This year’s Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival will be brought to its climax with le freak, c’est CHIC. Probably one of the most influential acts of the Disco era, and led by one of the period’s most prolific producers Nile Rodgers, CHIC are world-renowned for their numerous classics, such as Everybody Dance, I Want Your Love, Good Times, and, of course, Le Freak.
In 1970, guitarist Nile Rodgers met the late bassist Bernard Edwards, with whom he would lead CHIC for twenty years. They had both been session musicians and together they formed The Big Apple Band, which opened for The Jackson 5 on their first world tour. After a couple of hits but not finding the success they wanted, Rodgers and Edwards joined forces with drummer Tony Thompson and created The Boys, a funk rock act, inspired by Rodgers’ love of Roxy Music. Despite much interest, The Boys failed to get a record deal, because labels of the time felt, as they may sadly still do today, that it would be too hard to promote a black rock act. So, Rodgers, Edwards, and Thompson, continued to earn their crust by performing Funk and R&B.
In 1977, changing their name to avoid confusion with another act, The Big Apple Band became CHIC. Signing with Atlantic Records, CHIC’s self-titled first album featured the disco classics Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) and Everybody Dance, which respectively reached Number 9 and 6 in the UK charts. Lead vocalist on the debut, Norma Jean Wright, left CHIC for a solo career in mid-1978 and was replaced by Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin who, along with a youthful Luther Vandross, had sung backing vocals on Chic. Later that year, CHIC released the next album C’est Chic, which contained their most successful song Le Freak.
‘Aaaaa, freak out!’ became a refrain known to millions, and the Le Freak single was Atlantic Records’ parent company Warner Bros’ best-selling record until Madonna’s Vogue came out 12 years later. However, Rodgers and Edwards originally wrote the refrain as ‘Aaaaa, fuck off!’, as a message to doorman at the Studio 54 club who had refused them entrance to a New Year’s Eve’s party. (They also tried ‘freak off’ before settling on the undoubtedly more commercially-viable ‘freak out’.)
With Le Freak reaching Number 1 and follow-up single I Want Your Love also charting high worldwide, Rodgers and Edwards were offered carte blanche by Atlantic Records to produce any artist they wanted; and they chose Sister Sledge. For the four sisters, they wrote and produced all the early hits such as Lost in Music, We Are Family, and He’s the Greatest Dancer. Rodgers and Edwards’s reputation soared, along with that of CHIC.
The 1980s were unquestionably Rodgers and Edwards most commercially successful. CHIC had ended the 70s by scoring a number one with Good Times, the first single from their third album Risqué, and at the start of the 80s, Good Times’ influence was still being felt: Sugarhill Gang sampled the song on Rapper’s Delight, a record pivotal to the birth of Hip-Hop, and Queen’s bassist John Deacon showed Good Times’ influence on rock when Freddy Mercury’s band recorded Another One Bites The Dust. In 1980, Rodgers and Edwards produced Diana Ross’ classic album diana, for which they wrote Upside Down and I’m Coming Out, and throughout the decade – sometimes together, sometimes apart – they produced and wrote hit after hit.
Interestingly, the success of R&B/soul record diana and the reputation this built, allowed Rodgers and Edwards to foray back into the world of rock, which had previously seemed closed to them as artists. In 1981, they worked on Debby Harry’s Koo Koo album together before Nile Rodgers alone produced records for INXS, Duran Duran, Jeff Beck, David Lee Roth and Mick Jagger during the 80s and 90s. These decades saw the full breadth of Rodgers’ talent realised, as alongside his success in rock, soul, R&B, and funk, he produced some of the era’s greatest pop, working on the B52s’ album that featured Love Shack and Madonna’s Like a Virgin.
The early 1980s had seen CHIC disband after four relatively unsuccessful albums, due to the anti-disco backlash and Rodgers and Edwards’ producing commitments, but the pair reunited with Tony Thompson to play on the Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin in 1984 and there was a fully-fledged reunion in 1992 when, joined by new vocalist Sylver Logan Sharp, they released Chic-ism and its successful single Chic Mystique.
In 1996, CHIC were playing in Japan when, the day after a performance at the Budokan, Bernard Edwards died of pneumonia. The Live at the Budokan performance, which saw Logan Sharp taking lead vocals alongside guests like Sister Sledge, Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Slash, and Steve Winwood, was released on CD three years later. Then, a DVD version, which can be seen on YouTube, followed in 2006, the year that Tony Thompson died from kidney cancer.
The CHIC line-up now centres on Nile Rodgers, himself fighting prostate cancer, and the brilliant vocalist Sylver Logan Sharp, alongside a host of masterful musicians. With their huge back catalogue of original classics, their live shows still amaze. So, what better way is there to bring the curtains down at Moseley Park this July 7th?