Houston’s Johnny Nash, who recorded ‘I Can See Obviously Now,’ dies

Photo of Johnny Nash Picture by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives

Johnny Nash possessed a honeyed voice that was swoon-inducing in its reduced sign-up and he could eke from it a crystallized aching when he necessary a contact of melancholy. He had a pop idol’s appears to be like and an ear for good worldwide audio that proposed areas near and considerably.

Nash received his get started as a teen idol in Houston and grew to become an international celebrity who played a formidable section in introducing the most significant reggae performer to the planet outdoors of Jamaica. His profession was a peculiar just one with excellent worldwide results and also a retreat into a quiet existence back again in his hometown.

Johnny Nash – the private male and the general public star – died Tuesday at residence in Houston, according to his son, John he was 80.

A little one of Third Ward, a graduate of Yates Large College, a gentleman who considered in his metropolis and his state so considerably that he developed a rodeo for Black cowboys in Houston, Nash screamed an affinity for his hometown even while he did so in whispered tones. After making the most of pop stardom, he expended many years reflecting good factors on to his town when deflecting focus from himself.

Legacy is a tricky factor since our culture’s filing mechanisms are flawed. When yesterday’s strike makers disappear, they are frequently neglected or relegated to a “Where are they now?” standing. Nash was, strictly by the numbers, a guy with six Leading 40 hits to his name, so not a a single-hit-speculate by any evaluate.

But he was also an artist with a person song that proved common to the position of deep cultural renown. “I Can See Evidently Now” is the form of music artists a lot more famed and much more lauded would like they could have penned and recorded. It is the form of tune exactly where even the artist disappears into its ubiquity, leaving the music as a pure artifact. It is a tune individuals know, even when they really don’t know the singer or the tale powering it.

Nash left powering albums of great audio and a formidable legacy. But even to people who never know his name, he remaining guiding one music that transcends time and position. The legendary rock critic Robert Christgau named it “the sort of tune that can get you by a traffic jam.”

“I Can See Obviously Now” is an anthem for troubled instances, irrespective of whether individuals periods are 1972, when the music was launched, or 2020, when it feels agelessly urgent.

The hit

Ideal to get to the music 1st, simply because it looms so substantial. Liam Omaonlai, singer in the Irish band Hothouse Bouquets, claimed the song’s tone “has the blues of generations of resistance and survival in it.”

He’s not completely wrong: For all the positivity that classes by “I Can See Evidently Now,” it isn’t a silly attempt to squinch shut one’s eyes and would like away the poor. Fairly Nash’s eyes have been distinct and open when he wrote a track of stamina that noted “all road blocks in my way.” It’s a track about clarity when instances are foggy.

In 1956: Chronicle profiles Johnny Nash on the cusp of stardom

Ray Charles and Willie Nelson lined it. Admittedly, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson included a lot of tunes in their distinguished professions, songs viewed as portion of the Good American Songbook, classics from the very first 50 a long time of American vocal music. Reggae stars like Jimmy Cliff and Toots Hibbert sang it. So did extra pop-minded functions like Donnie Osmond and Sonny & Cher. It has appeared in films and Tv displays and commercials so numerous situations that it is branded in the much larger cultural consciousness.

“I Can See Obviously Now” is a song of ideal development, its tiny components all setting a tone that pushes the positivity and underscores the worries threaded through it. It reached No. 1 in 1972 but it took a gradual path to the prime of the charts that mirrored Nash’s slow route to stardom.

The commencing

We’ll get to Bob Marley in a moment.

John Lester Nash Jr. was born in Houston Aug. 19, 1940. He sang at the Progressive New Hope Baptist Church on Elgin as a child, and was just 13 when he 1st appeared as a singer on KPRC’s “Matinee.” By age 17, he had a Major 40 hit with “A Incredibly Specific Enjoy,” which arrived at No. 23 in 1958. 
Nash had a confront for movie, and appeared in a 1959 attribute, “Take a Large Stage.” But flicks didn’t make enough use of his voice. He struck up a friendship with an entertainment field form named Danny Sims in the early ’60s, who co-started a record label known as JAD Data.

Sims was intrigued, nevertheless, by the songs emanating from Jamaica, where American soul and R&B and doo wop melded with Caribbean types into rocksteady and afterwards reggae. Nash said he initially read Bob Marley sing in 1966. His vocation path would alter practically instantly.

Nash and Sims signed Marley – but as a songwriter, not a singer. Sims in 2012 informed me that Nash “taught Bob how to sing on the mic, and they taught Johnny how to participate in the reggae rhythm.”

Marley’s influence can be felt on “Hold Me Tight,” which Nash recorded in Jamaica in 1968. Marley associate and potential reggae star Peter Tosh wrote two tunes for Nash, and in 1968, a ten years just after his teen idol achievement, Nash strike the charts once more with the music “Hold Me Limited.”

Nash and Marley ongoing functioning collectively into the early 1970s. Quite a few music on Nash’s “I Can See Clearly” album were published or co-penned by Marley which include “Stir It Up,” a No. 12 strike for Nash in 1973 in advance of Marley turned a residence identify in the States.

Prior to serving to Marley crack in the States, Nash took “I Can See Obviously Now” to No. 1. The tune demonstrates the tumult of its period correctly, a weary post-storm vibe that however feels hopeful. The song found Nash backed by the Typical White Band, a Scotland-based soul—pop team that included keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, yet another Houston native.

Alan Gorrie, the Common White Band bassist, identified as it “a standout piece” when he talked to the Chronicle in 2012. “He’s stating if you can discover your hurdles you can surmount them. It is a good juxtaposed unit to fortify the information of positivity.”

“You could notify instantly it was a strike,” Sims stated in 2012. “Everybody who listened to it went absent conversing about it and Johnny’s vocal efficiency.”
Sims was on point: Nash’s vocal is so achingly pliant. It’s soulful and sweet, wounded and resilient. The arrangement is international but also universally pop-minded.

The music was a hit in the U.K. before it discovered traction in the U.S.


Nash produced one more album soon after “I Can See Obviously Now,” “My Merry-Go Round” which had a strike and more Caribbean crossover in its seem. But the flow of songs slowed, and he only unveiled one album in the ’80s.

“Maybe he walked away at a poor time, but there was a purpose for it,” Sims said.

An understated star, Nash settled back again in Houston. For more than 15 many years, I attained out inquiring for him to explain to the story of his early good results, his whiplash-inducing ‘70s accomplishment and his retreat from accomplishing. He politely declined. After I wrote about “I Can See Obviously Now” in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey three many years in the past, I obtained a voicemail from Nash, just thanking me for thinking of him. His was a shorter, honest transmission.

He opened the Johnny Nash Indoor Arena in 1993, exactly where he’d hold rodeos for the Black community in Houston. A long time in the past, I spoke to singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham, who applied to rodeo. Bingham described checking out Nash’s arena as “walking into a globe that was various and also familiar. I usually had a wonderful time there.”

But the arena inevitably closed. And Nash, the musician, continued to continue being quiet.

People inclined to dig for his ’50s recordings will uncover well mannered tunes sung wonderfully. Monitor down his operate from 1968 by means of the ’70s, and you obtain an artist who did not see boundaries in songs – who favored what he favored and advocated for songs from other international locations.

And there’s often that strike, which Jimmy Cliff recorded in 1993 and once more turned into a pop hit in the U.S. — two a long time just after it was initial recorded.

But we’re a lot more than a quarter century earlier that. Music traits appear and go. Some tunes float earlier mentioned traits.

“Johnny Nash was a trailblazer,” explained Kam Franklin, frontwoman for the Suffers, a Gulf Value soul band from Houston. “And I truly feel as though he had this impact that was felt by many who do not even recognize he had that impact. Which is a quite crucial matter to have performed.”

  • Andrew Dansby

    Andrew Dansby covers society and entertainment, both neighborhood and national, for the Houston Chronicle, and Chron.com. He came to the Chronicle in 2004 from Rolling Stone, the place he put in 5 many years writing about songs. He’d previously invested five years in ebook publishing, functioning with George R.R. Martin’s editor on the initially two guides in the series that would grow to be TV’s “Match of Thrones. He misspent a yr in the movie sector, concerned in a few “big” motion photos you have by no means witnessed. He’s prepared for Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, Texas New music, Playboy and other publications.

    Andrew dislikes monkeys, dolphins and the outside.