News Item: Ain't No Mountain High Enough
(Category: Music)
Posted by Migs
Monday 29 August 2011 - 16:20:45

Nickolas Ashford 1941-2011

If I say the words “Ashford and Simpson” to you – if you’re of a certain age – you’ll probably start humming the 1984 hit “Solid”. Or more likely stare blankly at me. But what if I said “Aint No Mountain High Enough”? Doubtless you’ll be able to recite it word for word complete with prerequisite whoops wearing a Diana Ross wig for good measure. Same with “I’m Every Woman”. Husband and wife team Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson wrote both of these plus many more. Their body of work was substantial, they had few peers and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2002. Their songs are entrenched in the very heart of popular music culture yet relatively few people know who they are.

The lyrical half of the duo, Nick Ashford, died on Monday, 22/08/2011 in a hospital in New York aged 70 after undergoing treatment for throat cancer. He initially moved to New York in 1963 intending to become a dancer but was living on the streets when he first met 17 year old Valerie at the White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem. They married in 1974 and have stayed together ever since. After encountering failure as a recording duo, the pair started writing songs, selling their first batch for $64. Following minor hits for Ronnie Milsap, Maxine Brown, The Shirelles and Chuck Jackson their breakthrough came in 1966 when a fresh out of rehab Ray Charles recorded “Lets Get Stoned”, a track they’d initially written as a joke whilst staff writers at a publishing company. "We came into his office one day. He said, 'You guys got a song for us?'" said Ashford. "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.'"

Joke or not, it brought them to the attention of Berry Gordy at the original hit factory Motown who teamed them up with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Success followed almost instantly thanks to the aforementioned “Aint No Mountain”, “Your Precious Love”, “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Aint Nothing like the Real Thing”. Moreover, according to Marvin Gaye in the “Divided Soul” book, Ashford provided most of the vocals on the “Easy” album so it could get finished thus helping the Terrell family pay the medical bills for Tammi’s ultimately fatal brain tumour. With the 60s just about wrapped up and Gaye travelling a more socio economic path, Gordy moved them onto the newly solo Diana Ross. They wrote and produced all bar one track on her eponymously named debut album then subsequently went on to collaborate on worldwide smashes “The Boss”, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand”, “My House” and “Missing You”. Before they left Motown in 1973 – after a row with Gordy over their career aspirations – their collaboration CV read like a “who’s who” of soul music citing luminaries such as Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Marvelettes, The Supremes – Ashford penning his only success without Valerie on 1968’s Frank Wilson produced “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” – and The Dynamic Superiors.

Post Motown, the songs just kept on coming. They delivered the goods for both Teddy Pendergrass and The Brothers Johnson and in a masterstroke, swapped a Diva on the wane in Ross for one very much in the ascendancy, teaming up with first the band Rufus then a solo Chaka Khan for the dance floor biggies “Keep It Coming”, “Aint Nothing But a Maybe”, “I’m Every Woman” and “Clouds”. Towards the end of the decade and into the 80s they finally stepped into the limelight themselves, Nick’s soaring falsetto slugging it out with Valerie’s sultry Gospel infused tones on bona fide anthems “It Seems to Hang On”, “Found a Cure” and “Don’t Cost You Nothing”. All the while still finding time to churn out floor fillers for Sylvester, Loleatta Holloway and Angela Bofill.
In recent years, the pair has been better known as the proprietors of New York’s celebrity hangout “Sugar Bar”. It’s very much a hands on approach with Valerie joining industry legends Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Patti LaBelle on impromptu backing vocals for fledgling singers during Thursday’s “Open Mic” slot and Nick giving hopefuls the benefit of his wisdom. One of these, Jermaine Paul, recalled Ashford telling him to carry a tape recorder to capture musical thoughts before they disappeared. “He said, ‘Press record,’ ” Mr. Paul recalled. “Always press record if you walk in and you are humming something. That’s coming from somewhere. Those are the things that are given to you.”
In an industry where all too many of the greats are going with relatively few coming through to replace them, the loss of Nick Ashford is a sad one. A statement from Motown founder Berry Gordy read “I am shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Nickolas Ashford,….(The two) wrote and produced some of the most unique and memorable songs in the Motown catalog for some of Motown's biggest artists.”
Smokey Robinson simply said “The world has lost another great talent and I have lost another great friend."
If you’re unfamiliar with the work of Ashford and Simpson, here’s a personal top ten of theirs in no particular order so you can appreciate just how good they were :

Collins and Collins – Top Of the Stairs
Ashford and Simpson – It Seems To Hang On
Diana Ross – The Boss
Ashford and Simpson – Found a Cure
Sylvester – Over and Over
Chaka Khan – Clouds
Gladys Knight and the Pips – Bourgie Bourgie
Teddy Pendergrass – Is It Still Good To Ya?
Peggy Woods – You’d Better Be Good
Angela Bofill – Rough Times

This news item is from Mudhuts Media
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