He was a bass player, songwriter and producer born in Greenville, North Carolina, who grew up in New York City.
In the early 1970s he met Nile Rodgers and together they established the Big Apple Band in 1972 with the drummer Tony Thompson and they performed with Walter Murphy on his hit ” A Fifth of Beethoven”. In 1976 they added vocalists and the successful band Chic was born, seeing many of his solo or co-written chart topping hits such as “Everybody Dance”, “Dance, Dance, Dance”, “Good Times”, “I Want Your Love” and the memorable “Le Freak”. He and Nile Rodgers would also produce many other artists together, right up until Chic’s disbandment in 1983 when he would carry on in his solo career.
Artists such as Joe Cocker, Debbie Harry, Duran Duran, The Jacksons, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Johnny Mathis, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge and Jody Watley used his production work on their recordings and this would include some of his own song-writing hits such as “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down” by Diana Ross .
In 1985 he became involved in establishing the group Power Station, whom he produced, with Robert Palmer, Tony Thompson from Chic and John and Andy Taylor from Duran Duran and that very same year he released his first solo album.
Carrying on with the production work he would later work with ABC, Air Supply and Rod Stewart. In 1992 he re-united with Chic and in 1996 was invited with the group to appear in Japan where they had names him JT Superproducer of the Year. He became ill while in Tokyo and although having to be helped through the concert at the Budokan he completed it before going back to his hotel room and being subsequently found dead by Nile Rodgers with what was diagnosed as pneumonia.
He was just 43 years old and left a legacy of bass playing that has seen his bass line from “Good Times” being quoted as “one of the most copied pieces of music in history” and is said to have given the inspiration for Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” as well as being used without credits on “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang.
In recognition for his contribution to music he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York in 2005. The albums his bass playing has featured on include his own Glad to be Here, C’est Chic, Risque and Real People by Chic, Some People by Belouis Some , Like a Virgin by Madonna, Simply the Best by Tina Turner, Let’s Dance by David Bowie, Once Bitten Twice Shy by Ian Hunter, She’s the Boss by Mick Jagger , Studio Recordings 1972-2000 by Paul Simon , We Are Family by Sister Sledge and Best of Joe Cocker.
Here’s Chic performing “Good Times” on The Tonight Show…