With their smartly tailored European three-piece suits and boulevardiers’ insouciance, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers are two Manhattan nightlifers who can always get into style-struck Studio 54. But it isn’t just the fancy threads. Edwards and Rodgers, both 26, are founders of and composers for Chic, the latest supergroup in the four-billion-dollar disco bonanza. This New Year’s Eve, for instance, 54 didn’t celebrate midnight with something tacky like Auld Lang Syne. The first song boomed out in 1979 was Chic’s disco anthem, Le Freak.
Yet it wasn’t so long ago that Edwards and Rodgers were feeling like les losers. For six months they hustled a demo tape titled Dance Dance Dance “and were rejected by every major label in New York,” Edwards recalls. “People thought our music was an insult to their intelligence.” But when Atlantic Records took a flyer on the single last year, it sold 1.3 million copies in its first month. Now their second LP, C’est Chic, has sold two million, while the single Le Freak has, incredibly, been the nation’s No. 1 song for two months and sold almost five million copies (more, for instance, than any single by Fleetwood Mac). “Now they’re calling us geniuses,” Edwards notes dryly. “Shows what they know about the business.”
Unlike studio-created groups, which record what Edwards and Rodgers contemptuously dismiss as “computer disco” by “looping” the same passages over and over on tape, Chic records its songs live and in their entirety. Nor is the quintet restricted to disco; its repertoire includes jazz and rhythm & blues. Still, Rodgers and Edwards concede that there is a Chic “formula.” “We’re after the masses,” says Edwards, “the guys who take their old ladies dancing on weekends, not the ones who think they’re too intelligent. People want fantasy. So why bother writing music about the world’s problems?”
Neither man remembers much about his father. Rodgers grew up in New York City, though he migrated to L.A. to live with his mother, aunts and grandmother for several years. Edwards was raised by his mother and grandparents in Greenville, N.C. They both were playing in small bands—Rodgers on guitar and Edwards on bass (while he worked days at the post office)—when they met in the Bronx in 1970. They joined various soul groups and, six years later, formed Chic. “When we named the group,” Nile explains wryly, “we were broke.” (Their friends, in fact, assumed it was a turban-and-caftan act spelled Sheik.)
Though Edwards and Rodgers will soon be royalty millionaires, their spending habits have yet to catch up with their wealth. Edwards, who lives in New Jersey with his wife, Alexis, and their four young children, still likes to play school-yard basketball with his nonmusician friends. Rodgers has a bachelor pad in Manhattan’s Lincoln Plaza Tower and dates “models and girls who work in boutiques.”
They’re on the road touring at least six months a year. They have also just released a new single, I Want Your Love, and are working with no less than Aretha Franklin on her next album. Neither of them, ironically, cares for such disco meccas as Studio 54. “I move around in a drunken stupor and slobber on lapels, if you call that dancing,” Bernard jokes. “The whole scene is boring and idiotic.”