Johnny Nash Dead At 80
Johnny Nash, the singer most famous for the ebullient 1972 #1 hit “I Can See Clearly Now,” has died. The Guardian reports that Nash died yesterday at home in Houston. According to his son, Nash died of natural causes; no further cause of death has been reported. Nash was 80.
Johnny Nash had a decades-long career that didn’t start or end with “I Can See Clearly Now,” and it includes an important place within the history of reggae. Nash was born in Houston, and he started singing early, performing on the local music-themed TV show Matinee at 13. When Nash was 17, he released his first national hit, an orchestral ballad called “A Very Special Love.” At first, Nash was marketed as a friendly and approachable teenage crooner. (You can hear that on “The Teen Commandments,” the 1958 public-service-announcement single that he released with Paul Anka and George Hamilton.) Nash also acted, starring in the racism-themed 1959 drama Take A Giant Step.
As his teen-idol star dimmed, Nash went behind the scenes, starting the short-lived label JoDo with his manager Danny Sims and signing the Cowsills, a Rhode Island folk-pop family band who’d later have huge success on other labels. In 1965, Nash and Sims moved to Jamaica, where Nash heard Bob Marley And The Wailers singing at a Rastafarian celebration. Nash promptly signed all of the Wailers — Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Marley’s wife Rita — to a publishing deal.
Nash found great success with reggae, landing a top-5 hit with the breezy 1958 rocksteady song “Hold Me Tight” and then scoring again with a 1973 cover of Marley’s “Stir It Up.” Marley wrote a number of songs for Nash, and Nash’s success helped introduce Marley, and reggae music in general, to a global audience.
There’s a hint of reggae in “I Can See Clearly Now,” the song that Nash wrote and produced in 1972. But the song mostly works as its own genre — a gloriously optimistic piece of psychedelic soul-pop. It sounds like the kind of music that Sam Cooke might’ve made if he’d lived to see the early ’70s.
None of Nash’s singles after “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Stir It Up” has much chart success, though Nash kept recording into the ’80s. In recent years, Nash has lived on a Houston ranch, and he’s presented rodeo shows at his Johnny Nash Indoor Arena.
Below, check out some examples of Nash’s work.