, but I lived around the corner at the time and we were really dressed in our Sunday best, and we went around the corner and we wrote a song not unlike Freak Out, but it was another four-letter expletive and it was not "freak."

LAUGHTER

Definitely started with an "F" and ended with a "K" and it wasn't "out." It was "off." And Bernard and I were playing it and we were laughing. We were having a great time, even though we were pissed off. And Bernard looked at me in amazement, and he says: "you know what man? This sounds great."

LAUGHTER

"What are you telling me?" "I'm telling you, man, this sounds really great."

And I said: "and you think that we can get away with a record that says 'ahh, blank off'?" And he says: "well, let's change it." So we went: "ah, freak off" and that didn't have that nice ring to it, but we kept singing it, and then finally he said: "whoa -- 'freak out'." And then the next thing you know, we got on a roll and wrote the rest of the song.

GROSS: What a great story. I want to play another hit that Chic had that had the bassline that everybody wanted. I'm thinking, of course, of "Good Times." This has one of the most borrowed basslines in recent music.

ROGERS: Yeah.

GROSS: Let's hear it and then you can tell us how you came up with this rhythm.

ROGERS: Sure.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "GOOD TIMES")

CHIC, SINGING: Good times
These are the good times
Leave your cares behind
These are the good times
Good times
These are the good times

GROSS: That's Good Times, the band Chic. My guest Nile Rogers co-founded the band and was the guitarist.

So how did -- how did you come up with this rhythm?

ROGERS: Well, the interesting thing about this song is that the day that I wrote Good Times, I was actually in the studio with our drummer, Tony Thompson (ph) at the time, and the bass player from "Queen," John Deacon (ph).

And we were sitting in there. We were hanging out. And John was in the studio and Tony and I were in the -- actually, John was in the control room and Tony and I were in the studio just vamping on the groove. And Bernard Edwards, the bass player, was late.

So you know, Tony and I are playing, and Bernard walks in and he says to the engineer, he says: "damn, what's that they're playing?" And the engineer says: "I don't know. That's just something Nile came up with this morning." And Bernard ran into the studio and he started fooling around with the bass, and I was screaming to him over the volume to walk through it. And he came up with that classic bassline.

And the reason why I mentioned John being there, because Queen did this song called "Another One Bites The Dust" and everybody said: "man, did they -- you know, did they steal that bassline? Were you offended?" I said: "hey, he was in the studio when we wrote it," you know, I mean -- you know, I was flattered.

The thing is, musicians have always borrowed from other musicians since the beginning of time. So, I didn't -- I didn't -- I wasn't pissed off or anything. I thought to myself, well, how could he not be affected? We thought it was real cool.

GROSS: That's interesting. I had no idea he was actually there while all this was being done. Now of course, that line was also used, sampled I believe, in "Rapper's Delight" which was I think the first rap hit...

ROGERS: Yeah.

GROSS: ... featuring "The Sugar Hill Gang." Well let me play it first.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, RAP GROUP "THE SUGAR HILL GANG" PERFORMING "RAPPER'S DELIGHT")

SINGER, SINGING: Hip-hop, the hibby-hibby-dibby-hip
And you don't stop...
Rock it out, baby-bubba to the boggiddy bang-bang
The boogie to the boogiedy-be

Now what you hear is not a test
I'm rappin' to the beat
And me, the groove, and my friends
Are gonna try to move your feet

You see, I am Wonder Mike
And I like to say hello
To the black, to the white
The red and the brown
The purple and yellow

But first I gotta
Bang, bang -- the boogie to the boogie
Say up jump the boogie to the bang bang
Boogie, let's rock
You don't stop, rock the rhythm
That'll make your body rock...

GROSS: That's the Sugar Hill Gang using the bass and guitar line that you and Bernard Edwards came up with for your record Good Times. What was -- how did you first hear this? And what was your reaction when you did?

ROGERS: Now, this is funny. When I first heard Rapper's Delight, I was at a club in New York -- a disco, if you will, called "Leviticus." And the DJ was a good friend of mine. And he played this song.

The thing is that in those days, DJs, at least the good ones, would rap over their favorite records. So, I thought that he was doing that. I had no idea that he was actually playing a record. I thought he was in the booth with a couple of his buddies and they were taking this rhyme over the record.

And then, you know, I noticed that it was not Bernard and myself playing. In fact, it was our riff, but it was not us playing. Well, I could tell, you know, I could tell right away that it wasn't us. But the thing is that it's not -- this is something that's not known to a lot of people.

Back in the old days, what we used to do is we would go into a little recording studio and we would record the groove of our favorite record, make tape loops, and sell them to DJs. And they'd go around playing it at clubs.

That's how we got our start as producers. We'd take our favorite songs, go into a recording studio, record the vamp, and put other stuff over it so we could have extended records of the things that we liked.

In the dance days, in the disco days as most people call it now, the longer a song went on, the happier the people were. So when we first heard Rapper's Delight, we thought that it was just the rhythm section that recorded our groove and that the DJ who was there on the spot was rapping over the record.

Then when he told us that he bought it in Harlem, I went: "wow, let me get a copy." He gave me a copy and I noticed an interesting thing when I got it home. I played the record and I realized that they had sampled our stringline. That -- they didn't sample the guitar and the bassline. They just played that. But what they did was they took our record -- this is before sampling -- they took our record and put it on a turntable and whenever the strings go...

STRING SOUND

They took our record and spun it in sync and went...

STRING SOUND

And I said: "whoa! That's copyright infringement. You can't do that. What the hell -- I'm going to pay $40,000 for a string session and you can just take my record and get away with it and go...

STRING SOUND

So that's -- that was the big controversy with that.

GROSS: Did you sue?

ROGERS: Sure we sued.

GROSS: Did you win?

ROGERS: Of course, we won.

LAUGHTER

Of course. You couldn't take a product and just -- I mean, this was the -- this was before sampling. You know, no one -- there were no devices to do this. They just had a DJ with turntables live in the studio and they just figured, well, what the hell? We're not going to spend any money and get a whole big orchestra and simulate that. We'll just do it. We'll just take their record.

GROSS: Well did you like the record?

ROGERS: I loved the record.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

ROGERS: It was one of my favorite records. It's still one of my favorite records of all time. I thought it was very clever and inventive, and I mean, you know, early rap records, to me, were unbelievable. Like, you know, groups like "Sequence" and stuff like that -- Sugar Hill Gang -- I, you know, they were really -- they were the same as any other R&B records. They were bands that played a groove and the rappers would rap over the grooves. It only became later on that it was based on samples and loops.

And I think these records are great. I mean, politically we live in different times. When I was a kid, you know, we'd learn music in school. I mean, that was free. You know, you could take art and music and whatever, and if you excelled and you wanted to stick with it, you could do that. Now I hear from kids that they don't get music as just part of the normal curriculum.

GROSS: Nile Rogers is my guest -- one of the co-founders of Chic. Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Nile Rogers, co-founder of the band Chic and, let's see, he also has produced a lot of other people. He produced hits for Madonna, David Bowie, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross -- to name a few.

How was Chic formed in the '70s?

ROGERS: Well, we had a number of different monikers before we came up with Chic. The last incarnation of this group before it actually officially became Chic, we were a rock band called "The Boys" and we were doing really well just gigging around New York. But we could never get a record deal because when they saw us and they realized that we were black, they were, like, oh whoa, we can't get with this. How can we sell this? This was obviously before Living Color.

So we tried really hard. All the record companies loved our music, but when they saw us, it didn't work. We learned something quite interesting about marketing -- was like, wait a minute: if your music says one thing, but you don't look like you represent the music, don't send any pictures.

So, we realized that dance music was now starting to become fashionable. We noticed that Frank Sinatra and Dolly Parton and all these people were doing dance music, doing disco. And we thought: "well, that just sounds like what we play all the time, but why don't we get into the fashion element? Why don't we try and make something really original?"

So we sat down and we came up with the concept for Chic. I was actually in London at the time, but I saw Brian Ferry (ph) -- Roxy Music -- and I said: "damn, I like this -- I like this fashion-oriented rock music."

To musicians like us, rock music and R&B music were exactly the same. There was no difference between "Kiss" and "Earth, Wind and Fire." It was just the style that they chose to play. But to us, the musicianship was respected in exactly the same way.

And the reason why I mention Kiss is because they were the most theatrical, exciting band that we had ever seen. We used to go to a place in New York City which was a big discotheque in the beginning called "Le Jardin de Paris" and it was like the happening spot. And Kiss used to play upstairs and we used to go check them out.

And we said: "damn," -- I forget the name of this place, some ballroom. And when we first saw Kiss, I said: "man, that is amazing. If we could bring that to black music, we would rule."

So we looked at Kiss' name and we took everything about their name. We said: "ah, they have two "S's" and one vowel -- an "I" and a "K" and we said "chic -- oh, cool, we gotta two "C's" and an "I" and and a "H" -- H I J K -- yeah, Chic, Kiss, yes." You know.

And we did everything we could.

GROSS: You didn't paint your faces?

ROGERS: No, we didn't do that because in black music, that would not have worked.

LAUGHTER

I mean, Kiss were white people and they painted their faces white. If we were black and painted our faces black, what were we gonna be? The Minstrel Men, you know...

LAUGHTER

... and that wouldn't fly. We knew where to draw the line. But we did get the platforms and we -- like leather and studs. That was cool. But we didn't go that extreme because we knew that our audience would be primarily a black audience. We knew that radio was important.

GROSS: Now how did you -- how did your music take into account what dancers wanted?

ROGERS: Well, the thing is is that when we first came up with the concept, we wrote a song called "Everybody Dance" -- it's the very first song that Bernard and I ever wrote together. And the one thing we noticed right away was that if we had to do a groove record, instead of making a record where other -- where other kids would have to go out and record the groove longer, we would just do it ourselves.

So Everybody Dance was 10 and a half minutes long. And we knew that if people danced to it and they liked it, they'd want to keep dancing to it. So we took Everybody Dances down to a little club in the Village called "The Night Owl" and it was 10 and a half minutes long. We gave it to the DJ. He played it once and to our surprise, he played it eight times. That means he played this song for almost 90 minutes, and no one left the dance floor.

It became like a little anthem in the Village. Everybody was walking around the streets going: "everybody dance -- do, do, do, do, do." And only one club had it, and this place became packed behind this song. So, we knew we had something.

GROSS: Why did the longer grooves work so effectively in clubs, do you think?

ROGERS: Because I think when people start dancing, it was almost like a primal ritual. It was like a mating dance. You know, you meet somebody and you want to stay on the floor with them as long as possible, right? I mean, sometimes -- like I know when I would meet a girl at a disco, I'd be very nervous, so you could sort of break the ice and then, you know, you get to, you know, sort of show your feathers like a peacock, if you have some nice moves and stuff and they'd say: "oh, this guy is cool."

And they get to check you out without talking. And if you had a song that, like, just grooved for 10 minutes, you knew that that person wouldn't leave you for at least 10 minutes.

LAUGHTER

And -- I'm serious. It made a lot of sense to me. So we made our grooves as long as possible -- as long as we could go until they got boring to us.

GROSS: Why don't we hear the record? This is Everybody Dance by Chic.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "EVERYBODY DANCE")

CHIC, SINGING: Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands
Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands

Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands
Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands

Music, never lets you down
Puts a smile on your face
Any time, any place
Dancing helps relieve the pain
Soothes your mind
Makes you happy again

Listen to those dancing feet
Close your eyes and let go
But it don't mean a thing
If it ain't got that swing

Bop shoo wa
Bop shoo wa
Bop shoo wa

Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands
Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands

Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands
Everybody dance, ooh, ooh, ooh
Clap your hands, clap your hands

Spin me all around the floor
Just like Rodgers and Astaire
Up all night without a care
(Unintelligible) to obey the tune
(Unintelligible) always in too soon

GROSS: That's the band Chic and my guest Nile Rogers co-founded the band. He was the band's guitarist and has also produced records by many other performers.

Now when you were doing dance music, was there a sense of how many beats per minute you should have?

ROGERS: It wasn't nearly as -- as rigid and clinical as it is now because, see, we never recorded anything with a metronome. We just, you know, we...

GROSS: Were other dance bands using a metronome to actually time out the beats per minute?

ROGERS: Some were, but not a lot in the beginning. See, as I said, to us it was R&B music that you could...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

ROGERS: ... dance to.

GROSS: Right.

ROGERS: So, boy, we never -- you only used metronomes in clips for doing television commercials.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Right.

ROGERS: We never thought that a groove had to have a specific, you know, beat per minute. We only got into that after being DJs and hanging around DJs that they'd start to file the records as far as the beats per minute were concerned, because they wanted to keep the people dancing. That's why that became important.

It wasn't necessarily important to get the people on the dance floor, but you wanted to be able to file your records and say, well, this groove goes with that groove, and this beat is like that. You don't want to slow it down too much. And believe it or not, that's how it became popular.

It had nothing to do with saying, well, if this is 120 beats per minute, we know people are going to dance to it. There were a lot of records that were 110 beats per minute or 105 or even 90, and some that were like 130.

GROSS: Did you end up going to a lot of clubs just to watch people dance and get a sense of what the dances were that they were doing and what groove seemed to work the best?

ROGERS: Yeah, in the beginning the dances were everything to us. The song Le Freak was about the dance that was current at the time, which was a dance called "The Freak." And we decided to make that dance ours by calling it "Le" Freak and we were making it Chic's dance.

And I remember once we were on "American Bandstand" and Dick Clark said: "you know that this is the biggest dance record of all time, and no one knows how to do it." And we looked at him and thought, well, you don't know how to do it, but where we come from, everybody knows how to do it.

LAUGHTER

I mean, this was the dance at the time, and then you know -- you know, and then the Hustle became popular and -- actually, the Hustle was happening, I think, before the Freak.

GROSS: I hated that record. What did you think of that record?

ROGERS: Which record?

GROSS: The Hustle.

ROGERS: You mean...

SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING/BEAT OF THE HUSTLE

... do the Hustle.

GROSS: Exactly.

ROGERS: At the time, it was actually cool. Yeah, at the time it was cool, so the thing -- the thing is is that, you know, I mean, instrumental records were really, really cool back in the dance days. And it was a sort of pop sort of, you know, soft thing. It wasn't like the hardcore Hustle records, but you know, it was cool. We watched -- we were gigging in the Catskills and these women were coming up to us going: "could you teach us how to do the Hustle?"

LAUGHTER

And we thought, well I guess this is cool, you know. I mean...

LAUGHTER

GROSS: What were you doing in the Catskills?

ROGERS: We were gigging. We used -- this was before Chic. I mean, we used to work, you know, just as professional bands, you know, just working in different places. We were a serious bar mitzvah band.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: What did you play at bar mitzvahs?

ROGERS: "Do The Hustle."

LAUGHTER

And of course, Lachad Odeed (ph) and all that kind of stuff. But we did Do The Hustle and Havanagela (ph) and you know. We were bad.

GROSS: Oh, I wish I were there.

ROGERS: It was good, you know. I'm telling you. We'd turn out -- we'd turn out the bar mitzvah.

GROSS: Nile Rogers co-founded the group Chic. We'll continue the interview in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview with guitarist and record producer Nile Rogers. He co-founded Chic, one of the most successful disco groups of the '70s. Disco music has been revived in the current films The Full Monty and Boogie Nights.

This is Chic's first hit, released in 1977, "Dance, Dance, Dance."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "DANCE, DANCE, DANCE")

CHIC, SINGING: Dance, dance, dance, dance
Just dancing to the beat
Feel the heat
I'm moving my feet

(Unintelligible)
To get down
I get down some more

Rhumba and tango
(Unintelligible), too
Yowza, Yowza, Yowza
I wanna boogie with you

GROSS: Were you able to reproduce your sound on stage -- the sound that you got in the studio?

ROGERS: Totally. That's -- that was the great thing about music in those days is that Chic was the actual band, and it's like saying, you know, could Queen reproduce their sound? Even though Freddie Mercury did like those humongous layered vocals, when you went to see a Queen show, it felt like the vibe of the band.

Now obviously, you can't do everything exactly the same, but I guarantee you that a Chic concert sounded like the record. I mean, we brought our own strings with us; our own horns. We just did a big concert series in Japan a few months ago, and unfortunately my best friend and partner died there, Bernard Edwards. He did a -- you know, he did the last show and...

GROSS: I wasn't aware of that. I'm really sorry.

ROGERS: Oh, yeah, it was a -- but you know, I mean it was actually the most amazing time of my life because, you know, we were playing our music and we were packing these stadiums and it was incredible. And it sounds -- you know that it's Chic. It's -- no, you don't say to yourself: "hmm, I miss the strings. I miss the horns." You hear them very well.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about how you and your late partner Bernard Edwards, the bass player, would work out the rhythms together and the interplay that you get between your guitar and his bass. And you used your guitar in a very rhythmic way.

ROGERS: Right. Well, you see, before we became Chic, we were a cover band. And we realized earlier on that -- that we were a small unit. It was the only way that we could make any money. They weren't paying much.

So we learned how to cover all the parts with just the bass and the guitar, because we were the only people that we could depend on. You know, we'd usually have to pick up a drummer or pick up a keyboard player, and we didn't know how proficient they'd be.

So Bernard and I would cover all of the -- what we would say were the main parts of a pop record, so that people when they heard the song, when they heard us play the song, they'd hear all those familiar parts. That wound up becoming our style.

So when we wrote our own songs, we decided to cover all of the important orchestration in both the bass and the guitar. So Bernard developed this very melodic, rhythmic way of playing bass and we would -- the interplay would sort of make the whole statement of the song. Like usually when you sing a Chic song, you'll sing, like, you know: good times -- thoom, thoom -- these are the good -- thoom-da-doo.

You know, you hear the bass and the guitar while you're singing the hook, and...

GROSS: Right. It almost becomes part of the melody.

ROGERS: ... that's how that...

GROSS: You can't...

ROGERS: ... that's...

GROSS: ... right, you can't sing it without it.

ROGERS: Bingo. And we go "ahhhh, freak out -- do, do, do, do, dah, dah, Le Freak, c'est Chic, freak out -- da, duh, duh, da, da." You know, I mean, that's how our songs are written. That's what we do. That's how we do it.

GROSS: Right. Right. Nile Rogers, let me ask you a little bit about your own musical roots. I know there was a period when you were into protest music, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton (ph). How did you go from protest music to good time music? To party music?

ROGERS: Well, the thing is that when I was into protest music, I was in high school. And the Vietnam War was going on and I was also in the Black Panthers. As a matter of fact, not only was I in the Black Panthers, but I was in, you know, YSA -- Young Socialist Alliance -- and Socialist Workers Party -- the whole thing; the Peace and Freedom -- you know, all that stuff. Whatever you -- you know, whatever kids in New York did in those days, I seemed to be into it.

And the thing is is that I became a guitar player because I always had music in my blood, if you will. In school, I played orchestral instruments. I played woodwinds. I played clarinet and flute. But I realized that the guitar was cool because in a demonstration, you can carry your accompanying instrument with you. And I said: wow, this is cool." So I started playing folk music and protest music and started panhandling for money in the park -- Central Park -- and in the Village on H Street.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Wait, wait, wait -- let me stop you. Did you pick up a lot of women that way?

ROGERS: I wouldn't say a lot. I was...

LAUGHTER

... actually incredibly shy. When I was younger, I was the skinniest man in the world, even in the beginning of Chic. I was 25 years old and my waist size was a 25. It was incredible. Bernard used to say to me: "man, I can't wait 'til you get 30 so you can have a 30-inch waist." I was really skinny and I was not confident at all.

But I did meet a couple of good girls, yeah.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

ROGERS: Wouldn't say a lot, but ...

GROSS: All right. So you were panhandling in Central Park when I interrupted you.

ROGERS: Yeah, and so music just became a part of my life. And I just sort of -- you know, I'd change with the times.

GROSS: My guest is guitarist and record producer Nile Rogers. He co-founded the '70s disco band Chic. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with guitarist and record producer Nile Rogers.

Now, there's a story I have to get you to tell. Apparently, you were I think a bodyguard for Jimi Hendrix when he was performing a prison concert. Do I have that straight?

ROGERS: That's almost correct. No, I was in the Black Panthers and we were standing security on the stage for Hendrix at a Randall's (ph) Island concert. Hendrix performed -- there was a -- there was a festival, and I don't exactly have the name right, but it was the Randall's Island Music Festival or something like that, and this was after Cream had broken up. And so it was a Tony Williams lifetime, with Jack Bruce (ph), and it was very eclectic hit musical times.

And Hendrix performed there, and the Black Panthers provided security because Randall's Island, even though I don't know if it's officially considered Harlem -- certainly is Harlem to black people. I mean, that's where all the Puerto Rican baseball players play, you know, the softball teams and stuff. So, it felt like Harlem. It was probably like about 120th Street in New York -- just right across the bridge. So, the Panthers provided security.

GROSS: And did -- if you were so scrawny and skinny, how convincing were you as one of the Panther security people?

ROGERS: Well, I was scrawny and skinny, but I was quite the martial artist. I used to teach, you know, Kung Fu and Karate to the Black Panthers -- at least my section. I used to be somewhat security at the Fillmore East in the Village.

GROSS: No, really?

ROGERS: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, a guy who was a brown belt in my style of Karate was the main guy who organized all the -- the bouncers. And you know, in those days, I have to say that there weren't nearly as many physical incidents as there are now.

People were really cool. Hippies were cool. And there were very few fights with hippies. It just was -- people were really peaceful and they shared a lot. Everything was very tribal and very communal.

Basically, out of all the times that I stood security, we've only -- we would usher people off the stage very nicely, as a matter of fact.

GROSS: How?

ROGERS: I never had to throw anyone off the stage. I would say: "hey, come on, man, be cool." And they'd go: "oh, sorry."

LAUGHTER

GROSS: Wow. So how did you get from more political music to good time music?

ROGERS: Well, as I've said, I was a kid. I was very young, so you change with the times. I mean, think of what you were doing when you were 14, 15, 16, and 17. I mean, you could go from one vibe to the next in a few months, and you felt like it was like a century ago.

When disco became popular, it actually just sort of happened around us 'cause we were playing R&B music for -- we were gigging. So we played R&B music primarily because we were black and those were the gigs we got. However, we were well-rounded men. We had a strong rock set and, you know, like I said, we played bar mitzvahs and the whole nine.

And that's all that happened, is that music changed around us. We were young and impressionable and we went with the times. And in those days, you had to be very original. So what we did is when we -- when we saw how the whole fashion thing was working in music, we decided that, hey, we could pretend to be this. And that's what we did. We just -- we fashioned a group that was based partly on Cab Calloway, partly on Kiss, and partly on Roxy Music. And that's how we put Chic together.

We wanted to have the vibe of, you know, Duke Ellington; the sophisticatedness of those type of artists. We wanted to have the excitement and the dress-up factor of Kiss. And we wanted to have the slickness of Brian Ferry -- with the girls around us and the whole model thing. We were into that. That seemed cool. That was a nice perk.

GROSS: There were some incredibly silly records that came out during the disco period. I think my vote for silliest might be "Saturday Night Fiedler," which was Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and he's on the cover in that "Saturday Night Fever" pose with his index finger in the air, wearing the white suit.

What's your vote for one of the silliest albums of the disco period?

ROGERS: It's pretty hard to top that one. But I really, really hated "Disco Duck" -- really hated it.

GROSS: Right, yeah.

ROGERS: There were -- there were millions of them, and that used to piss me off because, you know, to Bernard and myself, the kind of music that we played was very sincere, very passionate, and totally not like that.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

ROGERS: And it really made us upset because, you know, every now and then, there would be a parody of, like, a rock record -- like, you know, you have somebody like Weird Al Yankovik (ph). But he's like -- he's just one artist, you know, doing it, and it's funny. But when you have, like, a whole nation or a whole world of people sort of co-opting the music that you think is sincere and wonderful and they do that to it, you say to yourself: "oh, God, it's just a matter of time before we're history." You know?

GROSS: Right.

ROGERS: And that's -- and that's what we used to say all the time. Bernard would look at me and say: "yep, are we black history yet?" And I'd say: "man, you know, they keep putting out records like this, we will be."

GROSS: So when did you decide to give it up?

ROGERS: Give up Chic?

GROSS: Yeah -- give up that kind of dance music.

ROGERS: Well, it sort of just happened around us. People really started to criticize our lyrics. The main -- the main record that brought us down was Good Times because everybody -- the country was going through a sort of a mini-depression -- a recession at the time, and people were saying how could we write songs about good times and happy days are here again, and everybody's having all these financial problems. And we're going, well because in clubs, no one cares about that stuff. You never go to a club and meet somebody and go, like: "damn, you see what the market did yesterday?"

LAUGHTER

You know, no one is thinking about that stuff. You know? So we didn't -- in other words, it wasn't that the music was -- no, it wasn't that our music was a-political, it's just that -- but that's not what it was supposed to be about. It's relief music, you know. You -- it's to get away from your normal life.

So anyway, we didn't -- we didn't do that and boy did we catch a lot of -- it was not good. And then that was the beginning of the whole "disco sucks" movement, so we as the geniuses we were, decided, well, we're going to change our way of doing music. And we did an album called "Real People." And that was really the beginning of the end, 'cause we changed our whole musical style. We changed our lyrics -- talking about how we wanted to live our lives with real people.

Come on, we didn't care about that. I mean, we had real people in our lives. We never talked about politics in our music. When Bernard first met me and I was in the Panthers, we sort of had an agreement. He said: "man, yo' brother, you're not going to bring that bullshit into our music."

LAUGHTER

And I said: "all right, man. I hear you." So we had a little -- we had a, you know, a gentleman's agreement that our music would be something that he and I shared together about our lives, and that -- you know, he wouldn't bring his stuff into it. He would bring his, you know, his stuff into it and I wouldn't bring mine into it. We'd come together as Chic and create this thing that was all about Chic.

And we changed. We did it to ourselves.

GROSS: Well Nile Rogers, a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

ROGERS: Thank you.

GROSS: Nile Rogers co-founded the disco group Chic. Our interview was recorded last year.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Nile Rogers
High: Record producer and former guitarist for the band Chic, Nile Rogers. In the late 1970s, Chic was one of the most successful disco groups. Hits included "Dance, Dance, Dance," "Le Freak," and "Everybody Dance." As a record producer, Rogers has worked with Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, INXS, and Madonna.
Spec: Music Industry; Nile Rogers; Disco
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Nile Rogers
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 07, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110702NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Miles Davis Recordings
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Well, it's not just '70s disco that's back. Some early '70s proto-fusion has just been reissued.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, JAZZ MUSICIAN MILES DAVIS PERFORMING)

ANNOUNCER VOICE: Miles Davis.

APPLAUSE

GROSS: The 1970s was a time when Miles Davis' music became heavily amplified and loud. Columbia Records has disgorged five new two-CD sets of live Davis music from that period. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the early '70s is probably still Davis' most controversial period. Kevin says he likes the recordings -- mostly.

MUSIC RISES

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Miles Davis, with Jack DiJenette (ph) on drums at New York's Fillmore East, 1970. One reason this music sounded radical then was its rethinking of how much time you needed to make a point.

In the '40s and '50s, Miles was making records three or four minutes long. In the '70s, the music might continue through the whole side of an LP, and even those 20-minute swatches of sound might seem abbreviated, for one thing because the obvious splices and cross-fades made you aware something was being edited out. They gave you the idea the music continued even after the record was over.

MUSIC RISES

In the 1970s, Miles Davis was often accused of selling out. He made no bones about pursuing a bigger, hipper, and blacker audience. Yet the several double LPs he made then were so long and intimidating some of them never came out in the states until now.

One of those is "Black Beauty," recorded at San Francisco's Fillmore West in 1970. The funk basslines and long meandering solos were familiar enough to audiences at that rock palace, and you could tell Miles liked James Brown and "Sly and the Family Stone" even before he said so.

His players also had a dense, poly-rhythmic approach inspired by West African music, but very much their own. I remember being at one of Miles' Fillmore East gigs and thinking whoa.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "BLACK BEAUTY")

One hero of these 1970 recordings is electric pianist Chick Corea (ph), who had the perfect raunchy timbre and punchy timing for this stuff. He uses a lot of wah-wah (ph) pedal -- that new toy for guitarists. A couple years later, almost everyone in the band has one, including the trumpet player.

Miles said he wanted to sound like an electric guitar, and you can hear that in his staccato attack, like a guitarist digging with a flat pick. He also said he liked it when people couldn't tell who was playing what.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "DARK MAGUS")

Miles Davis with guitarists Pete Curzey (ph), Reggie Lucas (ph), and Dominick Gramont (ph). That's from "Dark Magus," recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1974 and only now being released in North America.

One thing these CDs confirm is the influence on many levels of that great 20th century musician Jimi Hendrix. They echo his heavily vocalized use of guitar and guitar gizmos, and his congenial (Unintelligible) rhythm and his highly-stylized take on the blues.

Fair to say that Hendrix hit some music of the '70s as hard as Charlie Parker hit jazz when Miles was young.

MUSIC RISES

One aspect of these records creating their own open-ended sense of time is few things happen fast. As with the live double albums rock bands made in the '70s, there are times when you wish they'd just get on with it. When it came to being funky, James Brown was more intense and Sly Stone had slicker grooves and West Africans still had the edge when it came to poly-rhythm.

But when a band is grabbing for so much, you can't expect it all to go smooth. All that said, coming back to these period pieces now, it's good to hear they wear as well as they do.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is currently living in Amsterdam. He reviewed Columbia Record's release of live Miles Davis recordings from the '70s.

Coming up, John Powers reviews the new movie "Mad City."

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Kevin Whitehead, Amsterdam; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews Miles Davis works from the '70s which have been reissued on Columbia Records.
Spec: Music Industry; Miles Davis; History
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Miles Davis Recordings
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 07, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110703NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Mad City
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: "Mad City" is the new movie from Costa Gavras, best known for his political films "Z" and "Missing." Now, he's taken on the media. Mad City stars Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta.

Our film critic John Powers has a review.

JOHN POWERS, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Costa Gavras came to fame in the late 1960s, back when audiences still enjoyed movies about politics. His thriller Z won an Oscar in 1970 and launched him into a series of political potboilers.

But while the public quickly lost interest in this kind of filmmaking, Costa Gavras did not. And his work became increasingly ham-fisted, reaching a peak of idiocy in the 1988 film "The Trade" -- a shrill and hysterical picture about neo-Nazi fanatics in Iowa who set black people loose in cornfields and hunt them down.

Despite the failure of such films, the director has never abandoned his desire to make big statements, and now he's back with Mad City, which presents itself as a biting commentary on America's lunatic media.

Dustin Hoffman plays Max Bracket (ph), a one-time network correspondent who's been demoted to a station in the sticks. Max's dreams come true when a routine report about layoffs at a museum suddenly turns into a hostage crisis.

A fired security guard named Sam Bailey (ph) -- he's played by John Travolta -- comes to the museum to ask his boss for his old job back. Things go wrong, and soon Bailey has made hostages of the people in the museum -- his ex-boss, a bunch of school kids, and of course Bracket, who begins milking the story for all it's worth.

Soon the whole thing has been turned into a national sensation, with reporters scuttling outside the museum like roaches, network anchormen flying in to hog the limelight, and Bracket conniving at self-aggrandizement, as when he explains to the dim, but decent Bailey how they can woo public opinion.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MAD CITY")

DUSTIN HOFFMAN, ACTOR, AS MAX BRACKET: Look, I don't think you're crazy. I know you're not a terrorist. I know you're just an ordinary guy who's popped his top. But you must connect with those people out there. You don't think they know what it's like to lose their job? Or they don't know somebody who's lost their job? They'll understand you if you give them the chance.

See, the one thing that you might want to do before you give yourself up is let those people know what you're about.

JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR, PORTRAYING SAM BAILEY, GRUNTING

HOFFMAN: If I put a camera on you right now and I interview you, and you tell those people what's going on in your head, I think that they'll want to know. Don't you?

TRAVOLTA: No. No.

HOFFMAN: That's your jury pool out there.

TRAVOLTA: All right.

HOFFMAN: All right.

POWERS: Although Costa Gavras tends to hammer his points home like an over-caffeinated carpenter, he never quite decides exactly how serious he's being here. Mad City winds up in an unsatisfying limbo: neither ruthless enough for satire nor compassionate enough for pathos.

Hoffman gives an amusingly breezy performance, but there's something so flimsy about Bracket, who's a cynical journalist who secretly has a heart. But this part has no depths for the actor to plumb.

Travolta fares even worse, for the character of Sam Bailey has no center and changes from moment to moment, depending on the plot's needs. At some points, he's a lovable cut-up; at others, a dangerously enraged guy; and at still others, an American everyman.

Although Travolta works hard, he winds up being far less vivid than such cartoonish figures as Alan Alda's slithery sanctimonious network anchor who lets the polls decide how he'll portray Sam Bailey.

For all the movie's attempts to be trenchant, it doesn't contain a single idea that wasn't more sharply treated in "The Front Page" 70 years ago. And film buffs will spot this new movie's transparent roots in Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole," where Kirk Douglas plays a reporter who manipulates the story of a man buried in a rock fall.

Put bluntly, what Mad City has to say about the media is a clear case of dog bites man. And frankly, this dog's teeth aren't very sharp.

Philip Roth once wrote that contemporary American writers face a crushing problem. Daily reality has gone so berserk that it outstrips an author's ability to dream things up. This is certainly true here, where the portrait of the media pales next to the Breugelesque (ph) excess surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial or the death of Princess Di.

Costa Gavras has long had the bad habit of playing to the prejudices of his audience, and Mad City merely reinforces today's defeatist contempt for the mass media. If he'd wanted to make a genuinely daring and genuinely political film, he would have been better off telling the story of honorable reporters in Algiers, Phnom Penh or Tijuana -- people who risk their lives to tell the truth.

At this point in our history, it wouldn't hurt America to be reminded that even a Mad City needs a free press.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Dateline: John Powers; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Film critic John Powers reviews Mad City which stars Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta.
Spec: Movie Industry; Media; Mad City
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Mad City
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

36:13

No More Mr. Nice Guy: Hugh Grant Embraces The 'Blessed Relief' Of Darker Roles

Grant started out in romantic comedies. Now he's up for an Emmy for his role as a narcissistic doctor accused of murder in the HBO series The Undoing. Originally broadcast Dec. 1, 2020.

05:40

Albums By The Murlocs And King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Explore New Sounds

The Murlocs are a side project of sorts to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, where Ambrose Kenny-Smith and guitarist Cook Craig join other musicians to amalgamate all different styles of pop.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue