Johnny Nash – Zoo World Magazine

Johnny Nash

As of late, the act of visiting Jamaica to bask in the reggae-flavored environment and record tracks or albums in their musically conducive studios has become very chic within the music scene. Traffic, Free, Paul Simon, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart have all been down under the Jamaican sun slugging away at their newest projects since the beginning of this year. The next few months will include, among others, Elton John, Joe Cocker and Cat Stevens following the newest trend in rock by hopping a plane down themselves.

Meanwhile, Johnny Nash, the thirty-two-year-old owner of such masterpiece singles as “You Got Soul”, “Cupid”, “Hold Me Tight” and the recent smash “I Can See Clearly Now”, has been utilizing the Jamaican facilities for a good ten years. First visiting the country while on tour of the Caribbean, Nash met up with Bob Marley (leader of the band that’s been playing and defining reggae for a decade, The Wailers), who educated him in the values and ways of Jamaican life. Nash now owns a house there.

After a lengthy session of – to excuse the cliche – dues paying, Johnny Nash can now take pride in the fact that he stormed this country with his irresistible I Can See Clearly Now lp and single and brought a little fresh air into an otherwise stale market of familiarities.

“This is my first really major tour,” grinned Nash while squatting by the dressing room window of Los Angeles’ famed Whisky A Go Go, where he was headlining for the week, “and it’s just beautiful…I love it.” The performances at the Whiskey served as a climax of the six week tour of colleges, clubs and concerts across the country…his first American performances in seven years.

Johnny Nash was first discovered in an audition for the talent scouts from The Arthur Godfrey Show. “I auditioned for them in Houston, Texas and was accepted by winning first place,” he reminisces. “I was invited to became a regular on the show and was for about seven, seven-and-a-half years. Monday through Friday.”

His 1967 series of reggae smashes, “You Got Soul”, “Cupid” and “Hold Me Tight” arrived only after Nash, along with his partner Danny Simms, formed their own record company…JAD and JODA. The album which contained all three of the 45s, Johnny Nash, is now a collector’s item on that same label. Why, you ask, wasn’t any tour performed back in 1967?

“At the time,” sighs Johnny while staring out onto Sunset Strip from the window, “those songs were big hits, I was more involved in company affairs and promotion of other artists on the label than the artistic level of things. Most of the moves that I made during that time were only promotional things. I did a lot of local Bandstand type things, though. No concerts and very few club dates.”

Does Nash anticipate Columbia (his present label) buying up the old masters of his vintage material for re-releasing purposes? “Hopefully, hopefully”, he laughs. “Companies these days deal a lot in Golden Hits or Greatest Hits packages. They’re releasing alot of old stuff…look at Al Green. Hopefully they’ll bring my old stuff back out again. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

While most artists feel that the natural step from a successful recording career is a part or full-time movie career (Barbara Streisand, Roger McGuinn, James Taylor, Elvis Presley, etc.), Nash has always stayed ahead of the game by maintaining both roles. He kicked off his movie career with the winning of the Silver Sail Award from Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival for his role in Take A Giant Step. Following up this achievement with a part in Key Witness, filmed in the early sixties, he didn’t return to the screen career until 1970.

It was in Sweden that the setting for I Can See Clearly Now, the aforementioned return to acting for Nash, took place. It is a love story in which Nash plays the lead role opposite Christina Scholin. Scholin portrays a stewardess in the film. Nash an itinerant lover. Finished only six months ago, the movie and soundtrack, which he wrote and produced as well, are due in theatres around Easter-time.

Returning from the set in Sweden, Nash went to London where he promptly resumed his recording career, which had been in a hiatus during the filming, by signing a contract with CBS Records. In his own words, Johnny was “back in the race again, this time to stay…hopefully.”

“Stir It Up”, a tune written and produced for him by Bob Marley in Jamaica, was Johnny’s first single release. Available only in Europe, it revealed a simple, shuffling beat and melody trademarked by Nash’s distinctive high pitched vocals. It was pure reggae…and Europe ate it up.

Realizing that the time had come to start a full-fledged campaign to put himself across right this time, Nash formed a back-up band and took it out on the road with him on a tour of England.

“I never had an entourage before”, he remarked while scanning the dressing room filled with assorted band members, hangers-on, press people and such. “It’s nice. There’s a lot of people that travel with us. In total, about sixteen or seventeen people. There’s nine in the band, then comes our sound engineers, secretaries, travelers…it’s really small in terms of the productivity of it…our gang, that is.”

Nash wanted some time in developing a solid following who wildly embraced the follow-up single, “I Can See Clearly Now”…also made available initially in Europe only. The rapidly gaining momentum of Nash’s popularity led Columbia to release an I Can See Clearly Now album and single to America also, which went on to assume the position of number one single across the country in both easy listening and pop markets.

Now that Nash owns a large audience, it is conceivable that he no longer has to worry about catering to an audience…but instead he can do what he likes musically. Nash doesn’t look at it that way, however.

“Well,” he smiled. “i never really get that egotistical about it…in terms of doing what I want to do. Because what I want to do is be a part of this business and to express myself and get some kind of acceptance by making people happy. I’ve had a kind of freedom most of my career to record and do what I like to do. Now it’s being accepted…the ultimate form of acceptance being the number one record and all. That feels great…but it doesn’t mean that I’m gonna go off on a big ego musical trip.”

Nash’s next album, Merry Go Round, which should be out by the time you hold this article in your hands, was recorded all around the world. Nash loves to record, and he finds a studio and cuts tracks wherever and whenever he feels like recording.

“Yeah, that’s true”, he confirmed. “That’s been going on a lot of years now. I write and record all the time. The band writes…so as songs come up we get them down on tape. We rehearse almost every day…and as new songs come up, we rehearse the tunes and as soon as they’re tight, we go in and record. Wherever we happen to be. That way we try and stay ahead of ourselves all the time.”

But, you may ask yourself, doesn’t that run into a feeling of over-familiarity and perhaps evolvement past the material by the time it’s release?

“No sir. I don’t believe in that. If you’re out on the road…what happens is that most groups have to stop their appearances, come back to the studio and try to hustle and get an album out right quick…so that they can get back out on the road. I guess that works for a lot of performers. It doesn’t work for me. I’ve found that out through experience. I like to stay ahead. A good song is a good song or a good idea is a good idea, at least for a few months…or else how good could it be?”

What does Nash see in the future? “A lot of hard work. There’s a lot of hard work that has to be done. As I said before, this is my first band, my first tour…and although I’ve been working a long time and I’ve done a lot of things, this is new for me and new to the public, so there’s a lot of hard work…a lot of promoting that needs to be done. So I see that ahead of me.”

Besides the imminent hard-work syndrome which encases Johnny Nash’s future years, he also hopes to maintain his appeal to all age groups. “It’s something that we’ve set out to do, based on my feelings about music. I feel that music is universal. Music is for the ears and not the age. Everybody likes music…from eight to eighty.

“There are some people who say that they hate music. I’ve run into a few, but I’m not sure I believe them. Maybe they have never been without music. Know what I mean?”

Courtesy of Zoo World – Cameron Crowe – April 26, 1973