Interview Transcription

Sylvia Nathan
Blues & Soul, February 1984

After a year of extensive and exhaustive tour chores which covered territories as diverse as France, Canada, Africa and Germany, that most brilliant and innovative but semi-tragic figure, Nina Simone, agreed to talk with B&S during her recent sell-out session at Ronnie Scotts club in London.

Nina’s career, and indeed life, has very definitely not been of the mundane and uneventful variety. She has enjoyed (endured might be a more realistic and accurate word) a seemingly endless series of high and lows both in her personal and professional life, the net result of which has been an “awkward and uncooperative” reputation which, in part, is quite deserved but, and perhaps far more pertinent, an artist and a woman who is greatly misunderstood and often misinterpreted.

Sylvia Nathan put the following questions to Ms. Simone:

B&S: There have been many rumours, essentially because of your long absence, that you had entered a period of self-exile in Africa. Was there any truth in these rumours?

NS: “Well, I certainly went to Africa…in fact I was invited by President Sekouture, but I was there simply to rest up. I also spent time with Miriam Makeba – a friend of long standing – but I was resting, not hiding.”

B&S: Did the strain and pressure result in any way from your life in America…in New York?

NS: “I can’t stand New York. I can only stay there now for twenty four hours before I have to get out. I hate the place – it takes too much out of me. Everybody is rushing…hustling, they never stop. It’s too high pressured!

B&S: There have been a number of reports lately, and in fact for some time now, concerning your distaste of the recording industry. Is there one root cause for your disregard and dissatisfaction with the music business?

NS: “Let me tell you this, during the past twenty years I have recorded nearly eighty albums but even to this very day I have only been paid royalties for some thirty five! The rest were either pirated or I simply didn’t receive royalties for them. So, yes I am angry and bitter. I’ve spent my life working, writing, recording and the only people who got rich out my sweat were the fat cats in the record companies. They got rich while I continue to work myself into the ground to survive. I should be able to relax a little now and take things easy, but I still have to fight and argue for what’s mine.”

B&S: Are you saying that the companies deliberately screwed you?

NS: “No! My ex-husband, Andrew Stroud is the one who is really responsible. He was my manager and I trusted him totally but he sold me out all the way down the line. He made deals I never knew about and it is only now that the complete truth is emerging. I’ve had records out on labels I’ve never heard of!”

B&S: And you continue to feel bitter about the way he treated you – for abusing your trust?

NS: “Hell yes. I put my complete trust in him and he used me…everyone tries to use me – but he was my husband and I believed he really cared but in the end he turned out like all the others, so I continue to pay…I always pay in the end, either with my voice or with my soul – sometimes both!”

B&S: A number of critics both past and present have described you as a “crazy genius.” How do you feel these sorts of comments affect you and do you consider them to be justified in any way?

NS: “They say I’m crazy but they just don’t know the real me. They see me perform and if I’m tired or feeling low they say I don’t care…I’m mad. No one really bothers to look behind the mask. I am a human being too. I hurt and feel as you but the public see me as a “performer” and not as a person. I have to pretend…to smile and pretend. What they fail to realize is that I’
m lonely but I have no one to care…except my brother Sam…so I cannot go on stage and sing of love. I would just be acting. I have no one to love and no one to love me. I am alone. When and if I have someone to love then maybe I’ll sing of love…who knows?”

B&S: Let’s talk a little about your music. One of your more recent songs is “Fodder On My Wings” which seems to me, at least, to be something of a personal statement of how you feel about life and people. Is it?

NS: “The song is about a bird who cannot fly anymore and nobody wants to help. They just stand around and watch; they don’t want to give, they only take from life. Yes, it is a personal statement. No one seems to give, they just take. So, when I perform this song I feel very deeply about the lyrics and want the audience to feel deeply too.”

B&S: Do you ever feel like throwing it all up? Does it get just too much at times?

NS: “There are times when I feel the strain is getting too much and consider taking the easy way and getting out. But God gave me a gift and I try my best to share it, although at times I wonder just how much longer I can go on. Show business is not all good times and glamour. There are hard times…lots of them, and it’s a touch fight…but I do what I can, the best I can.”

B&S: You mentioned your brother, Sam Waymon, who is also your manager and musical and vocal accompanist. How much of an influence and support is he?

NS: “Sam and I can relate to each other; we are family. He knows and understands my moods and recognizes when I need a lift, a boost to achieve the things I do. Sam helps both spiritually and musically…he’s a great stabilizing influence in my life. He’s totally in tune with me.”

B&S: Can you tell me exactly how your recording situation stands at this time and when may we see you back in this country?

NS: “As far as the recording situation is concerned, I can tell you that I’m in the process of setting up my own label. I’ve had enough of being ripped off. I’ve recently completed recording a new album which I’ve titled “Fodder On The Wing” which may or may not be the first release on my label. The album itself is a mixture of old and new material and is, in my opinion, pretty good. I’ve also done a TV Special for Brazilian television and may be touring the South American continent to tine in with the transmission. So you can see I’m far from being an exile! As to further British dates, the Ronnie Scotts people have asked me to return for another short season in February after which I’m due in Copenhagen and Spain, and there are other visits being lined up in other countries.”

B&S: Thank you Nina and good luck with the concerts and the record label.

The encouraging thing about Nina Simone is the fact that despite her trials and tribulations, she’s determined to maintain her title of High Priestess of Soul, a title which the lady, despite an obviously troubled path, is extremely reluctant to hand over.