There is a genuine warmth that radiates from Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the husband-and-wife team of singer-songwriters behind such hits as “I’m Every Woman,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and a little chart-topper called “Solid.”
“We’ve been blessed to be working very hard,” says Ashford of the year since their last Bay Area appearance. They released “The Real Thing” as both a CD and concert DVD. The latter includes four songs from “Invisible Life,” their in-development musical based on the novel by E. Lynn Harris.
The year also saw a reworking of their biggest performing hit into the political anthem “Solid (As Barack).”
Simpson says, “People think we had a lot to do with developing that, but we really didn’t. It caught on and then ‘Saturday Night Live’ did it and we just figured we might as well go all the way with it.” Adds Ashford: “We haven’t gotten a call from Barack … or a cease-and-desist order!”
The Bronx-born Simpson and aspiring dancer Ashford first met in New York in 1964, and began putting his words to her music as staff writers, initially for Scepter Records and then Motown. As writers, producers and performers, they have rocked and rolled with the changes of over four decades in the music industry.
They have enjoyed their more recent forays into smaller performing spaces like The Rrazz Room. “It’s harder work,” says Ashford, “but it’s more thrilling to be on that intimate level with the audience. It’s another kind of love that comes at you, all together different than being in a large arena.”
Simpson feels that the close proximity inspires a different performance style. “It’s a lot looser,” she says, “and definitely not as scripted. You can gauge the audience right away and figure out how much do they know your work and how far you have to bring them along. Or can you just jam right from the top?”
The couple owns Sugar Bar, a club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, that features live performances and weekly open mic nights. “It’s a little homier than The Rrazz Room,” says Ashford, who sees it as a space to nurture new talent and host the occasional surprise guest, like Quincy Jones. “I’ll sing backup or keyboard for someone,” says Simpson, “but it’s not like we headline there.”
While here, the couple will sneak away to Chicago to serve as judges on a new karaoke talent competition program being produced by Oprah Winfrey. Then it’s off on their first-ever tour of Japan.
IF YOU GO
Ashford & Simpson
Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $47.50 to $55
Contact: (866) 468-3399, www.therrazzroom.com