As the leader of the iconic group Chic and producer for everyone from Diana Ross to David Bowie, Nile Rodgers is the stuff of disco legend. Now, the 69-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer will have Central Park grooving as music curator for DiscOasisa roller-skating party that begins at Wollman Rink on Thursday and goes through Oct. 1.
“I sure hope history remembers disco the way that I remember it because I’m not just being romantic about it,” Rodgers told The Post. “I was in the thick of the zeitgeist,”
He’s in the zeitgeist once again, as the musical genre that was once wrongly declared dead is hotter than ever. Here, Rodgers takes us behind the velvet rope of New York’s disco glory days — and the songs that will be played for New Yorkers getting their groove on at the rink this summer.
Donna Summer, “Love to Love You Baby” (1975)
Before making his own production magic happen, Rodgers took inspiration from the Queen of Disco herself.
“So I go out with my girlfriend at the time and we walked into this pop-up disco, which was on Broadway and Eighth Street,” said Rodgers. “And they were playing Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby,’ and I had never heard it before.”
Rodgers was totally titillated by Summer’s orgasmic moans. “And that bad boy went on forever. It was like the longest thing ever,” he said. “So my girlfriend and I, we started imitating the dance that everybody was doing, which was called the hustle.”
He would go on to become “very, very good friends” with Summer, although she would stop performing “Love to Love You Baby” because of its hypersexuality. “Donna sort of rejected that,” he said. “For years and years and years, she would never play ‘Love to Love You Baby.’”
Chic, “Le Freak” (1978)
In 1977, Chic was invited to see Grace Jones at Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve. “At that time, she thought that we could possibly be her next producers. So she says, ‘Go to the back door and tell them you’re personal friends of Miss Grace Jones.’ But the guy slams the door in our face and says, ‘Aw, f–k off!’ So, fortunately, I lived one block away from the back door of Studio 54. We stopped off at a liquor store and bought two bottles of Dom Perignon, which we used to call ‘Rock & Roll Mouthwash.’ I picked up my guitar and started singing, ‘Aw, f—k off!’ So we rewrote it and eventually ended up with ‘Freak out!’ because I used to be a hippie and drop a lot of acid and all that.”
The result ended up being Chic’s first No. 1 hit. “We never got into Studio 54 that night, but by not getting what we wanted, we got more than we could have ever believed,” said Rodgers.
At the Kool Jazz Festival in 1979, Chic gave a performance of this hit that was so rousing that Marvin Gaye mistook it for an earthquake. Gaye, who was headlining the fest, was in his dressing room with Rick James. He jumped under a desk and screamed at James to do the same. James, however, knew that whatever tremors Gaye was feeling weren’t due to shifting tectonic plates. “Rick goes, ‘Man, that ain’t no earthquake. That’s just Chic,’” Rodgers recalled. “The stadium was rocking all in sync, so you’re getting all that downward force at the exact same time. When Rick told us the story later on that night, we were crying.”
Chic, “Good Times” (1979)
At that same festival, Rodgers thought the fun was over when the cops showed up backstage just after they finished their set. He thought they were there to bust them for drugs.
“We’re thinking it’s a raid,” he said. “We took the stuff and we flushed it down the toilet.”
But the police weren’t looking for trouble. “They say, ‘Hey, you guys have to come back out, because the crowd wants you to come out,’” Rodgers recalled.
Turns out the crowd was demanding that Chic play this single with a bumping bass line that they had just released a few days earlier and would go on to become a No. 1 hit. “We’re amazed that the people [already knew] something about ‘Good Times,’‘ said Rodgers. “[We put] a record out on Tuesday, and then Saturday everybody wants to hear it.”
Sister Sledge, “We Are Family” (1979)
After turning down an offer to work with the Rolling Stones, Rodgers and his Chic producing partner Bernard Edwards were given the chance to work with the sibling act Sister Sledge by then-Atlantic Records president Jerry L. Greenberg.
Rodgers and Edwards recorded this uplifting anthem of togetherness with the sisters, but they never actually got in the studio with them.
“We never met Sister Sledge,” Rodgers said. “We did the entire ‘We Are Family’ album without meeting them.”