Born in New York City in 1952, legendary musician, composer, and record producer Nile Rodgers has been a powerful force in the pop music industry for over four decades. Best known for his work as the lead guitarist and co-founder of the band Chic – which helped shape the disco movement of the ’70s – he’s also celebrated for his numerous collaborations with notable artists like David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Daft Punk, and Lady Gaga.
Rodgers was born to a family of musicians, and began playing the guitar at an early age. He was particularly influenced by the sounds of the ’60s, including the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Motown records. In the early 1970s, Rodgers co-founded Chic with bassist Bernard Edwards, and the group quickly became known for their unique blend of funk, disco, and R&B. Their 1978 hit single “Le Freak” became one of the best-selling singles in the history of Atlantic Records.
Aside from his work with Chic, Rodgers’ contributions as a producer and songwriter have earned him recognition as a music industry heavyweight. He’s worked on numerous albums that have sold millions of copies worldwide, including David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and Duran Duran’s “Notorious,” and been awarded multiple Grammys.
In 2011, Rodgers released the autobiography Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny, which charts his experiences growing up in New York City, his struggles with drug addiction, and his rise to fame in the industry. The book offers an intimate glimpse into the roots of modern pop, and the life and times of one of the most influential musicians of his generation.
In celebration of the memoir’s release, Rodgers sat down with The Guardian to recommend ten of his all-time favorite books on music. “If you look at my book,” he says, “it’s really about my life: music just happens to be a large part of it. And the books I love are also about people’s lives – all of the titles I’ve chosen offer real insights into the personalities behind the music.”
From Beethoven to Bob Dylan, take a peak at the private lives that produced some of music history’s biggest hits below – then dive into the bookshelves of other iconic musicians right here.
Nile Rodgers’ Reading List
“This is the all-time heavyweight champ of musician biographies for me. Having known Miles and his no-nonsense inability to edit himself, I can see the man, the child and the innovator in every paragraph. Miles takes you on an in-your-face journey more outrageous than any you’ve ever travelled. Before I read this book, I worshipped his musical genius. This bold and revealing book validated my eternal devotion to the man himself.” -NR
Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen
“This is an amazing look at the dirty underbelly of the recorded music business. It mainly examines the highly lucrative boom years in the 80s. At that point, the profits were so big that the deals became more complicated, chaotic, and crooked. Elektra Records president Joe Smith’s introduction of recording industry luminaries at a charity dinner says it all: ‘With this group of cutthroats on this dais, every one of you would be safer in Central Park tonight than you are in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel.’ This book is jaw-dropping.” -NR
“I worked with Dylan on the film Feeling Minnesota and thought I had a good sense of who he is. This book revealed many things I didn’t know. Dylan was one of the main spokesmen for the 60s counterculture. He confesses he was reluctantly drafted into this position. His greatest motivation was simply to be a musician/songwriter and earn a living doing so. The Americana he wrote about so passionately were mainly events that had happened long ago – but he wrote about them as if they were ‘current events.’ This is a fascinating look into a fascinating musical mind.” -NR
“Whenever I’ve seen the famous bust of Beethoven, he looks like the ultimate tortured soul. A genius who’d be cantankerous, reclusive, and cynical – but his letters are anything but. They reveal a tender, kind, and loving man, the antithesis of the glaring-eyed bust. They were never written to be read by anyone other than their addressees, and this intimacy makes them great to read.” -NR
“When I was younger one of my roommates was obsessed with Frank Zappa. I liked some of Zappa’s work and opinions but was mostly a fair-weather fan – until I read this. It is brilliant: sharp, clear, witty, and very entertaining. He’s not your average rock star. Frank saw the world in a very interesting way. He told it like it is, was, and maybe always will be. Period.” -NR
Berry, Me, and Motown by Raynoma Gordy Singleton
“This is the story of Motown Records, as told by the ex-wife of its legendary CEO Berry Gordy. They say, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and Raynoma is furious here. The things that kept me reading are the familiar songs, characters, and the detail. Being a musician herself, Raynoma’s writing has a very lyrical and – dare I say hooky? – quality. If half of this salacious material is true, which she says, ‘As god is my witness,’ every word of it is – it could change the way you feel about some true music icons.” -NR
Eric Dolphy: A Musical Biography and Discography by Vladimir Simosko and Barry Tepperman
“I became very aware of Dolphy aged 17, when he’d already been dead five years – but his music sounded like the future. I found it fitting that the book starts with his death. He was a compulsive, focused, and driven man who suffered from diabetes. I couldn’t help but wonder if he had a sense that his days were numbered, hence the compulsivity. The book has a detailed discography and a record of his performances that I found almost textbook-like – not a bad thing because there doesn’t seem to be a lot written about him. The cast of characters is a virtual Who’s Who of innovative musicians – and in this crowded pool Dolphy stands out.” -NR
He’s a Rebel by Mark Ribowsky
“Phil was the creator of the famed Wall of Sound, and a genius hitmaker. He had a difficult childhood, which seemed to be a direct result of his father’s early death. When you read about the massive number of hits he made it’s almost mind-boggling. The discography at the end of the book puts his work in perspective.” -NR
Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight by John McDermott with Eddie Kramer
“This book is interesting to me personally because I know so many of the people, places, and things involved. I put it on my list because I liked reading about the recording sessions, technical decisions, and the Hendrix studio mindset. He was portrayed as a taskmaster who also suffered from something akin to ADD. It was fantastic to see that sometimes beautifully-crafted creations came from persistence, virtuosity – or wonderful accidents.” -NR
The Undiscovered Paul Robeson: An Artist’s Journey, 1898–1939 by Paul Robeson
“Last summer I workshopped a musical at the Alabama Shakespeare festival, where there was a giant portrait of Paul Robeson. When I think of him, I only think of his basso voice singing ‘Ol’ Man River.’ But as this book shows – moving from his childhood as the son of a runaway slave to his time as a pioneering black graduate from Columbia University, his superstardom as an actor and his struggles with the McCarthy witchhunts – he was so much more.” -NR
(via The Guardian; photo by Dimitri Hakke)
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