Sunday, August 20, 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 they met. And the life they shared until the very end, with Nick Ashford‘s sad 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”. As 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 co-wrote. Beginning with ‘I’ll Find You’. A track 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’. A cut they penned for Ray Charles on Scepter Records. This before 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. A blast which Diana Ross soon after covered. Folllowed by Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown a few years later on Salsoul Records. And they also wrote ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’ among others.

They would also work with Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross (‘The Boss’ itself covered by The Braxtons, with production work by the likes of Louie Vega). Not to mention Gladys Knight & The Pips, eventually producing ‘Taste Of Bitter Love’ for them. Then adding lyrics on their cover version of  the memorable ‘Bourgie Bourgie’. Another classic 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 a few years back then, I remember sticking to each of the productions Ashford And Simpson 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)… But also ‘Don’t Cost You Nothing’, ‘It Seems To Hang On’. Not to mention ‘Found A Cure’ and ‘Love Don’t Make It Right’ standing as as many highlights in my collection. This in adition to the iconic ‘I’m Every Woman’ which they wrote and produced for Chaka Khan. And ‘Stuff Like That’ alongside Quincy Jones. Or the quite underrated 1980 released Ullanda McCullough‘s eponymous album on Atlantic including an absolute unsung treasure by the likes of ‘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 heros 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)

Tribute: Ashford And Simpson

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