Backstage with Bill Withers RIP

No Lies Radio Music – By Teri Perticone – Saturday April 04, 2020

William Harrison Withers Jr. (July 4, 1938 – March 30, 2020) was an American singer-songwriter and musician who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985.[1] He recorded several major hits, including “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971), “Grandma’s Hands” (1971), “Use Me” (1972), “Lean on Me” (1972), “Lovely Day” (1977), and “Just the Two of Us” (1980). Withers won three Grammy Awards and was nominated for six more. His life was the subject of the 2009 documentary film Still Bill.[1] He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.[2][3] Withers worked as a professional musician for just 15 years, from 1970 to 1985, after which he moved on to other occupations.

Withers, the youngest of six children, was born in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia on July 4, 1938.[4][5] He was born with a stutter and later said he had a hard time fitting in.[6] Raised in nearby Beckley, he was 13 years old when his father died.[6] Withers enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 17,[7] and served for nine years, during which time he became interested in singing and writing songs.[8]

He left the Navy in 1965, and relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 to start a music career.[6][7] Withers worked as an assembler for several different companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation, while recording demo tapes with his own money, shopping them around and performing in clubs at night. When he debuted with the song “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971, he refused to resign from his job because he believed the music business was a fickle industry.[6]

Music career

During early 1970, Withers’s demonstration tape was auditioned favorably by Clarence Avant, owner of Sussex Records. Avant signed Withers to a record deal and assigned former Stax Records stalwart Booker T. Jones to produce Withers’ first album.[6] Four three-hour recording sessions were planned for the album, but funding caused the album to be recorded in three sessions with a six-month break between the second and final sessions. Just as I Am was released in 1971 with the tracks, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Grandma’s Hands” as singles. The album features Stephen Stills playing lead guitar.[9] On the cover of the album, Withers is pictured at his job at Weber Aircraft in Burbank, California, holding his lunch box.[5]


Bill Withers – Grandma’s Hands

The album was a success, and Withers began touring with a band assembled from members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.[10] Withers won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for “Ain’t No Sunshine” at the 14th Annual Grammy Awards in 1972. The track had already sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA in September 1971.[11]


Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine

During a hiatus from touring, Withers recorded his second album, Still Bill. The single, “Lean on Me” went to number one the week of July 8, 1972. It was Withers’s second gold single with confirmed sales in excess of three million.[11] His follow-up, “Use Me” released in August 1972, became his third million seller, with the R.I.A.A. gold disc award taking place on October 12, 1972.[11] His performance at Carnegie Hall on October 6, 1972, was recorded, and released as the live album Bill Withers, Live at Carnegie Hall on November 30, 1972. In 1974, Withers recorded the album +’Justments. Due to a legal dispute with the Sussex company, Withers was unable to record for some time thereafter.[12]


Bill Withers – Use me

After Sussex Records folded, Withers signed with Columbia Records in 1975.[16] His first album release with the label, Making Music, included the single “She’s Lonely”, which was featured in the film Looking for Mr. Goodbar along with “She Wants to (Get on Down)”. During the next three years he released an album each year with Naked & Warm (1976), Menagerie (1977; containing the successful “Lovely Day”), and ‘Bout Love (1978).[17]


Bill Withers – Lovely Day (Audio)

Due to problems with Columbia and being unable to get songs approved for his album, he concentrated on joint projects from 1977 to 1985, including “Just the Two of Us”, with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., which was released during June 1980.[18] The song won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.[19] Withers next released “Soul Shadows” with the Crusaders, and “In the Name of Love” with Ralph MacDonald,[20] the latter being nominated for a Grammy for vocal performance.[19]


Bill Withers – Just the two of us

In 1982, Withers was a featured vocalist on the album Dreams in Stone by French singer Michel Berger. This record included one composition co-written and sung by Withers,[21] an upbeat disco song about New York City entitled “Apple Pie”.[22]

In 1985 came Watching You Watching Me, which featured the Top 40-rated R&B single “Oh Yeah”, and ended Withers’s business association with Columbia Records. Withers stated in interviews that a lot of the songs approved for the album, in particular, two of the first three singles released, were the same songs which were rejected in 1982, hence contributing significantly to the eight-year hiatus between albums.[18] Withers also stated it was frustrating seeing his record label release an album for Mr. T, an actor, when they were preventing him, an actual singer, from releasing his own. He toured with Jennifer Holliday in 1985 to promote what would be his final studio album.[18]

At the 30th Annual Grammy Awards in 1988, Withers won the Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Song as songwriter for the re-recording of “Lean on Me” by Club Nouveau.

At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in 2014, Bill Withers: The Complete Sussex & Columbia Albums Collection, a nine-disc set featuring Withers’s eight studio albums, as well as his live album Live at Carnegie Hall, received the Grammy Award for Best Historical Album (sharing the award with the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland 1965).

In 2005, Withers was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.[7] In April 2015, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Stevie Wonder. He described the honor as “an award of attrition” and said: “What few songs I wrote during my brief career, there ain’t a genre that somebody didn’t record them in. I’m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.”[6][31] Later that year, a tribute concert in his honor was held at Carnegie Hall faturing Aloe Blacc, Ed Sheeran, Dr. John, Michael McDonald, and Anthony Hamilton. The concert recreated Withers’s 1973 concert album, Live at Carnegie Hall, along with some of his other material. Withers was in attendance and spoke briefly onstage.[32][33]


Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, John Legend perform “Lean On Me” at the 2015 Induction Ceremony

In February 2017, he made an appearance on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show to talk about the refugee crisis as well as the political climate in America.[34]

Personal life and death

Withers married actress Denise Nicholas in 1973, during her stint on the sitcom Room 222.[6] The couple made headlines following reports of domestic violence.[35][36] They divorced in 1974.[37]

In 1976, Withers married Marcia Johnson. They had two children, Todd and Kori.[6] Marcia eventually assumed the direct management of his Beverly Hills–based publishing companies, in which his children also became involved as they became adults.[38]

Withers died in Los Angeles on March 30, 2020, from heart complications. His family announced his death on April 3, 2020, saying they were “devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father”.[39][40]

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Video sources: www.youtube.com & www.vevo.com

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