For my money, there hasn’t been a soul singer to rival the power and passion of Bill Withers. Interestingly, he didn’t come from stereotypical soul stock. He was born in a West Virginia coal-mining town and lived much of his early life in Beckley, WV. He served for nine years in the US Navy. When he returned, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career making music. Over the course of 14 years, he released ten albums, which was definitely behind the pace of more prolific musicians of his time. He won three Grammys in his career, the latest in 1987 when his “Lean on Me” was covered by Club Nouveau.
Though he only recorded ten albums – not prolific by the standards set by other R&B singers back in the day – his music was solid and different. To that point, R&B had been almost completely full of high-energy music from people like James Brown and the Isley Brothers or lead singers backed with tight harmonies like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles or Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Withers’ music was quieter and more contemplative by comparison. It was personal music made more for your living room than an arena.
Bill is still alive and kicking by the way. Maybe some time he’ll pick up his guitar and give us one more album. It’d be nice to hear.
Below the jump you’ll find live performances of my two favorite Withers’ songs: “Use Me Up” and “Ain’t No Sunshine (When She’s Gone)”.
Category: Monday Night Music