Was part of Ashford & Simpson songwriting team
Nickolas Ashford, the longtime Motown tunesmith and producer who attained fame as a vocalist with his wife and writing partner Valerie Simpson, died Monday, Aug. 22, in New York from complications of throat cancer. He was 70.
Born in North Carolina, Ashford met Simpson in a New York church in 1963; they married in 1974. In the mid-’60s, they wrote for such Scepter and Wand Records acts as Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown and recorded unsuccessfully as Valerie and Nick. A pair of 1966 singles they wrote for Ray Charles, “Let’s Go Get Stoned” (a No. 1 R&B hit) and “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (later covered by Humble Pie), attracted the attention of Motown chief Berry Gordy Jr.
At the Detroit label, Ashford & Simpson penned such memorable Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell hits as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” and moved on to produce the duo’s “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” They also crafted material for Diana Ross (“Reach Out and Touch [Somebody’s Hand]”), Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, the Marvelettes and the Supremes.
Ashford and Simpson exited Motown in 1973 and were signed as a recording act at Warner Bros. Their career was slow to lift off, but they finally started notching major R&B hits. These included “Don’t Cost You Nothing” (No. 10, 1978), “It Seems to Hang On” (No. 2, 1978), “Found a Cure” (No. 2, 1979) and “Love Don’t Make It Right” (No. 6, 1980).
Moving to Capitol in 1982, they scored with “Street Corner” (No. 9, 1982), “Solid” (No. 1, 1984) and “I’ll Be There for You” (No. 2, 1989). In all, the duo launched 35 chart singles through 1997.
During the ’90s, Ashford & Simpson’s biggest hit was Whitney Houston’s No. 5 smash “I’m Every Woman,” drawn from the 1992 soundtrack of “The Bodyguard.” They went on to cut an album with poet Maya Angelou and DJed on New York’s KISS-FM.
During the last decade, they scored a writing credit on Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” after the late Brit-soul singer employed a sample from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” on her “Tears Dry on Their Own.” They appeared regularly at New York cabarets like Feinstein’s and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.
Ashford is survived by Simpson and two daughters.