Ashley first recorded for Ellis Taylor’s Forte concern in Kansas, and his initial offering All Along I’ve Loved You is a fine deep piece, simply arranged with some fine testifying from the man, accompanied by a quite upfront female trio, the Delicates. Lovely “small label” soul. Taylor was able to get Decca interested in releasing it – and like stablemates the Rayons – Ashley transferred to the major label for subsequent 45s. Again like the Rayons these tracks were cut at the Hi studios and the rise in the quality of the production values is quite obvious. “I Can’t Put You Down” is classic Memphis soul over a chugging beat and tasteful horns, and the flip We Must Have Love is even better. Teenie Hodges guitar leads the way on a wonderful ballad, with Ashley’s vocals really hitting the spot. A super double sided single. His final effort I’ll Go Crazy uses the same backing track as writer Don Bryant’s own version (Hi 2143) from the same year. But Ashley is by far the more convincing singer, with better phrasing and more supple use of melisma. And in the final verse and chorus, as the horns build to a climax, he shows what a star he could have become. At only just over 2 minutes, this is a track that’s over far too quickly.
UPDATE ~ I'm very pleased to write that members of Tony's family have been in touch with me and have provided further details of his life. His real name was Antwaine "Tony" Ashcraft and he was born on May 6th 1940. His elder brother Bernard kindly sent the following brief biography:-
taught himself how to play the piano, and write music.....attended Lincoln University, located at Jefferson City, Missouri......was a very popular singer in the Kansas City, New Mexico, and Denver, CO areas...........James Brown once approached him to work for him and turned him down because of his history of not playing or paying on time. When he was 17 he met Little Willie John, and they sat on the steps of the Pink Slipper in Booneville, Missouri and talked from about 2 AM to 6 AM and that made a big impression on Tony and his aspiration to sing and entertain. Tony started playing the piano and would listen to the music of Harry Belafonte, Sam Cook, and Little Willie John...they all influenced his style which was funk, soul, blues wrapped together.
He was always very stylish, wore only top brand clothes, and being tall, and slim, his clothes fit very well........the ladies loved him and when he would sing in Kansas City and few other locations, they would throw their underwear on the stage.....
He was always very friendly and had a somewhat passive personality.......good sense of humor. He stated when finished college he wanted his brother Bernard to be his manager because you couldn't trust most people in this type of business and that was 1969, the year he was killed."
Note: Sad people should be aware that the Decca issue of "All Along I've Loved You" is some 10secs longer than the Forte 45.
Special thanks to members of Tony's family, daughter Kim, elder brother Bernard Ashcraft and particulary his sister Carol Waits. The family provided the lovely photo. Thanks also to Dante Carfagna (see Links) for extra info.