Before Nile Rodgers became the virtuoso writer-producer-arranger behind canonical dance hits for Chic, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Madonna, and more, he was just an eager student looking to buy his first guitar. While he was still in school, he trekked down to the local pawn shop to hunt for a quality but affordable instrument; to his surprise, he ran into Dr. John, who was in the process of trading in one of his guitars for cash. “I’m a teenager and I’m freaking out!” Rodgers tells Rolling Stone.
By the end of the 1970s, Rodgers was churning out irresistible club singles; he could afford to get rid of some of his older instruments and splurge on fancy new ones. But the memory of watching Dr. John trade in a guitar stayed with the Chic mastermind. “Very few of us keep the original guitars that we started playing with,” Rodgers observes. For much of his career, he was determined not to throw away his own musical history, holding on to as many of his guitars as possible. Until now.
Rodgers will auction off a wide selection of instruments — including more than 160 guitars, some of which contributed to riffs on Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” Chic’s “Le Freak,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” — plus cars and clothing in December. Christie’s will oversee the auction, and net proceeds will go towards the We Are Family Foundation, which Rodgers says “supports kids all over the world who are working on solutions to make this a better planet.”
Even though Rodgers finally decided to get rid of some of his collection, winnowing it down was no easy task. “I really do have guitars with fabulous pedigree,” he says. “I have a Django Reinhardt that even Django Reinhardt didn’t have!”
Going through the instruments was “very difficult,” he continues, because “I would pick one up, remember the song that I played on it, and then get really emotional.” Luckily, he notes that he owns more than 200 guitars, so even after selling off the majority of them, he’ll still have plenty to play around with.
It was easier for Rodgers to pick out cars to auction off. While the guitarist’s biggest fans know him mostly for his music, he also used to be an avid driver and a member of Dodge’s celebrity racing team. “I’m a petrol head,” he acknowledges. “But I’m recovering. Just like I used to be an acid-head, but I won’t drop acid anymore, I won’t drive 200 miles per hour anymore.” Now he takes Uber everywhere, as part of his mission to have “the greenest life possible.”
So he’s willing to say goodbye to a Porsche 911 Slantnose Turbo Targa, one of only seven made. “The Porsche has a lot of rock and roll history,” Rodgers says. “Gene Simmons was with me when I picked it up. In those days, the cops never really bothered me, everyone knew me in the early Eighties.” That meant he could go pedal to the metal in his new ride.
But Simmons was not used to Rodgers’ Fast and Furious driving style. “Finally he said, ‘Nile, I gotta throw up!’” Rodgers recalls. “I said, ‘don’t you throw up in my brand spanking new car!’ I pulled over and let him barf.” Looking back now, Rodgers imagines the Porsche would actually be worth more if Simmons had thrown up in the vehicle. But hindsight is always 20/20.
The final component of Rodgers’ auction will focus on parts of his wardrobe. “Everything from the early Chic days I still have; all preserved perfectly in lockers,” he notes. “When they came and looked at my closet they were overwhelmed.”
The auction caused Rodgers to rediscover some of his grooviest clothing. “After I tried them on and took pictures, I was going, ‘wait a minute, I want to wear this!’ You walk down the street and people are like, ‘where did you get that?’”
The live auction will take place December 16th in New York City.