From scoring a hit with Daft Punk and writing a Broadway musical to philanthropic efforts, cancer survivor is making the most of his time.
Nile Rodgers laughs at the idea that he is responsible for creating the sound of the summer.
Sure, he’s featured on the global smash “Get Lucky” with Daft Punk, offering that trademark funk guitar sound that has been getting people moving since the ’70s. And yes, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” both have more than a little of Rodgers’ band Chic’s hits “Le Freak” and “Good Times” in them. Isn’t that enough proof?
“It sounds a little big to me,” Rodgers says, calling from his Connecticut home. “I’m just doing the same stuff I’ve been doing all the time.”
He says his success this summer is a bit of simply being in the right place at the right time. But for Rodgers, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and has been very open about his battle with the disease, time is extraordinarily precious and he intends to do as many things as he can.
His plans include a massive tour for Chic, a Broadway musical about his life, plenty of collaborations, including work with top EDM artists Avicii and David Guetta, and support for causes he believes in, including AFTEE (All for the East End), a charity that supports a variety of nonprofit organizations on Long Island’s East End.
“It’s all part of my therapeutic plan,” he says. “I feel pretty great. The thing most people don’t know is that when you have a very aggressive form of cancer, you do whatever you have to do to recover. … I decided to embark on this crazy journey.”
Challenges, Rodgers says, thrill him.
He says many people have questioned his idea of writing his own Broadway musical, but he says he believes he will finish it by early next year. “The more they say I can’t, the more I feel confident,” he says. “Maybe that’s my great motivator. I’ve been swimming upstream the whole time.”
Rodgers applies that to his support of AFTEE, as well, which aids an area he has grown to love over the years, taking many trips across Long Island Sound from his Connecticut home on his boat. “Community organizations like these saved my life,” says Rodgers, 60, who grew up in Manhattan. “It’s a conglomerate of community charities — a new funding paradigm. I think it raises money in a more unified way and gives these groups some more horsepower. The idea sounded fine to me, but I’m an old hippie.”
Rodgers is also a trailblazer, something admired by Lawrence “LAW” Worrell, the Central Islip-based singer/songwriter best known for his work with Amy Winehouse and his grandfather Sam “Bluzman” Taylor.
“He opened doors for guys like me,” LAW says. “When he worked with David Bowie and Madonna, he showed that black artists can produce white pop acts. It showed we can transcend boundaries. It made me feel good.”
LAW says Rodgers’ success with Daft Punk has helped introduce funk to new generations. “It’s so good to hear that sound again on the radio,” he says, adding that he has a song on his upcoming album that’s a tribute to Rodgers and Chic called “Saturday Night Religion.” “Timeless music doesn’t have an expiration date.”
Rodgers says inspiring other musicians is simply part of the process.
“Musicians are always searching for something,” he says. “You can’t really search the future, so you look to the past. That’s what we did. My own band Chic was called groundbreaking and innovative, but all of our lyrics were inspired by Depression-era groups. We were a retro band in disguise.”
Rodgers says that the current resurgence of dance music may be a response to the current political climate.
“Society feels very divided,” he says. “But everywhere we go with the music that we play has the same effect of bringing people together. … In the early days of disco, you could go to a club, whether it was primarily gay or primarily Puerto Rican or whatever, and no one would bother you. You didn’t seem like an outsider. People would assume if you were there, you were there for the feeling.
“That’s what we see now,” he continues. “We go all over the world and we see the same thing. We see the average age of our crowds dropping rapidly. You’ll see kids next to people 35 years old or 50 or my age. And they all know every word.”