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Ashford & Simpson

R & B / Soul

Sat, Mar 26 Sun, Mar 27
7:30pm 7:30pm
9:30pm  
 

Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson have two careers, as songwriters and as performers, with the former seemingly more important than the latter until the mid-’80s.

The two met in 1964 and scored their first songwriting hit in 1966 with Ray Charles’ recording of their “Let’s Go Get Stoned.”

After a period at Scepter Records, they moved to Motown, where they wrote hits for the duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By”). When Diana Ross left the Supremes for a solo career, Ashford & Simpson wrote “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” for her.

Their own performing career was launched in 1973 with Keep It Comin’ on Motown and Gimme Something Real on Warner Bros.

Their first success came in 1977 with the gold-selling Send It, which contained the Top Ten R&B hit “Don’t Cost You Nothing.” Is It Still Good to Ya, a second gold album, contained the number two R&B hit “It Seems to Hang On” in 1978.

Stay Free, their third straight gold album, contained “Found a Cure,” another R&B smash that also made the Top 40 on the pop chart. A Musical Affair, in 1980, featured the hit “Love Don’t Make It Right,” but was not as successful as previous efforts.

Their most successful pop hit as performers is their mid-80s hits, “Solid,” which hit No. 12.

Other songs they had a hand in include “I’m Every Woman,” a hit for Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston.

During the late ’80s and two following decades, Ashford & Simpson continued to tour and record sporadically.

In 1996, they opened the restaurant and live entertainment venue Sugar Bar in New York City, which has an open mic on Thursday nights where performers have included Queen Latifah and Felicia Collins

The duo continues to write and score today. They are given writing credit on Amy Winehouse’s 2007 CD Back to Black for the single “Tears Dry On Their Own”. The track is based on a sample of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s 1967 Motown classic hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.

* As performers, they are most famous for the 1980s hit, “Solid.”

* As songwriters, they wrote “I’m Every Woman,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and “You’re All I Need To Get By.”

* Still writing and performing today with artists like Amy Winehouse.

Sound Observations with Valerie Simpson of Ashford and Simpson

By David Moye

It’s been a good week for the songwriting duo of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

Of course, any week is good when three of your songs appear on “American Idol.”

On Wednesday, contestant Stefano Langone got raves for singing “You’re All I Need To Get By,” a hit that Ashford and Simpson wrote for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

On Thursday, the whole cast sang another Gaye-Terrell classic, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and contestant Casey Abrams avoided elimination by singing the slightly more obscure song, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” which Ashford and Simpson wrote for Ray Charles back in 1966 that has since been covered by The Chocolate Watch Band, Humble Pie, New Riders of the Purple Sage, W.A.S.P., Styx and jazz guitar legend John Scofield.

That would be enough to make anyone’s week, but to top off what it is already a great week, Ashford and Simpson are making their Anthology debut on March 26 and 27.

The duo loved having their songs performed, but they also get a thrill out of performing themselves.

“Songwriting is like a birth of the baby,” she said. “We will do that anytime. Nickolas got the first few lines of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ while walking through Central Park West and looking at the buildings and deciding nothing was going to stop him.

“Performing live is like getting a shot of adrenaline.”

Of course, they still get a similar charge hearing other people doing those songs, such as Langone.

“Ray Chew, the musical director on ‘Idol,’ used to be our musical director and he called me to tell me they were having a Motown night and that one of the contestants was doing ‘You’re All I Need To Get By.’”

Chew even put Langone on the phone to talk with Simpson.

“I told him I appreciated his voice,” she said, adding as an aside, “I liked the version, but I didn’t like the mix that was coming through the TV. The voices were out there.”

Simpson met her future creative and life partner in 1964 and scored their first songwriting hit in 1966 with Ray Charles’ recording of their “Let’s Go Get Stoned.”

After a period at Scepter Records, they moved to Motown, where they wrote hits for the duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

They recorded song demos as guides for the artists and also because they wanted to be recognized as performers. But that didn’t happen at Motown.

“We were there for seven years as writers and producers and, at some point, you ask yourself, ‘Do I have something to add to the pie?’” she said. “Motown looked at us as songwriters and I knew we were capable of more.”

Their own performing career was launched in 1973 with “Keep It Comin’” on Motown and “Gimme Something Real” on Warner Bros.

Their first success came in 1977 with the gold-selling “Send It,” which contained the Top Ten R&B hit “Don’t Cost You Nothing.” Is It Still Good to Ya, a second gold album, contained the No. 2 R&B hit “It Seems to Hang On” in 1978.

Other songs they had a hand in include “I’m Every Woman,” a hit for Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston.

But their most successful pop hit as performers is their mid-80s hits, “Solid,” which hit No. 12, and is one song they have to perform or else the crowd blocks the doors.

“We always do it, but we change where we do it,” she said. “It might be the opener or the closer or in the middle depending on how we’re feeling.”

Simpson says the Anthology shows will feature them with a five-piece band and the set will include songs they’ve recorded themselves like “Solid,” and songs they’ve written for others.

“For instance, we’re in California, so we might do ‘California Soul,’ and if someone yells for one of the more obscure songs, we’ll try to at least play a few bars of them,” Simpson said. “And with the recent tragedy in Japan, we might bring in something like ‘Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.’ We keep it loose and free.

“The nice thing is, we have enough material that everybody knows at least a few of the songs.”

###

“Whatever is real in this union of much-loved pop-soul songwriters and performers, it begins with the music. When Ms. Simpson sits down at the piano and begins to sing in a bright pop-gospel voice, unchanged since the 1970s, she awakens the spirit and tosses it to Mr. Ashford, whose quirkier voice, with its airy falsetto, has gained in strength from the old days.” -New York Times

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