Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson have been strong musical examples for many songwriter/performers. Though we lost Ashford to throat cancer six years ago this August,the success of this happily married duo is important on two levels. For one,the pair were part of the transition from the age of the producer to the age of the artist in music-when they began recording albums on their own starting from the early 70’s. Additionally, they successfully beat the odds of the musician’s life as not being able to sustain married duos. Not to mention parlaying their success into other ventures.
This duo came right out of the church in more ways than one. They met at White Rock Baptist’s in Harlem. That’s when they first took a stab at recording as a duo. By 1966,they had penned a major hit for Ray Charles in “Let’s Go Get Stoned”. Later that same year,they landed at Motown records. They became the force behind the big Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell hits such as”Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need To Get By”. When Terrell became ill with a brain tumor,Simpson herself provided ghost duet vocals with Marvin for their final duet album Easy.
While the pair sang (and Ashford wrote for) the gospel quartet The Followers in the early 60’s,it wasn’t for another decade until the band signed to Warner Bros. as a duo and recorded their debut as such in 1974’s Gimme Something Real. Their fourth album came in 1977’s Send It. My first exposure to the duo and music from this album came from my father via a James Earl Jones hosted social security PSA album called Genius On The Black Side,which profiled important black musicians. And the name of the song included on that from this fourth album is called “Don’t Cost You Nothing”.
Christopher Parker’s hit hat and snare heavy drums start out the groove,with Francisco Centeno proceeding to deliver one of my personal favorite slap bass solos of the late 70’s. Eric Gale delivers some liquid rhythm guitar,along with the hand claps as the groove advances. The drum begins delivering a driving 4/4 dance beat with the liquid guitar accented by Simpson’s bluesy piano and Gale’s BB King like tone on a lower guitar line. This comes to prominent on the breakdown of the song. After a dramatic upscale,the bass and guitar allow Gale to deliver one of his bluesy lines in a solo before the song fades out.
During the time that Ashford & Simpson were about to unleash Chaka Khan’s debut solo hit in “I’m Every Woman” and Angela Bofill’s powerful album cut “Rough Times”,they were both really getting the disco era funk groove down pat with songs like “Don’t Cost You Nothing” on their own. Along with it’s strong late 70’s funky hump,especially the stomping bass,Simpson’s piano along with Gale’s bluesy guitar and Simpson’s grunting vocals really allow this song to get it’s groove on big time. And showcases how this duo,generally known for love ballads,really knew how to give up the funk.