Nile Rodgers is more than a guy with a guitar. He’s been turning out hit after hit including 2013’s “Get Lucky” and 1978’s “Everybody Dance”. Last year Nile stayed with his friend Bruce Weber in Montauk and overnight Montauk, a laid back East End town famous for surfing and fishing until that point, became the coolest place in the Hamptons. This weekend he’s coming to the North Fork for the first ever All For The East End (AFTEE) concert dubbed “Nile Rodgers Dance Party – East End” bringing his chart-topping friends, including Adam Lambert, Avicii, and Chromeo to name a few, along for the party. Will the concert issue forth a new era of coolness for the North Fork? Will there be a second concert? How did this all come to pass? I sat down with the man himself at Martha Clara Vineyards after the concert was announced to get the scoop on all that and more for Hamptons.com.
“When I did my first hit record back in 1977, we didn’t take a paycheck until the following year, ’78, because we got involved in lawsuits. So when we finally took our first paycheck, at that point, we had written “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “Everybody Dance,” “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “We Are Family,” “Lost in the Music,” “Freak Out,” “I Want Your Love.” So our first paycheck was $8 million dollars. I bought a boat, a speedboat, and the next thing I know I’m coming to the Hamptons,” says Nile. “I bought a house in Westport, Connecticut. I used to take my boat from my house in Westport to Shelter Island all the time. That was just normal. That’s a quickie. My boat was like a cigarette, a go-fast boat. It was like, you know, we’d zip over here all the time. So that’s 1979. I’ve been coming here for a long, long time. And every year, the last maybe 10-12 years, I take two weeks out of my life and come out here and just chill out.”
“Dance music,” he explained, “is the one form of music that’s both primal and cerebral. It brings people together in a unique way that I have witnessed from the time I wrote my first hit single.” As a kid who grew up far from the bucolic setting of the North Fork and the celebrity resort splash of the Hamptons he says, “I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for community charities. When I was a kid, it was those local community organizations, those after school programs, that helped me to achieve what I have ultimately have come to achieve.” When approached by the AFTEE organizers to curate a concert that would generate funds for local charities on the North Fork and in the Hamptons he says, “I got the concept. When they spoke to me about the concept of community based charities and the proceeds going across a wide range, as a matter of fact, I think they said to me was ‘every charity’ [laughs] and I thought to myself, ‘Well, that’s the kind of person I am.'”
“My first song was this really cool underground record called ‘Everybody Dance’,” began Nile when I asked him to explain the groovy genius behind the iconic dance hit “Le Freak” and with sly smile he continued, “Grace Jones, who was a huge superstar in the disco community, heard that song and loved it and thought that maybe I would be the right person to produce what would then be her next album. She told me the only way I could really understand who she was as an artist was to see her live show. So she invited me down to Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve 1977 going into 1978 to see her live show.”
“Well, News Year’s Eve in ’77 at Studio 54 was the hottest ticket on the planet- the most difficult place to get into,” he explained with a laugh and then leaned against the fencepost as we watched the horses run across the pasture at Martha Clara, “So she told me all I had to do was going to the backdoor and knock on the backdoor and she said in a very affected tone ‘Just tell them your friends of Ms. Grace Jones.'”
It would not be that easy for Nile, “Now I didn’t meet her face-to-face. I spoke to her over the phone. So I thought this is just the rock and roll code. I just had to speak in her voice and knock on the backdoor and go, ‘Hello! I’m personal friends of Ms. Grace Jones.’ So, I knocked on the backdoor and did that and the bouncer opened the door and looked at me and I said, ‘I’m personal friends of Ms. Grace Jones.’ He slammed the door in my face.”
“He said, ‘Oh fuck off!'” But Nile, determined to meet with Jones and work on the project, was not to be deterred. “I knocked again and I tried to do the same thing. And I said, ‘No, no, no. I’m telling the truth. I spoke to her yesterday and I’m personal friends of Ms. Grace Jones. And he slammed the door on me. And the guy said, ‘Fuck off! Fuck off!”
Nile and friends headed back to his apartment when it was pretty clear that they were not getting into the club, “We started jamming and we said, ‘F-off… doo doo doo doo doo. F Studio 54! F off! Doo doo doo doo doo.” A hit was born as they, “We thought of every situation where you would say ‘F off’ to or flip the bird to, you know. ‘If a cab driver cuts you off, F off. Doo doo doo doo. Bum bum. If your mother makes you do homework, F off.’ And it was great. We loved it. It was like ‘this is fantastic’.”
“This is a couple of years before Hip Hop and you couldn’t use profanity and use it on the radio. And my partner said, ‘I’m telling you man, this is happening.’ And we changed ‘F off’ to ‘Freak Out’,” says Nile and the rest is disco history. “It just happened that there was a popular dance, or a dance that we thought was going to be very popular called ‘The Freak’ and we used Chubby Checkers ‘C’mon Baby Let’s Do the Twist’ as the template for ‘Aww Freak Out’ and we made it a song about a dance.”
The hits and collaborations with artists like Madonna, Sister Sledge, David Bowie, Ashford & Simpson, and Duran Duran paved the way for a career that has spanned four decades and touched every type of music and corner of the world. Nile is the driving force behind the hottest single of the summer, “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D.
Fully invested in the project, Nile has been out and about in the Hamptons all summer promoting the AFTEE concert and along the way has dropped hints about who we might see on stage. As recently as this past weekend, during East Hampton Library’s 9th annual Author’s Night where he signed copies of his book, “Le Freak,” for adoring fans, it was rumored that Chris Martin of Coldplay, who was spotted chatting it up with Nile as wife Gwyneth Paltrow signed her book, “It’s All Good” nearby, might take a turn on stage. It has been rumored by hopeful fans that perhaps Madonna or Billy Joel or Jennifer Lopez, all have homes in the Hamptons of course and could easily jaunt over to the North Fork for the night, will venture out to join the lineup of Nile Rodgers and Chic, Adam Lambert of “American Idol” fame, Chromeo, Mystery Skulls, Russell Peters, Prince Paul, and Avicii to sing for over 5,000 guests.
Hope you have your ticket because this party will rock.