Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

Nick Ashford died yesterday at the age of 70. I am shocked and saddened to learn of his death, both because he appeared to be much younger and because when we saw him perform with his wife and creative partner, Valerie Simpson, only a couple of years ago, he looked great. Here is what I wrote at the time:

Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are the gifted husband and wife team who wrote pop/soul classics including “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need To Get By.” He writes the words, she the music. They have a remarkable personal story that begins in a Harlem church choir and is enhanced by their longevity as a writing and performing couple. After turning out hit songs for artists at Motown and elsewhere — Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were an especially memorable vehicle for their work — they launched their own performing and recording career. They now have some 20 albums to their credit

Last night John and I convened a subcommittee of Power Line’s editorial board together with our wives and saw them perform on the second of two nights at the Dakota Restaurant and Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The Dakota is an intimate venue that combines class and warmth. Proprietor Lowell Pickett sports an easy smile at least in part because the restaurant combines his passion for music with his vocation. It’s my favorite place to hear live music. If you’re ever in the Twin Cities, check it out if you can.

Before the show Lowell stopped by our table to say that their appearance at the Dakota this weekend was even better than last year’s, which we saw and loved. He said they seemed to be be more comfortable playing the Dakota, observing that they’re out performing because they obviously love it.

We sat about six feet from the stage during the first of their two sets. Ashford and Simpson performed their hits with heart and energy, sounding great backed by a reduced version of their regular band. The two of them radiate charisma. On “I’m Every Woman” (a hit for Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston), Simpson stepped off the stage to work the room. Their show had the same perfect craft as their songs. It was a completely winning set.

For an excellent CBS Sunday Morning profile of them, click here. For a video of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” click here.

Ashford and Simpson have been working together since the mid-1960’s and have been married since 1974. They specialize in romantic anthems and declarations of loyalty that seem like a relic of a lost civilization. Their show is something of a tribute to marital passion, not exactly par for the course in show business. I think it’s fair to say the show wowed all four of us in our group and the rest of those in attendance at the Dakota.

Ashford and Simpson’s appearance in Minneapolis this weekend was in support of their new live CD and DVD documenting their inspirational show. I don’t know where they may be performing next, but catch them if you can.

RIP.

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