Acid, Sinatra and Sesame Street: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Nile Rodgers

He's been absolutely everywhere again since his Daft Punk success last year, but how much do you really know about the Chic man?
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He's been absolutely everywhere again since his Daft Punk success last year, but how much do you really know about the Chic man?

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1) Cleaning Sinatra’s plane

As a young teenager, one of Nile Rodgers’ first jobs was on maintenance at Van Nuys Airport, Los Angeles. This line of work brought him into contact with many A-list celebrities, including the likes of Ray Charles, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. On several occasions, he cleaned Frank Sinatra’s Learjet and recalls the “Chairman of the Board” as a generous tipper.

2) Orchestral education

Though he is celebrated as one of the world’s best guitarists, Rodgers’ first performances were with his Middle School’s orchestra. Playing clarinet, this first foray into music provided him with a solid theoretical base, essential for his later career. When he finally learned how to play the guitar, a young Nile decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the one instrument.

3) The Hitmaker

Nicknamed “The Hitmaker”, Nile Rodgers’ guitar is estimated to have created a staggering $2 billion worth of music. A unique instrument, Rodgers’ Fender Stratocaster features a ‘59 neck combined with a ‘60 body, all made from an unusual wood source. Lighter than the typical Stratocaster, the high quality wood came from a one-off timber shipment that proved too expensive for Fender to maintain.

4) Miles Davis regrets

Rodgers became friends with jazz legend Miles Davis following an Issy Miyake photo shoot. A potential dream team, the pair attempted to collaborate on a record, with Davis telling Rodgers, “Write me a motherfucking Good Times”. Unfortunately, the Chic guitarist failed to grasp that Davis wanted a pop hit and regards the missed opportunity as the biggest regret of his career.

5) Gaming music trailblazer

As technology has advanced, video game soundtracks have gradually become more profitable than traditional CDs. Rodgers capitalised on the opportunities provided by this lucrative market, creating Sumthing Else Music Works Inc, in the late 1990’s. Today, his company has evolved into the industry leader in video game music, working on famous titles such as Halo, Resident Evil and Gears of War.

6) Playing with the Sesame Street band 

As a session musician, Nile Rodger’s first big break came when he begun playing for Sesame Street’s tour band. A skilled position, he replaced Carlos Alomar, a guitarist who would later make his name on David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ album. Rodgers has remarked that the job was life-changing and allowed him to form friendships with several talented musicians, including Luther Vandross and Fonzi Wells.

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7) A cat with nine lives

Like many musicians in the 1980’s, Rodgers was on a strict diet of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Following a particularly heavy cocaine binge with Mickey Rourke, the guitarist collapsed and was rushed to hospital, where his heart stopped eight times. Despite this death-defying experience, it would only be the shock of discovering that Keith Richards had become clean and sober, which would lead to Rodgers doing the same.

8) Psychedelic experiences with Timothy Leary

Dubbed “The Galileo of Consciousness”, Timothy Leary is one of hippie counterculture’s most significant figures. As a fifteen-year-old, Rodgers dropped his first acid tab with the psychedelic pioneer, at an LA mansion party. Partying for two days straight, a young Nile was reported as a missing child by his grandmother and as a result, was welcomed home by several LAPD officers.

9) Covering ‘Ring of Fire’ with Bob Dylan 

On the soundtrack to the 1996 film ‘Feeling Minnesota’, Rodgers and Dylan combined to cover Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’. Despite their undoubted individual genius, the cover was distinctly average, a reminder that even the greatest musicians can have an off day. The film was also poor, with generally unfavourable reviews, despite starring Cameron Diaz and Keanu Reeves.

10) Battling Cancer

Rushed to hospital in 2010, Rodgers was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostrate cancer. While battling the disease, Rodgers set up a blog to help fellow sufferers, performed at Glastonbury and helped create Daft Punk’s 2013 summer anthem, ‘Get Lucky’. In a moment of relief for his legions of fans, on July 21st of last year, the four-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee tweeted, “I'M ALL CLEAR AGAIN!”