Watchonista 1:1: Nile Rodgers talks Bulova, Life, And The Future of Music
Prior to last week’s Grammy awards, we sat down with legendary guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers. We talked about music, life, Cardi B, and his collaboration with Bulova.
Multiple Grammy winner Nile Rodgers really needs no introduction. He’s produced, composed, arranged, and even played on some of your favorite songs. From his disco band CHIC, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, and most of Duran Duran’s hottest hits – he’s simply a music legend. His work has inspired and entertained millions by selling over 300 million albums and 50 million singles. In 2017, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His four decades in the music industry are a testament to his tremendous talent.
On the occasion of the release of the Bulova 60th Anniversary GRAMMY Limited Edition Timepiece, I was given the opportunity to sit down with Nile. Of course, I jumped at the chance and recorded it for prosperity. Below is an excerpt from our chat with Rodgers.
Josh (JS): Hi Nile! Pleasure to meet you. Looking back as we approach the 60th Annual Grammy awards. What was your most special Grammy Moment?
Nile (NR): Oh man, playing with Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, and Daft Punk two years ago. It was extraordinary – I won three Grammys that night. It was the first time I ever won a Grammy after being nominated almost since the beginning of my career.
JS: In regard to your collaboration with Bulova, how did that come about?
NR: The collaboration began quite organically. They talked to me about the Grammys coming back to New York this year and it was almost like my musical relationships – where you meet somebody, you talk and realize that you like them, and you say; “let’s do something together!” I would say 95% of every record I’ve ever done has been based this kind of circumstance. Bulova also happened to be the sponsor of the Grammys, as the event is coming back to New York, I’m a New Yorker, and the concept of Bulova has been implanted in my head ever since I started traveling at the age of seven. (more on that later)
It seemed like a natural marriage – and once we started talking – the more I learned about the company. They told me how Cyndi Lauper’s dad worked there for like 30 or 40 years! I was like “Dudes why didn’t you just tell me that!” Cindy is one of my oldest friends, we live near each other, and our careers sort of happened around the same time. I just realized there were so many things that we (Nile and the brand) had in common. It felt natural to me and that’s the thing. Timekeeping to me is one of the most important things in my life. It’s helped in my career when I was younger and maybe the reason why I became an important part of the music scene in New York. The simple fact that I could play what producers wanted out of me very quickly and they could save money. So, I became cheap and good I guess (laughter).
JS: Throughout your career, I’m sure you’ve seen your share of nice watches. Do you have any special horological stories?
NR: It’s interesting that keeping time, metronomes, and that sort of thing was so important to me in my career. They all played a part in my sense of groove and music. The very first gift that anyone ever gave me in the music business was a watch. The very first thing Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records gave me because we had sold so well that year, was a Cartier Tank. Because our records were “groovy” and “in-time.”
The following year, they gave me another one, even more high-end. Ever since then, I’ve had a fascination with watches and timepieces.
I remember, for Sting’s birthday maybe when he turned 40 or 50, I gave him a beautiful old timepiece that was an old sailors pocket watch. I knew that he was from a sea town (Wallsend, United Kingdom) so that was important to me. It’s just been a fascination I’ve had – the fact that you could have this thing that could track what I consider the most important measurement in the universe, time.
JS: You look pretty great with that Limited Edition 60th Anniversary GRAMMY Piece on your wrist. How does it feel to lead the charge on this advertising campaign?
NR: It feels organic and natural, one of my earliest childhood memories was my first flight. When I flew from Los Angeles back to New York. I remember landing at LaGuardia airport and I remember leaving the airport, seeing the Bulova building, and ever since then – since I was seven years old – I’ve seen that structure so much. It’s weird to me because I don’t live in Queens and I’ve never lived there, but I go to the airport on what seems like a daily basis. It’s like passing a landmark or like passing the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. For me, since I was a kid, it’s been important just from a visual perspective. The fact that time has become so important to me and the fact that timing is so important to me. That’s almost a secondary case and a secondary inspiration as it comes to this release with Bulova. More like “Wow that’s so cool!” like when you meet somebody that you have idolized for a long time. For me, it’s like when I met Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, and others.
JS: Back to music – You’ve had a long and storied career that’s spanned decades. From reel-to-reel tape to social media. Can you pinpoint the exact high-water mark for the music industry? Is there a year that sticks out in your head?
NR: It would have to be the summer of 1979 – because it was the high point and the low point of my band CHIC all at the same time. We had two number one records on the Billboard Pop Charts and that was the year of “Disco Sucks” so I was like “Wow” it put an end to my career, but it also started a secondary career. Up until that point, I just believed that I would always be doing this and all of a sudden there were forces outside of me that could control how my art was perceived. I realize that’s the same thing that controls you getting a hit record. If you’re not speaking to the hearts, minds, and souls of this collective entity that purchases your stuff – for whatever reason – maybe no fault of your own – you may be trying, but the gate keepers or the way that you get through those years just doesn’t connect. Or it connects, and they hate it, either way it’s the same thing.
So that’s probably been the most important year, even more than getting signed in 1977 and even more important than the turning point when I met David Bowie and did “Let’s Dance.” I realized I could do what I was doing for my band and others like Sister Sledge without my partner who I thought I had to do everything with.
JS: Question from my Dad, who danced to your songs in the 70s but recently started guitar lessons at the age of 56. We know Bulova may be your go-to watch, what’s your go-to guitar?
NR: A Fender Stratocaster that I bought in 1973 and I’ve played ever since almost exclusively. Of course, I have a good 150 other guitars and I love every one of them, but this is sort of my signature sound and I don’t change guitars during the course of a concert, I play one guitar all night long and I have so since 1973.
JS: A number of rap artists have sampled your work. Most notably your work on “Notorious” (Duran Duran’s 1986 hit). For sample approvals, did you have the opportunity to work with Notorious BIG, and do you personally oversee when your work is used elsewhe
NR: I never worked with Notorious B.I.G., I never even met Biggie. Which is interesting because we were all New Yorkers. But I certainly know Puff (P. Diddy) and have been around Sean many many times. We’ve done lots of events and things together. When it comes to overseeing what people do with my work, I never pass judgment on it – because I think that if an artist believes that the work they’re creating is artistically relevant, it’s not for me to say “Well you can’t use my work” that seems weird. When I was a music student, my teacher gave me the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned, one day when he heard me criticizing pop music he told me, “Nile what makes you think you’re the ultimate consumer?” and I was like “Whoa, he’s right.” I don’t know what’s in another person’s heart or head. So, when someone uses any of my music or performances or anything like that to create something I almost always say yes.
JS: Last question, what’s your guilty musical pleasure? Any surprises?
NR: Oh man, guilty pleasures, I get one every couple of months and it usually is whatever the number one pop song is. I’m always listening to learn, so right now I’d have to say the remix of Bruno Mars with Cardi B (“Finesse (Remix)“) is killing me. I’m like “Awesome, they made a new jack swing record?” It entered the charts at Number One and it was amazing. That’s probably my biggest guilty pleasure right now, but I’m not embarrassed to say that I love it.
JS: Thank you for the time Niles!
NR: My Pleasure!
The Bulova 60th Anniversary GRAMMY watch is from the brand’s Precisionist collection. Available in a stainless-steel case in a layer gold-tone called “GRAMMIUM”, which is a custom alloy developed by John Billings. Who is the
Same craftsman that creates, gold Grammy statue that is presented to winners. The dial highlights a NYC skyline with the Grammys 60th insignia prominently hallmarked. Featuring a Bulova Precisionist Quartz movement with date and sweeping seconds, which is proprietary to Bulova. The Grammy logo is displayed on the screw down caseback. And finally, the piece comes on a faux alligator grey strap.
The watch is available immediately for purchase at Macy’s, the retail price is $1,150 USD.