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Chic Biography

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Chic In-depth Biography

There can be little argument that Chic} was disco}'s greatest band; and, working in a heavily producer-dominated field, they were most definitely a band. By the time Chic} appeared in the late '70s, disco} was already slipping into the excess that eventually caused its downfall. Chic} bucked the trend by stripping disco}'s sound down to its basic elements; their funky, stylish grooves had an organic sense of interplay that was missing from many of their overproduced competitors. Chic}'s sound was anchored by the scratchy, James Brown}-style rhythm guitar of Nile Rodgers} and the indelible, widely imitated (sometimes outright stolen) bass lines of Bernard Edwards}; as producers, they used keyboard and string embellishments economically, which kept the emphasis on rhythm. Chic}'s distinctive approach not only resulted in some of the finest dance singles of their time, but also helped create a template for urban} funk}, dance-pop}, and even hip-hop} in the post-disco} era. Not coincidentally, Rodgers} and Edwards} wound up as two of the most successful producers of the '80s.

Rodgers} and Edwards} first met in 1970, when both were jazz}-trained musicians fresh out of high school. Edwards} had attended New York's High School for the Performing Arts and was working in a Bronx post office at the time, while Rodgers}' early career also included stints in the folk} group New World Rising} and the Apollo Theater} house orchestra. Around 1972, Rodgers} and Edwards} formed a jazz-rock} fusion} group called the Big Apple Band}. This outfit moonlighted as a backup band, touring behind smooth soul} vocal group New York City} in the wake of their 1973 hit "I'm Doin' Fine Now."} After New York City} broke up, the Big Apple Band} hit the road with Carol Douglas} for a few months, and Rodgers} and Edwards} decided to make a go of it on their own toward the end of 1976. At first they switched their aspirations from fusion} to new wave}, briefly performing as Allah & the Knife Wielding Punks}, but quickly settled into dance music. They enlisted onetime LaBelle} drummer Tony Thompson} and female vocalists Norma Jean Wright} and Alfa Anderson}, and changed their name to Chic} in summer 1977 so as to avoid confusion with Walter Murphy & the Big Apple Band} (who'd just hit big with "A Fifth of Beethoven"}).

Augmented in the studio by keyboardists Raymond Jones} and Rob Sabino}, Chic} recorded the demo single "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)"} and shopped it around to several major record companies, all of which declined it. The small Buddah} label finally released it as a 12" in late 1977, and as its club popularity exploded, Atlantic} stepped in, signed the group, and re-released the single on a wider basis. "Dance, Dance, Dance"} hit the Top Ten, peaking at number six, and made Chic} one of the hottest new groups in disco}. Chic} scrambled to put together their self-titled first album, which spawned a minor follow-up hit, "Everybody Dance,"} in early 1978. At this point, Wright} left to try her hand at a solo career (with assistance from Rodgers} and Edwards}), and was replaced by Luci Martin}. It was a good time to come onboard; "Le Freak,"} the first single from sophomore album C'est Chic}, was an out-of-the-box smash, spending five weeks on top of the charts toward the end of 1978 and selling over four-million copies (which made it the biggest-selling single in Atlantic}'s history). Follow-up "I Want Your Love"} reached number seven, cementing the group's new star status, and C'est Chic} became one of the rare disco} albums to go platinum.

1979's Risqué} was another solidly constructed LP that also went platinum, partly on the strength of Chic}'s second number one pop} hit, "Good Times."} "Good Times"} may not have equaled the blockbuster sales figures of "Le Freak,"} but it was the band's most imitated track: Queen}'s number one hit "Another One Bites the Dust"} was a clear rewrite, and the Sugarhill Gang} lifted the instrumental backing track wholesale for the first commercial rap} single, "Rapper's Delight,"} marking the first of many times that Chic} grooves would be recycled into hip-hop} records. Also in 1979, Rodgers} and Edwards} took on their first major outside production assignment, producing and writing the Sister Sledge} smashes "We Are Family"} and the oft-sampled "He's the Greatest Dancer."} This success, in turn, landed them the chance to work with Diana Ross} on 1980's Diana} album, and they wrote and produced "Upside Down,"} her first number one hit in years, as well as "I'm Coming Out."}

The disco} fad was fading rapidly by that point, however, and 1980's Real People} failed to go gold despite another solid performance by the band. Changing tastes put an end to Chic}'s heyday, as Rodgers} and Edwards}' outside production work soon grew far more lucrative, even despite aborted projects with Aretha Franklin} and Johnny Mathis}. Several more Chic} LPs followed in the early '80s, with diminishing creative and commercial returns, and Rodgers} and Edwards} disbanded the group after completing the lackluster Believer} in 1983. Later that year, both recorded solo LPs that sank without a trace. Hungry for acceptance and respect in the rock} mainstream (especially after accusations that they had ripped off Queen} instead of the other way around), both Rodgers} and Edwards} sought out high-profile production and session work over the rest of the decade. Rodgers} produced blockbuster albums like David Bowie}'s Let's Dance}, Madonna}'s Like a Virgin}, and Mick Jagger}'s She's the Boss}. Edwards} wasn't as prolific as a producer, but did join the one-off supergroup the Power Station} along with Tony Thompson} as well as Robert Palmer} and members of avowed Chic} fans Duran Duran}; he later produced Palmer}'s commercial breakthrough, Riptide}. Edwards} also worked with Rod Stewart} (Out of Order}), Jody Watley}, and Tina Turner}, while Rodgers}' other credits include the Thompson Twins}, the Vaughan Brothers}, INXS}, and the B-52's}' comeback Cosmic Thing}.

Rodgers} and Edwards} re-formed Chic} in 1992 with new vocalists Sylver Logan Sharp} and Jenn Thomas}, and an assortment of session drummers in Thompson}'s place; they toured and released a new album, Chic-ism}. In 1996, the reconstituted Chic} embarked on a tour of Japan; sadly, on April 18, Edwards} passed away in his Tokyo hotel room due to a severe bout of pneumonia. Rodgers} continued to tour occasionally with a version of Chic}, and, in 1999, his Sumthing Else} label issued a recording of Edwards}' final performance with the band, Live at the Budokan}. ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide

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