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.

8 Responses to “Wither Thou, Bill Withers?”

  1. withers really is one of the coolest, but is yet another example of the industry just not working quite the way it should… or maybe he’s less forgotten about than i think? his songs aren’t necessarily forgotten of course, and he must be getting a fair chunk of royalty money, but do average music fans really know or care who wrote lean on me or just the two of us? anyway, well done in bringing him up!

  2. Great Artist and a Beautiful Man…Thank You Paul.

  3. Deena Rose Says:

    I so deeply appreciate the interview with Bill Withers at age 69. Praise God for His Goodness and His wonderful works to the children of men.

  4. So inspiring. It’s always great to hear how artists (whether in the art or music industry) made it into the big world..

  5. Thanks, Paul. This just reminded me of the gripe that Bill is segregated into the R&B Singer category when he should be out there with Carole King and James Taylor as hitmaking singer-songwriters.

    And did you see the Ron Sexsmith movie yet?

    • Wow,
      This will be tuff for me to put into words of what Bill Withers means to be,
      Bill touched on many colors of the color wheel, just how many shades of Blue & Green are there? The Genius of Bill has showed us colors that are not on the chart. He is a friend of mine although we have never met.
      I Build Custom Automobiles, in 2009 one of my hand made Stainless Steel Cars crossed over from the Automotive Field to (The Art World) a Worlds 1st,….I get very creative listening to Mr. Withers Music.
      http://www.ISSFworldstainless.org (what stainless can do for you). ( street Art)
      And Thank You so much for all of your efforts putting Mr. Withers in reach, I feel I at least got to sit with him,
      Dennis O’Keefe
      916 992 8585

    • pulmyears Says:

      Ken, missed this comment, no I have not seen the Ron Sexsmith movie yet. And this is March 2011. I guess there’s no excuse other than it’s not around down here.

  6. Jonah Ward Says:

    I have a faded Bloor Cinema ticket that I keep in my wallet, my proof of paid admission for the 2009 Canadian premiere of the documentary, Still Bill.

    The film was a revelation, and nearly as soulful as its subject.

    Mr. Withers seemed to invited the cameras into his life, allowing them considerable access to shadow him while he moved through his day to day: conjuring laughter with family and old friends; dropping soul wisdom on school children; and laying down an original composition in the studio.

    Interestingly, in 2004, Withers was briefly back on top of the charts, singing his compositon, “Playin’ The Loser Again” alongside with Jimmy Buffett’s, on the License To Chill album.

    One of my favourite singers: his live rendition of “Hope She’ll Be Happier” always floors me.

    Thank you for invoking his spirit.

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