Obituary: Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards managed to transcend the ephemeral nature of dance music to create true pop classics.

Unless they're singers like Sting or Paul McCartney, or behave like lechers a la Bill Wyman or Gene Simmons (of Kiss), few bass-players achieve any kind of fame or notoriety in the music industry. With his trademark funky rhythms and supple bass lines, Edwards, the bass-player with Chic, proved the exception to the rule. With his partner Nile Rodgers, he co-wrote some of the most enduring dance tunes of the last 20 years, and went on to produce a host of records for other performers like Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Robert Palmer and Rod Stewart.

Born in 1952 in Greenville, North Carolina, Bernard Edwards moved to New York when he was 10. While in junior high school, he picked up the saxophone, but soon moved to electric bass. In 1970 he met the guitarist Nile Rodgers, a New Yorker who'd been a member of Harlem's famous Apollo Theatre house band. Along with the powerhouse drummer Tony Thompson, the pair soon became regulars on the soul circuit, forming the Big Apple Band and backing the fine outfit New York City ("I'm Doing Fine Now") on the road.

By 1976, Rodgers and Edwards had started to write their own material, and were helping the singer Carol Douglas to cut demos. After a name and a musical change, from the unlikely Allah & the Knife-Wielding Punks to the more sophisticated Chic, their tapes did the rounds of record companies and, in spite of the early opposition of Jerry Greenberg, the label's president, they eventually landed a deal with Atlantic Records in late 1977.

Mainly conceived as a vehicle for Rodgers and Edwards' songs, Chic also featured the aforementioned Thompson as well as vocalists Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin (who early on replaced Norma Jean Wright), and the creme de la creme of the Big Apple's upcoming talent (Luther Vandross, for example, featured on the group's first three albums). Rodgers and Edwards understood the nonsensical, frivolous nature of dance music and kicked off an amazing series of million-selling singles with the infectious "Dance Dance Dance" ("Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah") which was followed by "Everybody Dance" and "Le Freak", a United States No 1 at the end of 1978 (and, at the time, Atlan-tic's best-selling single with 4 million copies in the US alone).

With their clipped guitar riffs, tinkly piano chords, funky bass lines and cooing vocals, Chic's records sounded deceptively simple but were in fact wonderfully heady concoctions guaranteed to fill dance-floors the world over. The group were on a roll and, following the success of the mellower "I Want Your Love", they unleashed a monster disco record, "Good Times". The distinctive bass of Edwards was at the centre of a truly classic groove, later plagiarised by the Sugarhill Gang in "Rapper's Delight" (the early rap hit for which Chic were eventually credited as co-writers) and by Queen in "Another One Bites the Dust". To this day, the record's booming riff is one of the most imitated by hip-hop and rap crews.

The years 1979 and 1980 were major ones for Rodgers and Edwards, who revived the career of Philadelphia's Sister Sledge, writing and producing "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "We Are Family", an irresistible tune which, over the years, has been rereleased, remixed and become a gay anthem (it's currently featured in Mike Nichols's remake of The Birdcage, featuring Robin Williams and Gene Hackman).

The partners could do no wrong and, while still releasing records as Chic ("My Forbidden Lover", "My Feet Keep Dancing"), they also wrote and produced the Diana album (1980) for the Motown vocalist Diana Ross. The legendary former Supremes singer didn't always see eye to eye with Rodgers and Edwards, and had her vocals brought up in the final mix without their approval. But, whatever went on behind the scenes, Diana was a major success, spawning hits like "Upside Down" and "My Old Piano" and relaunching Ross on to the second stage of her career.

The duo also propelled the French Sixties chanteuse Sheila into the Eighties with "Spacer" (as Sheila B Devotion), before turning their hands to Debbie Harry, producing the Blondie singer's first solo album, Koo Koo (1981). They then resurrec-ted Carly Simon's career with "Why" (from the soundtrack of Soup For One) in 1982.

However, by now Rodgers and Edwards were spreading themselves too thin and Chic's records ("Real People", "Hangin' ", 1983) were reaching lower chart placings than before. What had been the hip sound at the turn of the decade had now become passe.

In 1983 the group split. Its leading lights released solo efforts (Glad To Be Here was Edwards's) and made further inroads into the production field. Rodgers was the more successful, working with David Bowie, Madonna and Mick Jagger, but Edwards was no slouch, producing Robert Palmer's major breakthrough hit, "Addicted To Love", in 1986.

Britain's Duran Duran had always claimed they wanted to mix the Sex Pistols' attitude with Chic's dance grooves, and the bass-player John Taylor and the guitarist Andy Taylor eventually got to work with members of the latter, when Edwards produced the Power Station's 1985 album (on which Robert Palmer sung), as well as Duran Duran's theme tune for the Bond movie, A View to a Kill (1985). Edwards also oversaw several Rod Stewart recordings, such as his 1988 album Out of Order, as well as a reworking of the Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart Of Mine" which saw Rod duet with Ron-ald Isley. In 1990, Edwards co-produced Rod Stewart and Tina Turner's cover of "It Takes Two".

In many ways, Edwards and Rodgers' influence has permeated the dance scene of the last decade, with Jimmy Jain & Terry Lewis and LA & Babyface successively taking over their mantle as hot producers with their fingers on the pulse. Chic's sound also influenced Talking Heads, Heaven 17, ABC and many an Eighties outfit.

In 1992, the group reformed, and Edwards was performing in Japan when he fell ill. He was found dead in his room by Nile Rodgers. He had nearly completed work on a new Power Station album.

Bernard Edwards, bass-player, composer, producer: born Green-ville, North Carolina 31 October 1952; died Tokyo 18 April 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again