Wither Thou, Bill Withers?
Just to clear this up right away, as far as I know soul powered singer songwriter Bill Withers, the bard of Slab Fork, West Virginia, is still very much alive. Frankly, a lot of folks have been dropping out of this plane of existence lately so I can imagine some of you were a little startled that – out of the blue – I start talking about Bill Withers, the deep voiced singer of 70’s and 80’s hits like “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971), “Grandma’s Hands” (1971), “Lean on Me” (1972), “Use Me” (1972), “Lovely Day” (1978), “Just The Two Of Us” (1981) and, as they say, many, many more!
Allow me to explain.
Last week, I was chatting with my friend Ron Sexsmith about his new album Exit Strategy Of The Soul. We were talking about how some of his own vocals were very soul oriented and he reminded me that he’d always been a big fan of Bill Withers. I told him that I was too, and that my old band The Gravelberrys used to do a cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” in the mid 90’s. Ron told me that, in 2004, when he was recording his own song “Whatever It Takes” [from Retriever], he was actually trying to write something that Bill Withers might have done. “He’s definitely one of my heroes,” Ron told me. “I keep hoping he’ll make another record some day, but that’ll probably never happen.”
Of course that got me thinking about Bill Withers. Where was he now? It also got me YouTubin’, where I came upon this clip from 1971, with Withers performing “Ain’t No Sunshine”:
Withers won the Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues song in 1971 for “Ain’t No Sunshine” and another one in the same category in 1981 for “Just The Two Of Us” both for his own recordings. Then he won another one for Club Nouveau’s recording of “Lean On Me” in 1987.
Here’s another great clip of him doing “Use Me”…
Apparently he retired years ago, and raised two kids including Kori Withers who is a songwriter too. I sure hope he’s made money from that Will Smith sample in “Just The Two of Us” and from that Gap ad that used “Lovely Day.”
For what it’s worth, and we all know Wikipedia is subject to distortion, here’s the Wikipedia entry on Bill Withers.
Anyway, just wanted, for a change, to celebrate the guy while he’s alive. So many of the greats aren’t here anymore, make a little time for Bill Withers.
I leave you now with a great clip of an interview Withers granted to West Virginia Public Television, last winter, on the occasion of his induction into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.