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Interview With Richard Hilton, Musical Arranger and Keyboardist From Chic

WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT WORKING WITH CHICK

The best thing about playing at CHIC is that I get to play with some of the best musicians I’ve ever known, including the band of the last five years, and I get to share in the audience’s happiness. I also saw so many amazing places that I probably would never have seen otherwise.

WHAT DO YOU FIND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?

Travel rigor, which is at an all-time high these days.

WHEN DID YOU START WORKING WITH CHIC/NILES? AND HOW DID THIS COME?

I started working with Nile in March 1988. About two years ago I interviewed for several different jobs at a company called “New England Digital” that made a proprietary computer instrument called the Synclavier. I was never hired, but when Nile Rodgers called them (being a user of their instrument) and asked about a trained programmer who could play keyboards, they kindly recommended me and I was ready.

IF YOU WERE NOT WORKING WITH CHIC, WHAT WOULD THEY BE DOING?

When I started Nile, I was teaching at a small college and went back to grad school to get my master’s degree. I hope to return to teaching one day. I really enjoy working with young people.

CHIC’S ARE ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO WATCH, WHAT’S THE SECRET?

A tireless commitment to delivering the best possible show every night. There’s a lot of trust and love on stage, and it seems to show in the audience, from what I’m told. The value of the amazing repertoire we’ve been given to play cannot be understated, as it goes a long way in making this all possible.

IT CHIC IS RUMORED TO RELEASE AN ALBUM WITH DAFT PUNK? IS THIS TRUE?

I can’t talk about ongoing projects.

HOW WOULD I DESCRIBE THE TECHNIQUE?

Adequate, but not great. I do a lot of things pretty well, but maybe none of them are “great.” CHIC players are all much more advanced than me. My abilities span many different disciplines at work, so my playing technique sometimes doesn’t get the attention it might otherwise deserve. I’m lucky that music has always come easily to me.

YOU ALWAYS LOOK SO HAPPY AND BETTER ON STAGE! WHY IS THAT?

Because I find the privilege of being able to play this music and share in the happiness of the audience quite overwhelming. Playing this music at CHIC is amazing and I try to let it wash over me as much as possible while we’re doing it.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?

I would try less anger and more love that I feel. There are still a few things about my relationships that I wish I had done better.

IF YOU WERE NOT BORN IN THIS CENTURY, WHEN AND WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO LIVE?

I’m glad to be here now. I don’t think much about “what if”. Still, it would have been great to hear Art Tatum, Beethoven and Chopin play.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS/MUSICIANS AND WHY?

I’m not really good at lists of favorites. I listen and watch a lot and I like it a lot. My list would span the 100’s and not be limited to a few styles of music and/or art.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST/MUSICIAN AND WHY? (IF YOU DON’T WANT TO, YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER!!)

In general, it can be said that those who contribute with all their might to the degradation of society and the people living in it. They are clever, they are pretenders. People who didn’t work for it and society handed it to them.

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

Learn more about the world, its people and my work. I study a lot on my own, it’s not limited to music subjects or technology. I like to cook and spend time with my wife and sons. I don’t watch too much TV – mostly sports and historical stuff. I read a lot and spend a lot of time with computers and devices.

ARE YOU POLITICALLY ACTIVE?

More in spirit than in body, but yes, I am more and more appalled at the state of the world as I get older.

DO YOU DO VOLUNTARY WORK?

Yes, I try to get involved as much as possible in the endeavors of young musicians, I’m sure I could do a lot more. I participate in my sons’ musical adventures as much as possible, usually without being directly involved with them. This takes many forms; equipment advice and purchase assistance, attending lectures, and sometimes recording the programs. When they were in marching band, I was the band’s unofficial videographer and posted videos so the band could benefit from their work.

As a bonus, it turned out that the families of the band members from all over the world watched these videos to see their relatives perform at a high level. I always got comments that “Grandma in Phoenix” watched every video and looked forward to them every week.

Also, because of my sons’ music, I meet a lot of young people here in the house and we talk. I like to think they find me easy to talk to. I like talking to them.

HOW HAS AMERICAN MUSIC CHANGED IN THE PAST TEN YEARS?

This topic could fill a book, but it briefly went further down the rabbit hole caused by the democratization of the music-making process. On the other hand, there has been a resurgence of people interested in live interaction between musicians, so that part is good. We are still trying to recover from the effects of machine-controlled music production that became popular in the 1980s and continues.

WHAT IS THE SIDE OF YOU THAT THE PUBLIC NEVER SEES

The angry, bitter, alienated side. At least I hope they never see it. This does me (or them) no good at all.

HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED AS A PERFORMER/DIRECTOR?

I am aware of the role that is expected of me as a speaker, and I am more involved in assuming it, for the benefit of the whole team. Now I trust more easily and forgive more easily.

HOW HARD ARE YOU PUSHING YOURSELF?

I insist on staying active and learning new things. Younger, hipper, more cultured people are competing for what I do, and the numbers are growing every year. I meet them at college seminars and exhibitions.

I believe that the only way to stay current and active is to continue to improve by combining my long experience in business with the knowledge and techniques I have now acquired. Many things can be done today that were considered impossible just a few years ago. I can’t stand still; I need to continue to advance in knowledge to stay in the game at my age.

WHEN ARE YOU COMPLETELY SATISFIED WITH YOUR WORK?

I always feel like there is something I could do or should have done to make it better. I believe that being “satisfied with your work” is artistically a harbinger of doom. That said, if it’s all over tomorrow, I’ll feel like I’ve done pretty well.

WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE SOMETHING PERFECT

There is nothing worth doing that is not worth doing well. If you call that perfectionism, I think so.

WHAT WILL DAD BE MOST PROUD OF?

I have two wonderful sons, James and Corey. James just earned two bachelor’s degrees, cum laude, from Western Connecticut State University. The MIS department awarded him special recognition for his outstanding performance. He works in the computer field and is doing fantastically well.

Corey attends Ithaca College of Music in New York. Record player, his main instrument is percussion. He became section leader of the percussion section of the symphony orchestra his first semester and made the dean’s list both semesters. In his first year, he played a fantastic show and recorded dozens of concerts. He is doing amazingly well and is highly appreciated by his teachers and friends.

WHAT IS THE MAGIC FORMULA FOR SUCCESS?

Find something you love to do and find a way to fit it into your life. It may or may not mean a living. Don’t let others define who you are and what you should be. Success to me means finding a place of comfort and happiness in your life without compromising yours, however that manifests. It’s not about fame and fortune – I know too many famous and rich people who aren’t happy.

For me, maintaining good relationships with people in the world, both at home and abroad, also helps to balance life and views. In my own life, this is very important.

Note from the author: I was lucky enough to be invited to Chic’s performance at Kew Gardens in the summer of 2012. The music lifted me off the grass! I met Rich Hilton, one of the nicest, most unassuming guys you could ever meet. Richard’s joy on and off the stage is infectious, and he and Nile Rodgers have worked together for decades. What a blessing for soul/funk/disco music lovers like me!

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