JOHNNY NASH: Classic Soul 1973 Interview

Johnny Nash helped popularize reggae in the United States in the '70s.
Photo Credit
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

"Really weird" is how Johnny Nash describes the acceptance and success he's recently received in the States via his major CBS hit. "I Can See Clearly Now" — success which is obviously not restricted to one hit either, judging from the reaction to "Stir It Up", which has been shooting up the pop charts there.

Success for the man at home is nothing new but he's never had as wide an impact as he's having right now with his reggae-based hits. To reinforce his popularity, Johnny went over there recently for a tour which started out as a promotional jaunt meant to last but a few weeks and ended up as a five month stay!

That is some measure of the man's current popularity there and Johnny explains: "Reggae is something entirely new to the States and without taking the credit, we have done quite a bit towards bringing the music to people over there. It was really funny for people who'd known me from before seeing me do things like "I Can See Clearly" and of course there were a whole lot of people who hadn't seen me before! It was really nice, the reaction we got — we were on tour with Sly & The Family Stone and everywhere we went, people dug what we were doing. The group with me, The Sons Of The Jungle, went down very well and even got better reviews than I did, in some places!!"

With the highly unpredictable reputation that Sly has gotten himself, touring with him would be quite an experience for anyone! Johnny says that, in fact, he only actually saw Sly once during the whole tour. It was his job to open the show and regardless of Sly's very weird ideas on time keeping (he has been known to just sit backstage for two hours or more after he was supposed to go on!). Johnny made sure that he started on time. Whatever happened afterwards, when he'd left, wasn't his concern.

Whereas America may only just be discovering the hit potential of Mr Nash, with his current spate of hits, he is by no means a stranger to the British charts. He enjoyed a run of hits up until his recent "There Are More Questions Than Answers" but the decision of C.B.S. to flip this to "Guava Jelly" for his latest release, deprived him of his fourth consecutive hit and as well as surprising many of his fans. How does he feel about the decision to work on "Guava Jelly" after "More Questions" had enjoyed a chart run and how did it come about?

"Well, to kick off with, let me make it clear that I've got no argument with C.B.S [Records]. The problem was simple: the company badly needed a single from me when "Questions" went off the chart. I was over in the States and they asked me if they could take something from the next album, which hadn't been completed. Naturally, we weren't too happy about that idea and as I couldn't get over here to cut anything else judging on reaction from the album, they decided the best bet was "Guava Jelly" and it would have been silly not to have moved the remaining stock on "Questions".

"Personally, I feel they should have put a different title on the flip — something that hadn't been out as a single before, for the fans who'd bought "Questions". In the circumstances, I guess the company did the right thing going with "Guava Jelly" even though it hasn't been as successful as they'd hoped."

So that this kind of situation doesn't arise again, Johnny's been busy putting the finishing touches to his next album tentatively entitled "Merry-Go-Round". It's not, he says, in quite the same vein as his last and it includes "all kinds of things, although there are two songs with a very definite reggae flavour". The rest is a mixture — Johnny says that he isn't affected by the restriction other people feel by associating him exclusively with reggae. "After all." he smiles. "I've been doing all kinds of music over the years and reggae is just another chapter in the story".

The increasing involvement of black performers in movies is a subject which has become an unavoidably predictable part of any interview these days but wheras most black artists are only just becoming aware of the importance of the movie as a vehicle for their talent and an extension of what they're doing, Johnny Nash's interest goes back several years to such films as "Take A Giant Step" in which he had a major role. [Editorial note: a YouTube clip is included in this revisit to the interview]

Some two years ago, he completed a film in Sweden (not a 'blue' one, either!) entitled "Love Is Not A Game" and the current interest in him in the States paved the way for Warner Brothers to buy it recently. He says that given the right exposure, the film could be as potentially big as "Love Story" and he's quick to stress that unlike a host of others out right now, it does not deal with drugs or violence!

Johnny's recorded the soundtrack for the movie and right now, he's back in the States putting the final touches to it. The album from the soundtrack will be released to tie in with the film's showing both in the States and over here — and British screening is planned for late Spring or early Summer.

The future augers well for Johnny: on his return from the States, he'll be doing a promotional tour of Germany before returning to the States again for a television special. He'll then return here but has no immediate plans for touring the country however — after all, he's played quite a good proportion of the clubs here since he made Britain his semi-permanent base. All of this activity means a lot of hard work and travel for the young man but no doubt, it will mean a lot of success too!

Clip of JOHNNY NASH in the 1959 film "Take A Giant Step".... 

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