Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Remembering Nick Ashford

Ain't Nothing Like The real Thing Baby...

My earliest memory of a Motown record is of me being this little kid hearing Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell for the first time. A friend of my sister was playing their recording of
Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing when afterwards she made the remark about just how clever those words were. At the time, not knowing anything about songwriting, I found something in those lyrics that stayed with me. Something infused in me to where I would want to someday become a songwriter, perhaps like Ashford & Simpson.

Nick Ashford, as some of you may recall, was half of the ever popular music duo Ashford & Simpson. Both Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson are best known, at least in my opinion as one of
Motown's legendary songwriter's. Acknowledged for writing such mega hits as Ain't No Mountain High Enough, You're All I Need To Get By, Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing and more. Later they also found continued success as singer's/songwriter's/producers. Producing and writing Diana Ross' biggest solo hits, including her signature Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand). They also wrote Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman, later on recorded by Whitney Houston.

Aside from being prolific songwriters, whom I greatly admired and studied, they were also fantastic entertains as well. While being the guitarist for vocalist Phyllis Hyman (another amazing talent gone too soon) I had the utmost pleasure of meeting them. On more than one occasion we toured as their opening act. Those shows were never short of being spectacular and the audience, believe me, always got their money's worth.

Nick and Valerie, or Val as she was called, were two of the nicest people in this business that I've met. Unfortunately, there are only a few who I can say this about. Seeing them in passing they'd always stop and have something to say. I remember them both having this beautiful smile. I can recall running into Nick on the street, he'd say something like ''Heeeey baaaaaaaby, how ya' doin?". It's almost like I hear his voice now. Not slick but smooth and elegant as they were known to be.

In their own right I viewed them as being musical philanthropist. Owning a club in New York called "20/20" followed by another called "The Sugar Bar" they were constantly giving artists a platform to come and "do their thing". Today "The Sugar Bar" is still going strong. There you'll discover Quincy Jones, Pattie LaBelle, Denzel Washington and Maya Angelou all hanging out checking the talent pool.

For one month I was fortunate enough to be invited as a featured artist during a series called "Storming Mondays." As usual Nick and Val were gracious host and MC's for the evening.
Their favorite song that I would do was of my arrangement on The Jackson 5 classic I Wanna Be Where You Are.

It's hard for me to imagine that the team of Ashford & Simpson will no longer be, at least not in the physical sense. With his passing, a part of my life along with an era of music is gone. In many ways I can say it is because of Ashford & Simpson that I found this career and the joy of songwriting. A friend told me that a great song lives on. The same is true also of a great songwriter.

...Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing.

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