Arret! Très Chic – how I was that guy

Nile in white with microphone and fender

How many Chic albums do you have; that’s studio albums, excluding compilations and live sets? It’s a simple enough question because there aren’t that many. I have eight, which is interesting because there should have only been seven.

The reason I have one more than most is due to the fact that one of them – Tres Chic, should never have seen the light of day. It appeared late in 1978 and might have done quite well if I hadn’t alerted Nile Rodgers to the fact that the ten track album his UK record label had just issued bore only a passing resemblance to the eight track C’est Chic set that Nile, as co-writer, producer, and lead guitarist, had been expecting me to discuss.

“I love it that you’re that guy that showed us that album cover,” says Nile, just the other day while I am interviewing him for a second time; this time for The Sunday Times’ My Hols column in The Travel Section.

Nile is unquestionably the man of the Summer of 2013. Chic bassist and co-founder Bernard Edwards died in 1996 and Nile himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010. But you can’t keep a good man down and this year Nile is back in the charts on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, while The Chic Organization, performing all of Chic’s hits (sounding better than ever) and many Rodgers and Edwards tunes written and produced for Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Madonna and David Bowie and are on an ever expanding world tour that’s already been to London’s Hyde Park and Glastonbury.

“ It was the most shocking thing that I can ever remember,” Nile says of the misconceived second album.

“There have been two things like that in my life. Obviously what WEA did to that album, and then Motown when they took the Diana Ross record away from us.

Tres Chic - mais non

Tres Chic – mais non

“And what’s funny is these are both massive, massive selling records in my life. That second Chic album, C’est Chic, contains the biggest selling single of the entire Atlantic Records history, Le Freak – and they’re (WEA in the UK) telling us it’s not right.

Thirty four years ago I’d been sitting on the side of a bed, in a West End hotel used by many visiting US music acts. A cassette recorder on my lap while Nile Rodgers paced the room nervously.

“Say that again?” Nile demanded tersely, his mood had darkened from friendly courtesy to brusqueness. He wanted me to repeat my description of the Chic album his record company WEA had sent me, entitled Tres Chic, and depicting a glossy blonde onthe cover with legs wrapped around a fluorescent tube light. Eight new tracks, in addition to the big hits from the previous album, Dance, Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), and Everybody Dance appeared at the close of each side, and which to my opinion unbalanced what in many ways was otherwise the perfect disco album.

I wasn’t always so forthright with international pop stars, but sometimes you’ve just got to tell it as it is. I was, and remain, a huge Chic fan hoped Nile would appreciate that and cut me a little slack.

When I’d finished he raised a finger and asked me to stay right there. He left the room, returning  some minutes later with a bemused Bernard Edwards.

“Tell him what you told me,” instructed Nile.

I duly did and watched as Bernard’s jaw hit the deck.

“Tres Chic is what we’d planned for the third album,” said Nile. Whereupon He thanked me for my time and abruptly wound up the interview.

WEA duly pulled the album and subsequently issued C’est Chic in the manner Nile and Bernard had always intended. (In the event the third Chic album became Risque, but you can see why the boys had Tres Chic in the backs of their minds.)

on stage

“And you’re the guy who showed us that,” he says, after I confess to have dined out on the tale more than once. I tell him I would have thought the million selling hits from the first album would have  bought him a little record company respect.

“We worked hard on those records. They were complete, with beginnings, middles and endings. We worked on them, it wasn’t chance.

“You know, early on in our career people thought it was a fluke, that we were one hit wonders. They thought somehow we would go away.

“I’m not being egotistical, I’m being statistical. The truth is I’m 60 years old and I’ve just had a million seller here in the UK with Daft Punk and Get Lucky, and I’ve found out there have only been 136 million selling singles here in the UK, ever. We weren’t lucky writing hit records, we worked at it. We’ve learned how to do this and we we write music from out heart.

“And it’s so amazing you are that guy.”

LIVE: Nile Rodgers and The Chic Organization: Indigo, at O2, London (July 27); Bestival, Isle of Wight (Sept 8); Festival 6, Portmeirion, Wales (Sept 15). 

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