Although my head might have been firmly stuck in the works of Lennon & McCartney during 1978, it was impossible for my already infected-by-the-funk DNA to remain oblivious to the Disco music movement emanating from New York. At the forefront of this wave, were a rhythm section that was to 70’s Disco, what Jamerson, Benjamin, Allen & Jones were to Motown music. The grooves that came out of my Mum’s single-speaker mono radio were impossible to ignore, forcing me to give Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson 100% ear time. These cats could groove. They had the power to fill dance floors and if you didn’t feel the slightest of urges to get off your ass when there was a Chic or Sister Sledge song in the background, then you probably owned every piece of vinyl by The Band of the Coldstream Guards. So just who were these groove-masters in the snappy threads and flares?
To this guy, I award the title of, funkiest guitar player on the planet. It’s that simple; it really is. Guitarist, composer, arranger and producer, Nile Rodgers instinctively knows how to make a hit record that grooves like it was sole purpose of existence. For me, his definitive moment is on the Sister Sledge tune, ‘Thinking Of You’. Is this not the funkiest, most rhythmical guitar part ever laid down? Just check out the drop-down section where the guitar, congas and strings are soloed in the mix. Talk about Phonkey! As a rhythm section component, Nile Rodgers’ guitar playing gets my pulse moving every time. Pure, simple, genius.
Thanks to my exposure to James Jamerson as a toddler, by the time Chic were pumping out hits to the UK, my ears were well enough groomed to hone in on the Bass lines Bernard Edwards was infecting the airwaves with. Here was another dude who knew how to make people dance by the power of the low end and like Jamerson, Bernard Edwards had his own equally unique sound and style of playing. I remember hearing the Carly Simon hit ‘Why?’ for the first time in 1982 and instinctively knowing that it was an Edwards Bass line underpinning the song. Disco was without question, a cheese-tastic part of music history, but if you had a Bernard Edwards Bass line on your record, that was a passport to credibility. For me, he remains one of the few Bass players who could make an imprint on a song simply by adding his feel and it was sad day when we lost him to pneumonia in 1996.
The undisputed metronome of The Chic Organisation and final piece in their rhythm section jigsaw. Listening to Tony’s formative work with Chic it’s hard to believe that there was a Rocker bursting to get out, which the world would finally witness in 1985 via the ‘Power Station’ project. However, the path to those slick grooves was a hard-won task as Thompson had to first get past the quality control of his two brothers in arms, who, although recognising his talent, would rather he played less chops in the studio. So the story goes, Nile and Bernard took everything away from his drum kit, leaving him with just Snare drum, Bass drum and Hi-Hats. Forcing him to concentrate on nailing the groove, they would give back components of his kit, bit by bit, until they were satisfied he was playing enough pocket to earn a full set-up! Such an approach clearly paid dividends and was probably the most important lesson that Thompson learned from his mentors. Sadly, we lost Tony Thompson to Renal cancer in 2003 and for me, he remains another marker on my development map who showed me how to selflessly nail a groove for the good of the song.