Wednesday, August 24, 2011

R.I.P. Nick Ashford

 Nick Ashford  May 8, 1942,  - August 22, 2011

Nick Ashford...One half of the great songwriting duo of Ashford and Simpson died Monday night after a long battle with cancer.

Ashford & Simpson's songs are so ingrained in American pop culture ,that they almost seem to have written themselves at times. — Such songs like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "You're All I Need to Get By." Nick Ashford was married to his songwriting partner, Valerie Simpson, for over 30 years. Nick Ashford died Monday at the age of 69.

Ashford and Simpson wrote "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing" for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" for Diana Ross, when she began her solo career.

Nick Ashford told NPR five years ago he never expected that song (''Solid")) to get that big. "I was shocked ,surprised — when "Solid" became a hit," he said. "I wasn't sure I thought — I loved the song but didn't think it would rise to the heights it rose. It was just interesting to me. And now it's like our anthem.
We can't leave the stage before we sing that."

Nick Ashford met Valerie Simpson at a Harlem church, she was a 17-year-old music student and he was a down-on-his-luck dancer, the son of a construction worker from Michigan. Their first big hit began as a joke when they started working with a major music publisher.

"We came into his office one day and he said, 'You guys got a song for us?'" remembers Ashford. "And we said, 'Oh, yeah, we wrote this great song.' But it was a song we went out the door singing when we couldn't write any songs. We would say, ''Let's go get stoned.'" The song became a hit for Ray Charles, who was then fresh from rehab.

They caught the attention of Motown's Berry Gordy Jr. and Smokey Robinson who signed them to a lucrative contract as Producers and songwriters and soon had them penning hits for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Diana Ross, The Marvelettes, The Four Tops and other Motown acts. Valerie Simpson even enjoyed a short career as a solo artist on Motown's Tamla imprint.

After they left Motown in the early 70's, they became a very popular duo in the mold of Marvin and Tammi and began writing and producing for themselves as well as Chaka Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, Whitney Houston and collaborations with Quincy Jones among others.

 Valerie Simpson wrote the music and Nick Ashford wrote the lyrics.. As a song lyricist, Nick Ashford was a master of economical storytelling. He'd use just a few words to convey a huge, powerful story in a four-minute song. Which is not always easy to do. You have characters presented, you have drama, there's suspense, there's tension, there's conflict — and that in a nutshell was Nick Ashford's true lyrical skill and magic.

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