There’s a piece on the Guardian’s front page today by a guy who joined Nina in a hot tub, my experience with her was not so exotic but here’s how it happened. I posted this some years ago on the Spill but there’s enough new faces here to warrant a repeat.
One day back in the ’80’s Bob Andy, pioneer Jamaican musician, was staying with us in Long Beach California. On the Saturday I noticed that there was a free reggae festival in a park in south central LA. We decided to go. We were standing around between sets, sort of backstage, though there wasn’t any real backstage when I saw Nina Simone standing alone about 40ft away. I couldn’t believe it, I’d been a huge fan for all of my adult life, I’d never seen her perform, but there she was. I knew that she had a gig at the Wiltern theater in LA the following Tuesday so I excused myself from my wife and Bob and walked over to her, I introduced myself and told her how much I’d appreciated her music over the years and how much she’d meant to me. She was very cordial and we chatted, then I said “Nina, I’d like you to meet my friend Bob and my wife”; we walked back to where they were and I said ‘Nina, this is my friend Bob Andy’.
Everything changed at that moment, I’d not even remembered that Bob Andy and Marcia Griffith had had an English hit single back in the 70’s of Nina’s song “To be Young, Gifted and Black”. ‘Bob Andy’ she screamed ‘you’re that Bob Andy?’ ‘You god damn motherfucker, you ripped me off, I never got a penny for that song and you made millions!’ Bob and Marcia were a young Jamaican vocal duo back then, they recorded the song for Harry J’s studio in Kingston. Very doubtful that they made millions! Marcia went on to join the Wailers as one of Bob’s backing trio, the I 3’s.
What had been a pleasant surprise encounter had suddenly taken a nose dive, all there was now was anger and embarrassment. I tried to smooth things over but she obviously wasn’t having any so we gingerly backed off and I said something to the effect that I looked forward to her concert. ‘You show your face at my fucking concert you bastard, and I’ll have security throw you out!’ Oops, nothing I could say was going to work so we beat an ignominious retreat, but as we left I was approached by a guy who said that he was managing Nina and did I have any influence with the mayors office, I told absolutely none, I wasn’t at all involved with any of that.
On the way home I had a thought. Whenever there were high end celebrity visitors to LA I noticed that there were day’s proclaimed in their honour and the mayors office would issue proclamations, in the form of very ornate heraldic hand lettered documents listing that person’s contributions to society etc. The guys question made me think it might be appropriate to send a note to the mayors office and suggest this. I had an image of some flunky coming onstage before the show and making a bit of a fuss and then giving it to her so I sent a note and promptly forgot about it.
Regardless of Nina’s threats we went to both shows, the 7 pm and the 9 pm, I had a press pass that got us into the Wiltern and we could always grab any empty seats; we had two right in the front row and I had all my camera gear with me. I shot her discretely throughout the first show and then sat back and enjoyed the second. I didn’t even notice that there was no representative from the Mayors office.
The next day I went to work and when I came home at around 5pm I checked the mailbox as usual and there was a large 16″ by 20″ envelope screwed up and stuffed into it, I opened it and it was the proclamation for Nina! And there was a nasty note attached to the effect that if I requested a proclamation, then it was my responsibility to come and get it! Oh dear! Little did I understand the inner workings of LA politics. So what to do with it? The guy, who I later realised was the Ethiopian Orthodox minister who had conducted the ceremony for Bob Marley’s funeral at the National Stadium, had given me his card, so we called him and explained the screw up. He asked if we would bring it to her since she was leaving for Paris early the next day; she was staying at a place in the San Fernando valley which was about 75 miles from us and given her reaction on the weekend I didn’t really feel like 150 miles of LA rush hour traffic just to be Mr Niceguy. But we weakened, we found the address, her apartment door opened, the ‘manager’ stood there, we handed him the envelope with the wrinkled, creased proclamation, he thanked us and closed the door. It’s probably in her archive now.
And that was how we met Nina Simone!