They always did...

Like Holland-Dozier-Holland, Gamble & Huff, the names Ashford/Simpson under the titles of songs on my records were mostly insignificant to me, the “baby DJ” decades ago. I noticed the artists, and always thought that “Whitfield/Strong” were members of the groups (The Temptations in that case).
As usual with me and my vinyl, it wasn’t until I fell under the influence of the great New York City radio personalities like Frankie Crocker, Jerry Bledsoe, Bobby Jay and others of the day who conducted “live” interviews on the air and often educated listeners as they mentioned who wrote the hits of the day as part of their front or back-announcing of them, that I began to separate “songwriter” from the performers. Ashford & Simpson’s uniqueness was that they could do both roles successfully!
I have observed through the years, that very often, life is like a running play in football: full of misdirection. just when you expect things to go one way, they go in another or opposite direction. So it was again when I heard that Nick Ashford left the physical world, and his other half in so many ways more than usual with a couple, Valerie, behind in late August ‘011 at age sixty-nine; not old yet, but not young either. Nick seemed always a “cool” – yet curious cat to me, those times I was in their presence and too shy to intrude with anything but a brief “Hey, how you doin!” and brief introduction of myself as a DJ on WBLS who played their music. Innate shyness strikes again! I remember watching them from left-of-center stage at New York City’s Palladium, when it was near Union Square on 14th Street, and they opened for Luther Vandross. Shortly after their restaurant in Manhattan, the Sugar Bar, opened I went to check them out with my pals, and I was fortunate enough to be on the set with them at other venues while I was a New York City radio personality. I always looked at them as more of a collaborative couple than a romantic one, but as time went by, you could see that they respected and adored each-other by the looks in their eyes when the looked at one-another while in full song. Looking at their album covers is like watching a time-capsule in mutual evolution, so let’s get to my Ashford & Simpson vinyls! 

orig 1976 notes

First and with major thanks to Jackie Thomas, who was my Warner Brothers Promotion Lady at the time, is the back cover of “Come As You Are”, complete with my scribblings (DJ notes) from almost forty years ago!  You can’t read it, but my “pik” on this album was “One More Try” – the extended (with guitar solo) 12″ Disco version of  I also acquired! It still is one of my best A&S tracks and is very danceable!   My next fave on this album was “It Came To Me”, however, the popular hit, which is still poignant today is the lead cut  reminder, “It’ll Come, It’ll Come, It’ll Come”.  One thing I began to notice back then, even, was the lush presence of a harp flourish during their ‘vamps to the fade’.  I like that!

 The next one I have has my stamp of “Nov. 9, 1976; the ‘Nick-o-Val’  follow-up, “Tried, Tested & Found True” [5;25] twelve-inch!  What is overlooked or not even known these days  is that those “disco” 12″ vinyls played at 45rpm!  That dance favorite was culled from  1977’s “So So Satisfied” album, which I acquired because a neighbor was (“horrors!!”) throwing their records away in the dumpster because they were moving.  Knowing that I was a “DJ” he brought a charity crate over to me, asking if I wanted to “look through some of these…”  Well, “Hell Yeah!!”  When I pulled the vinyl out and saw it was in reasonably saveable shape, I humbly thanked him and went inside to clean it up like the rest of “my children”.  I never have lent my vinyls out over time…  “So So” had two other hit in-addition to “Tried, Tested…” and they were the deep, fulfilling ballad title song, “So So Satisfied” and a song that I think the late Sylvester made famous but was (of course) written by Ashford & Simpson, “Over And Over”.  I already had the Jimmy Simpson “Disco Mix” 12″ 45rpm of it, so getting the album completed that set of June 10, 1977 .

Next in my collection is my hands-down favorite album by this dynamic musical duo, on Warner Bros., 1977’s “Send it”.  An “A” rotation on WBLS FM and any other burgeoning ‘Urban” black radio station of the day, you heard them hit their “stride” on this one!  it includes the best instrumental they ever produced IMO, “Bourgie` Bourgie`”. Notice how their cover photos evolved though these years?  These guys were fashion templates of the day!  it is about this time that I began to truly believe they were an in-love couple and not just an “act”.  Also featured hits on this LP , “”By Way Of Love’s Express”, the title song, “Send It” and the dance classic, “Don’t Cost You Nothin’ “.  On Nick-O-Val music, there are NO “bad” album cuts though…

Then, all of a sudden (to me, anyway) in 1978, Jackie Thomas laid the 12′ on me called “It Seems To Hang On”.  I’m not sure what album it is from, because I don’t have it.  All I know is that to this very day and as I write these words, it is my all time Hall Of Fame favorite Ashford & Simpson record!  At six minutes and fifty-seven seconds, I can play it a-gain, and again, and a-gainnnn… 

As Barry White would say, “it was such a groove…”  A great arrangement with orchestra, and those sexy horns. 

After that, I guess I lost track or maybe they had a lull, but the next thing I knew, Nick and Valerie were on a new label, Capitol/EMI. I am thinking that my record promo rep was the very amusing John Brown there (but don’t hold me to it, LOL).  I always wanted a gig in record promotion back then because all these guys and gals just went from company-to-company (and party-to-party!).  I went into my stacks looking for their last massive hit “Solid” (which is still hiding from me as I write this, dammit!) and came upon one that I didn’t even know I had, 1986’s “Real Love”.  Skip ahead in time!

I call this album something that every artist has, “one that got away”.  The only notable “hit’ was something called “Nobody Walks In L.A.”, and somehow I have the Capitol Records 12″ of it – by now they played at 331/3 rpm – looking like I never played it.  Not that it was a “bad” song; it just never really caught-on – on the east coast – in the USA.  There are “certain” memories associated with all of Nick & Vals music in my musical mind.  Observe again, the fashion evolution of their album cover pose… 

“Nobody Walks In L.A.” 12-inch

By now my collection is waning and I have performed on WBLS FM and all the major New York City Urban/Black/R&B?whatever name du jour radio stations.  “Solid… as a Rock” was the jam when I was on WBLS FM in 1984/85, but there came a little ditty which was the title track of that album called “High Rise” by them which was so appropriate because at that time I was living my dream of residing in one.

High Rise 45rpm cover

This is the jacket for the 1983 45rpm:

They should have been (and maybe were) fashion models!  Well last-but-not-least in my krates-full-o-jointz I found a 45rpm off of the album ‘Performance’ which will serve as a timely and true finale to this post, “It Shows In The Eyes”.  Look!…”it” does and always will. 
Please comment with your
favorite Nicholas Ashford/
Valerie Simpson memory,
concert or song.  I had no
idea he was ill; makes it all the more sad and surprising to think that he is gone, but their voice –  harp-flourished arrangements – will live eternally.
 
Advertisements