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Disco legend Nile Rodgers talks about cancer, Broadway & his Daft Punk connection

Disco legend Nile Rodgers talks about cancer, Broadway & his Daft Punk connection

With countless hit singles under his belt, famed producer and songwriter Nile Rodgers has been a legend among musicians, playing anything from funk to new wave.

As a guitarist in the late 1970s, Rodgers founded one of the biggest names in disco, Chic, the venerable dance group whose special blend of funky bass lines and edgy R&B gave the era its swagger with anthems like "Good Times" and "Le Freak."

But as a producer and songwriter, he may have had even more of an impact on the history of late-20th-century dance music, offering up quintessential disco tracks like Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" and "Upside Down" before producing a string of iconic '80s records like David Bowie's Let's Dance and Madonna's Like a Virgin.

 "I had a Gleason score of nine, which is terrible," Rodgers said about his cancer diagnosis. "Of course, I didn't know that at the time and just made some Jackie Gleason jokes."

 In town to headline Saturday night’s record-breaking benefit for Texas Children’s Cancer Center, Rodgers took a break from his perennially-busy schedule of writing, performing, and producing to visit the hospital’s innovative patient songwriting program Purple Songs Can Fly.

After signing autographs and chatting with patients, Rodgers sat down with CultureMap for an exclusive conversation about his storied career, current projects and his own recent battle with cancer.

"I was actually walking out the door on my way to Rome when my doctor called me on the phone and told me to sit down," he recalled. "Keep in mind this was my primary care physician, who three weeks prior to that phone call deemed me one of his healthiest patients."

"They told me that as a result of my biopsy, they had discovered extremely aggressive prostate cancer," he said. "I had a Gleason score of nine, which is terrible. Of course, I didn't know that at the time and just made some Jackie Gleason jokes."

Rodgers returned from his quick trip to Rome and started treatment right away. As a means of coping with the emotional and physical strain, he immersed himself into the blogosphere, creating a daily account of this progress on his Walking on Planet C website.

Today, Rodgers is cancer-free.

 Upon his return to New York, he said he would be meeting with the acclaimed French electronic music duo Daft Punk to discuss their long-awaited fourth album.

 "Let me tell you, the treatment was pretty horrible," he said. "But, well, I'm here in Texas ready to play live. I can hardly believe it myself.”

Since receiving his cancer diagnosis in fall 2010, Rodgers has committed himself to an impressive array of new projects — ranging from production work for Adam Lambert’s sophomore effort Trespassing to finishing up his bestselling memoirs Le Freak.

Upon his return to New York, he said he would be meeting with the acclaimed French electronic music duo Daft Punk to discuss their long-awaited fourth album, rumored by fans to be drawing upon the group’s R&B influences.

"Those guys are great,” he said. “They're coming to my apartment on Monday and we’re going to talk about making a new record together."

As if that weren’t news enough, Rodgers said he’s directing his current burst of creative energy towards the stage with a new theatrical work based on the life of early black Broadway producer Leonard Harper.

Entitled Double Time, the production will be work-shopped this summer at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery in preparation for the 2012-13 season.

"I call it a 'Broadway show' even though it's not on Broadway yet,” he laughed. “Actually, I'm already working on my second one and have a third one in the works. I think I got the bug."

While unable to share too many specific about his future plays, Rodgers did say he always creates his characters from “real life”... Not sure if that was a clue, but the famed musician seemed particularly excited about his upcoming productions.

Here’s more on the Rodgers’ Broadway bug:

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And, from his TCH visit, here's an acoustic version of "We Are Family," the 1979 disco hit Rodgers penned for Sister Sledge:

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Rodgers signed copies of his new memoir Le Freak. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Rodgers  performed an acoustic version of "We Are Family" with current Chic singers Folami and Kimberly Davis. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Before headlining Saturday's record-breaking benefit, Nile Rodgers offered an intimate performance for patients at the Texas Children's Cancer Center. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Rodgers signed autographs for patients. Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Also included among the afternoon's performances were songwriters from Texas Children's innovative Purple Songs Can Fly program. Above: Stephen Mackie Photo by Tyler Rudick
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The Pointer Sisters dropped by a visit to Texas Children's as well! Photo by Tyler Rudick
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Diana Ross' ultrahip diana album, which Rodgers produced with Chic co-founder Bernie Edwards in 1980.
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The Nile Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin record from 1984.
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On deck for the next Rodgers production... beloved French electronic duo Daft Punk. Daft Punk
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