SoulMusic.com founder David Nathan conducted his first-ever in person interview in the US in October 1974 while on holiday in New York with Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, then newly-signed as a duo with Warner Brothers Records after years of producing and writing hits for others at Motown. David’s choice to speak with the personable pair reflected his personal love for their first Warners album, “Gimme Something Real”…
Ashford & Simpson: At Home With The Hits…
By David Nathan
In person interview at Nick & Val’s home in Manhattan, October 1974
It’s pretty hard to believe that the young, unassuming couple seated comfortably in their smart New York apartment-and-office are the masterminds behind a whole string of hits which have established them as a formidable team in the music world — as writers, producers and most recently, performers in their own right. Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are the team responsible for a number of songs which have become virtually classics in the soul & pop fields: “Reach Out And Touch”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need To Get By ” are but four compostions which have placed the duo’s name firmly on the map. And it is to this aspect of their musical development — songwriting — that the team intends to devote time right now.
“I guess with being out on the road and trying to establish ourselves as performers we haven’t really had the chance to spend too much time in developing our own publishing company (Nick-O-Val Music). After all, there is only so much you can do and we have kinda neglected that aspect of our work since we set out to establish ourselves. But we’re about to remedy that situation now,” the team revealed.
In fact, since joining Warner Brothers after several years as writers and producers with Motown, Nick & Val have been kept busy working on material for their own product as well as performing live. “We’re not out on the road too much — mostly weekends and so on but we have done some touring in major cities. But, you know, we’re still growing and it is basically a new experience for us still.” Valerie explained that for some time prior to their initial stint of live dates, she had resisted the whole idea of performing. “I guess I had a number of reasons for that — maybe I was just being selfish or I was nervous about the whole thing. But when we had our first product ready for Warners — the album “Gimme Something Real” — I realized that we’d have to do our own bit to help alongside everyone else’s efforts and that meant going out there. I must say that I’ve found the experience interesting, too.”
Although the team have managed to build a name for themselves in a short space of time via their two Warner albums (the second, “I Wanna Be Selfish” was issued midway through last year), they still feel they haven’t made it as yet. “It’s like we’re on the verge of breaking through but we still need that extra something to help it all along,” explained Nick. “It could be that a hit record would do it — it certainly opens up a whole new area for you.”
The question of whether the two sit down to write hits brought forth a great deal of mirth. “Yeah, we want everyone to be a hit! But seriously, we don’t consider everything to be hit potential — some songs just come out better than others and have more chance of making it.” Valerie explained that having worked together for so long, the couple know almost what each is thinking when it comes down to getting a song together. Says Nick, “Sometimes, you know, I’ve had an idea for a song and I’ve started working on it and Val has said that she doesn’t dig it — but rather than forget it, we may shelve it and go right on back to it. Sometimes you just have to be patient and go back to things.”
The duo’s second album didn’t seem, somehow, to possess the magic quality of their first set and both agreed that a definite overall concept was missing. “Whereas the first album seemed to flow, the second one wasn’t quite so well put together. We should have sifted through the songs a little more — they’re all O.K. but they seem to lack the same togetherness that ‘Gimme Something Real’ put across. We did prepare the album in something of a hurry but it was mostly because the company saw the reaction to the first set and we all reckoned that the second one would be the one to really get us across. But for the third one, which we’ll be starting work on very soon, we’re gonna be spending far more time in getting some kind of concept — we’ve already got some ideas and just a few tunes ready”.
With the emphasis on their own career, Nick & Val haven’t had too much time to produce other artists but their most recent chore involved a Motown group, The Dynamic Superiors, featured on both pop and soul charts in the States with one of the team’s songs, “Shoes Shoe Shine”. Says Nick,”Yes, we just finished an album on the group. It should be on release now — the company seemed to want it in a hurry anyway!” In addition, the couple completed some new material for Bette Midler but Valerie explained that it didn’t pose any particular problem. “Well, she’s not exactly a straight man, if you know what I mean — but we studied what she was all about and wrote the songs accordingly.”
Shortly after joining Warners, the team had recorded some songs with Dionne Warwick but they remain unissued and Nick explained: “The company didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to try the things we did with Dionne but then, they called us in last September and asked us to re-mix the tracks because Dionne wanted to re-dub the vocals. So we did that expecting that the things would be issued but we found that we were competing with another producer who’d been working with Dionne — Jerry Ragavoy. Well, when the day came for them to decide which material to release, they plumped for his. Were we upset? Well, that day a few plates got smashed about and it wasn’t exactly one of our better days, you could say!”
In their act, which has brought forth nothing but praise from musical critics wherever they’ve appeared, Nick & Val feature a medley of their Motown compositions. “They have a whole album of us singing those songs together at Motown but so far they haven’t issued it. If after the time elapses during which they can, they still don’t, we may record them again — you never know.” How do the team feel whey they hear other people doing their songs? “We’re pleased naturally that anyone should use any of our material but there have been times when we’ve heard people do some really bad versions — but no names,” Nick laughed.
So to the future. The couple recently installed themselves in a new apartment in Connecticut which allows them to get away from New York “so we’ve got the best of both worlds”. After their current resting up period, they’ll be spending time getting new material together. And Europe? “Well, we feel we’ve got a lot of things to do here first. Once we’ve gotten it all together here, we’d love to come on over.” And when that day dawns, Europe can look forward to greeting a refreshing and charming couple whose creativity and talent are only just being recognized to the full.
(The video selection is a full hour performance from 1972 for the television show, “SOUL!”