‘I Can See Clearly Now’ singer Nash dies at 80

Rare reg­gae star

Arab Times - - NEWS/FEATURES -

LOS AN­GE­LES, Oct 7, (Agen­cies): Johnny Nash, a singer-song­writer, ac­tor and pro­ducer who rose from pop crooner to early reg­gae star to the cre­ator and per­former of the mil­lion-sell­ing an­them “I Can See Clearly Now,” died Tues­day, his son said.

Nash, who had been in de­clin­ing health, died of nat­u­ral causes at home in Hous­ton, the city of his birth, his son, Johnny Nash Jr., told The Associated Press. He was 80.

Nash was in his early 30s when “I Can See Clearly Now” topped the charts in 1972 and he had lived sev­eral show business lives. In the mid-1950s, he was a teenager cov­er­ing “Darn That Dream” and other stan­dards, his light tenor likened to the voice of Johnny Mathis. A decade later, he was co-run­ning a record com­pany, had be­come a rare Amer­i­can-born singer of reg­gae and helped launch the ca­reer of his friend Bob Mar­ley.

Nash praised “the vibes of this lit­tle is­land” when speak­ing of Ja­maica, and he was among the first artists to bring reg­gae to US au­di­ences. He peaked com­mer­cially in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he had hits with “Hold Me Tight,” “You Got Soul,” an early ver­sion of Mar­ley’s “Stir It Up” and “I Can See Clearly Now,” still his sig­na­ture song.

Re­port­edly writ­ten by Nash while re­cov­er­ing from cataract surgery, “I Can See Clearly Now” was a story of over­com­ing hard times that it­self raised the spir­its of count­less lis­ten­ers, with its swelling pop-reg­gae groove, prom­ise of a “bright, bright sun­shiny day” and Nash’s gospel-styled ex­cla­ma­tion mid­way, “Look straight ahead, noth­ing but blue skies!”, a back­ing cho­rus lift­ing the words into the heav­ens.

The rock critic Robert Christ­gau would call the song, which Nash also pro­duced, “2 minutes and 48 sec­onds of undi­luted in­spi­ra­tion.”


Nash’s 1972 reg­gae in­flu­enced sin­gle “I Can See Clearly Now” sold over one mil­lion copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in Novem­ber 1972. “I Can See Clearly Now” reached No. 1 on the Bill­board Hot 100 on Novem­ber 4, 1972, and re­mained atop the chart for four weeks, and also spent the same four weeks atop the adult con­tem­po­rary chart. The I Can See Clearly Now al­bum in­cludes four orig­i­nal Mar­ley com­po­si­tions pub­lished by JAD: “Guava Jelly”, “Comma Comma”, “You Poured Sugar On Me”, and the fol­low-up hit “Stir It Up”. “There Are More Ques­tions Than An­swers” was a third hit sin­gle taken from the al­bum.

Al­though over­looked by Gram­mys judges, “I Can See Clearly Now” was cov­ered by artists rang­ing from Ray Charles and Donny Os­mond to Soul Asy­lum and Jimmy Cliff, whose ver­sion was fea­tured in the 1993 movie “Cool Run­nings.” It also turned up ev­ery­where from “Thelma and Louise” to a Win­dex com­mer­cial, and in re­cent years was of­ten re­ferred to on web­sites about cataract pro­ce­dures.

“I feel that mu­sic is uni­ver­sal. Mu­sic is for the ears and not the age,” Nash told Cameron Crowe, then writ­ing for Zoo World Mag­a­zine, in 1973. “There are some peo­ple who say that they hate mu­sic. I’ve run into a few, but I’m not sure I be­lieve them.”

The fame of “I Can See Clearly Now” out­lasted Nash’s own. He rarely made the charts in the years fol­low­ing, even as he re­leased such al­bums as “Tears On My Pil­low” and “Cel­e­brate Life,” and by the 1990s had es­sen­tially left the business. His last al­bum, “Here Again,” came out in 1986, al­though in re­cent years he was re­port­edly dig­i­tiz­ing his old work, some of which was lost in a 2008 fire at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios in Los An­ge­les.

Nash was mar­ried three times, and had two chil­dren. He had loved rid­ing horses since child­hood and as an adult lived with his fam­ily on a ranch in Hous­ton, where for years he also man­aged rodeo shows at the Johnny Nash In­door Arena.

In ad­di­tion to his son, he is sur­vived by daughter Mon­ica and wife Carli Nash.

John Lester Nash Jr., whose father was a chauf­feur, grew up singing in church and by age 13 had his own show on Hous­ton tele­vi­sion. Within a few years, he had a na­tional fol­low­ing through his ap­pear­ances on “The Arthur God­frey Show,” his hit cover of Doris Day’s “A Very Spe­cial Love” and a col­lab­o­ra­tion with peers Paul Anka and Ge­orge Hamil­ton IV on the whole­some “The Teen Com­mand­ments (of Love).” He also had roles in the films “Take a Gi­ant Step,” in which he starred as a high school stu­dent re­belling against how the Civil War is taught, and “Key Wit­ness,” a crime drama star­ring Den­nis Hop­per and Jeffrey Hunter.


His ca­reer faded dur­ing the first half of the 1960s, but he found a new sound, and re­newed suc­cess, in the mid-60s af­ter hav­ing a rhythm and blues hit with “Let’s Move and Groove To­gether” and meet­ing Mar­ley and fel­low Wail­ers Peter Tosh and Bunny Liv­ingston dur­ing a visit to Ja­maica. Over the next few years their ca­reers would be closely aligned.

Nash con­vinced his man­ager and business part­ner Danny Sims, with whom he formed JAD Records, to sign up Mar­ley and the Wail­ers, who recorded “Reg­gae On Broad­way” and dozens of other songs for JAD. Nash brought Mar­ley to London in the early 1970s when Nash was the big­ger star in­ter­na­tion­ally and with Mar­ley gave an im­promptu con­cert at a lo­cal boys school. Nash’s cov­ers of “Stir It Up” and “Guava Jelly” helped ex­pose Mar­ley’s writ­ing to a gen­eral au­di­ence. The two also col­lab­o­rated on the bal­lad “You Poured Sugar On Me,” which ap­peared on the “I Can See Clearly Now” al­bum.

Af­ter the 1980s, Nash be­came a mys­tery to fans and for­mer col­leagues as he stopped record­ing and per­form­ing and rarely spoke to the press or any­one in the mu­sic in­dus­try. In 1973, he told Crowe that he an­tic­i­pated years of hard work: “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.”

A quar­ter cen­tury later, he ex­plained to The Gleaner dur­ing a visit to Ja­maica that it was “dif­fi­cult to de­velop ma­jor mu­sic projects” with­out tour­ing and pro­mot­ing and that he pre­ferred to be with his fam­ily.

“I think I’ve achieved grat­i­fi­ca­tion in terms of the peo­ple I’ve had the chance to meet. I never won the Grammy, but I don’t put my faith in things of that na­ture,” he added. “A life­time body of work I can be proud of is more im­por­tant to me. And the spe­cial folksy blend to the mu­sic I make, that’s what it is all about.”


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