Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ashford And Simpson: Solid (as a rock)!

Sophistication, elegance, class are as many words coming to mind when thinking of Ashford And Simpson‘s music. Be it in terms of songwriting, production, but also rendition as a performing pair, with the main reason being the obvious love they felt for each other from the very first time the met and the life they shared until the very end, with Nick Ashford‘s passing…

Ashford And Simpson

Once upon a time…

“It was by a warm breezy Spring day when Nickolas Ashford decided to visit the White Rock Baptist Church in the Bronx, NYC. The young aspiring songwriter and dancer had arrived in the city only a short time earlier from Willow Run, MI with hopes of ‘making it”, explained writer Lynn Norment on the February 1979 issue of Ebony. “But his dreams had begun to fade as his money dwindled and he resorted to sleeping on park benches and taking advantage of free meals provided by many of the city’s churches. As he stood in church on this particular Sunday afternoon, Ashford took note of the young girl with her hair in a French roll who was leading a female Gospel group. That girl was the petite Valerie Simpson…”

“I was standing there when I looked and saw Valerie”, confirmed Nick. “She put me in a spin. She was such a beautiful girl. “There was something about the way she moved and sang. I had to get to know her…” Meanwhile, Val would recall the ‘instant love’ she felt when he approached her after the church services and introduced himself to her. “It was a visual attraction at first, but soon he decided I was too young…” With Nick adding he didn’t have time for women. So the two put the romancing aspect aside but soon recognized their common interest in music…  And what an interest, sitting on a pile of more than 1,000 songs they would co-write, beginning with ‘I’ll Find You’ which they sold for $75 to Glover Record Co. back in 1964 and performed as Valerie & Nick, although it didn’t make it, pushing them to rather work as songwriters.

They scored their very first hit in 1966 with ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’ with they penned for Ray Charles on Scepter Records, prior signing a deal with Motown Records. From then, they would write the famous ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (later on covered by Diana Ross, then by Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown on Salsoul Records), but also ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’ among others. They would also work with Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross (‘The Boss’ itself covered by The Braxtons, with production work by the likes of Louie Vega) and Gladys Knight & The Pips, eventually producing ‘Taste Of Bitter Love’ for them and adding lyrics on their cover version of  the memorable ‘Bourgie Bourgie’ which they initially released under their own banner as an instrumental back in 1980 on Warner Bros…

As a music lover, and already a DJ for few years back then, I remember sticking to each of the productions they would put out, literally fascinated by their instantly identifiable arrangements, synonymous with sophistication at its highest, with the additional help of Valerie‘s brother, Jimmy Simpson on the 12″ front, soon after they signed as a singing pair on Warner Bros.  The promo copies of ‘Tried, Tested & Found True’, ‘Over & Over’ (as later given a cover version by Sylvester), ‘Don’t Cost You Nothing’, ‘It Seems To Hang On’, ‘Found A Cure’ and ‘Love Don’t Make It Right’ standing to me as as many highlights in my collection. Not to mention the iconic ‘I’m Every Woman’ which they wrote and produced for Chaka Khan, ‘Stuff Like That’ alongside Quincy Jones, or the quite underrated 1980 released Ullanda McCullough‘s self titled album on Atlantic which includes an absolute unsung treasure titled ‘Bad Company’…

As an unconditional fan, the announcement of Nick‘s death back on Aug. 22, 2011 left me with the impression of the sudden end of a beautiful book, the heroes of which I felt closer to along with the chapters. Not to mention the immense sadness I felt for Val, after such a love they would spread around them throughout their whole life in common. With these humble words first and foremost destined to her…

Chosen few
Ashford And Simpson – So So Satisfied (Warner Bros.)
Ashford And Simpson – Send It (Warner Bros.)
Ashford And Simpson – Is It Still Good To Ya (Warner Bros.)
Ashford And Simpson – Stay Free (Warner Bros.)
Ashford And Simpson – A Musical Affair (Warner Bros.)
Ashford And Simpson – Street Opera (Capitol)
Ashford And Simpson – Solid (Capitol)
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