Bill Withers

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Bill Withers
Bill Withers 1976.JPG
Withers in 1976.
Background information
Birth name William Harrison Withers, Jr.
Born (1938-07-04) July 4, 1938 (age 74)
Slab Fork, West Virginia, U.S.
Origin Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Soul, smooth soul, R&B, blues
Occupations Singer-songwriter, musician
Instruments Vocals, guitar, keyboards
Years active 1967–1985
Labels Sussex Records
Columbia Records

William Harrison "Bill" Withers, Jr. (born July 4, 1938) is an American singer-songwriter and musician who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. He recorded a number of hits such as "Lean on Me", "Ain't No Sunshine", "Use Me", "Just the Two of Us", "Lovely Day", and "Grandma's Hands". His life was the subject of the 2009 documentary film Still Bill.


[edit] Early life

Withers was born the youngest of six children in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. Raised in nearby Beckley, West Virginia, Withers was twelve years old when his father died. He enlisted with the United States Navy at age eighteen and served for nine years, during which time he became interested in singing and writing songs. Discharged from the Navy in 1965, he relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 for a musical career.[1]

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" he refused to resign his job because of his belief that the music business was a fickle industry and that he was still a novice compared to other acts.

[edit] Career

[edit] Sussex Records

During early 1970, Withers' demonstration tape was audited favorably by Clarence Avant of Sussex Records. Avant signed Withers to a record deal and assigned Booker T. Jones to produce Withers' first album. Four three-hour studio sessions were planned to record 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.[2]

The album was a success and Withers began touring with a band assembled from members of The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: drummer James Gadson, guitarist Benorce Blackmon, keyboardist Ray Jackson, and bassist Melvin Dunlap.

At the 14th annual Grammy Awards on Tuesday, March 14, 1972, Withers won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for "Ain't No Sunshine." The track had already sold over one million copies, and was awarded a platinum disc by the R.I.A.A. in September 1971.[3]

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' second gold disc awarded track with confirmed sales in excess of three million.[3] His single "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.[3] 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.

During this time, he wrote and produced two songs on the Gladys Knight & the Pips record I Feel a Song, and in October 1974 performed in concert together with James Brown, Etta James, and B. B. King four weeks prior to the historic Rumble in the Jungle fight between Foreman and Ali in Zaire.[4] Footage of his performance was included in the 1996 documentary film, When We Were Kings, and he is heard on the accompanying soundtrack. Other footage of his performance is included in the 2008 documentary film Soul Power which is based on archival footage of the 1974 Zaire concert.

[edit] Columbia Records

After Sussex Records folded, Withers signed with Columbia Records in 1975. His first release with the label, Making Music, Making Friends, included the single "She's Lonely" which was featured in the film Looking for Mr. Goodbar. 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) and "Get On Down"; the latter song was also on the Looking for Mr. Goodbar soundtrack.

Due to problems with Columbia, he concentrated on joint projects between 1977 and 1985, including the successful "Just the Two of Us", with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., which was released during June 1980. It won a Grammy on February 24, 1982. Withers next did Soul Shadows with The Crusaders, and In the Name of Love with Ralph MacDonald, the latter being nominated for a Grammy for vocal performance.

In 1985 came Watching You Watching Me, which featured the Top 40 rated Rhythm&Blues single "Oh Yeah". Withers ended his business association with Columbia Records after this release, which as of 2013 is his last studio album.

In 1988, a new version of "Lovely Day" from the 1977 Menagerie album, titled "Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix)" and remixed by Ben Liebrand, reached the Top 10 in the United Kingdom, leading to Withers' performance on the long-running Top of the Pops that year. The original release had scored #7 in the UK in early 1978, and the re-release scored to #4.

In 1987, he received his ninth Grammy award nomination and on March 2, 1988 his third Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Song as songwriter for the re-recording of "Lean On Me" by Club Nouveau on their debut album Life, Love and Pain, released in 1986 on Warner Bros. Records.

In 1996, a portion of his song "Grandma's Hands" was sampled in the song "No Diggity" by BLACKstreet, featuring Dr. Dre. The single went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold 1.6 million copies and won a Grammy in 1999 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Withers contributed two songs to Jimmy Buffett's July 13, 2004 release License To Chill. Following the reissues of Still Bill on January 28, 2003 and Just As I Am on March 8, 2005, there was speculation of previously unreleased material being issued as a new album.[5] In 2006, Sony gave back to Withers his previously unreleased tapes.

In 2007, "Lean On Me" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

[edit] Personal life

Withers married actress Denise Nicholas in 1973, during her stint as the main actress of the popular sitcom Room 222. The couple divorced the following year.[6]

During the professional semi-hiatus which began in the late 1970s, Withers concentrated more on personal matters than on professional recording. In 1976, he married Marcia Johnson and they had two children, Todd and Kori. Marcia eventually assumed the direct management of his Beverly Hills-based publishing companies, in which his children also became involved as they became adults.[7]

[edit] Discography

[edit] Studio albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
Record label

1971 Just as I Am 35 9 37 Sussex
1972 Still Bill 4 1 71
1974 +'Justments 67 7
1975 Making Music 81 7 Columbia
1976 Naked & Warm 169 41
1977 Menagerie 39 16 55 27
1979 'Bout Love 134 50
1985 Watching You Watching Me 143 42 60
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

[edit] Live albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Record label

1973 Live at Carnegie Hall 63 6 Sussex
"—" denotes the album failed to chart

[edit] Compilation albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
Record label

1975 The Best of Bill Withers 182 33 Sussex
1980 The Best of Bill Withers Columbia
1981 Greatest Hits 183 58 90
1994 Lean on Me: The Best of Bill Withers Legacy
2000 The Best of Bill Withers: Lean on Me
2005 Lovely Day: The Very Best of Bill Withers 35 Sony Music
2008 Ain't No Sunshine: The Best of Bill Withers Music Club Deluxe
2009 Playlist: The Very Best of Bill Withers Sussex/Columbia/Legacy
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

[edit] Singles

Year Single Peak chart positions


1971 "Ain't No Sunshine" [A] 3 6 2 17 9 40
"Grandma's Hands" 42 18 16 37
1972 "Lean on Me" 1 1 4 12 20 18
"Use Me" 2 2 14 33
"Let Us Love" 47 17 33 75
1973 "Kissing My Love" 31 12 65
"Friend of Mine" 80 25
1974 "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh" 50 10 39
"You" 15
"Heartbreak Road" 89 13
1975 "It's All Over Now" (with Bobby Womack) 68
"Make Love to Your Mind" 76 10
1976 "I Wish You Well" 54
"Hello Like Before"
"If I Didn't Mean You Well" 74
1977 "Close to Me" 88
"Lovely Day" 30 6 25 23 7
1978 "Lovely Night for Dancing" 75
1979 "Don't It Make It Better" 30
"You Got the Stuff (Part 1)" 85
1981 "Just the Two of Us" (with Grover Washington, Jr.) 2 3 2 31 10 34
"I Want to Spend the Night"
"U.S.A." 83
1984 "In the Name of Love" (with Ralph MacDonald) 58 13 6 95
1985 "Oh Yeah!" 106 22 40 60
"Something That Turns You On" 46
"We Could Be Sweet Lovers"
1987 "Lovely Day" (re-release) 92
1988 "Lovely Day" (Sunshine Mix) 4
"Ain't No Sunshine" (The Total Eclipse Mix) 82
1990 "Harlem" (Street Mix) 98
"—" denotes the release failed to chart
  • A The original version of "Ain't No Sunshine" did not chart on the UK Singles Chart until 2009, 38 years after its release.

[edit] Awards

Year Award Result Category Song
1971 Grammy Award Win Best Rhythm & Blues Song "Ain't No Sunshine"
1972 Nominated Grammy Award for Best New Artist
1981 Win Best Rhythm & Blues Song "Just the Two of Us" (Shared with songwriters Ralph MacDonald and William Salter)
1982 Nominated Grammy Award for Song of the Year "Just the Two of Us"
1982 Nominated Grammy Award for Record of the Year "Just the Two of Us"
1987 Win Best Rhythm & Blues Song "Lean On Me" (as covered by Club Nouveau)
1972 NAACP Image Awards Win Male Singer of the Year

[edit] Honors

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Biography, Awards and Credits". 1972-07-08. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  2. ^ "Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  3. ^ a b c Murrells, Joseph (1). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 306 & 322. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  4. ^ "Bill Withers' web site". 1972-07-08. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  5. ^ Mitchell, Gail (2005-10-14). "Withers In No Hurry To Make New Album". Billboard.
  6. ^ Jet, May 2, 1974, page 15
  7. ^ Elsworth, Catherine (2006-10-08). "Still A Lovely Day". Telegraph.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "US Albums Charts > Bill Withers". Billboard. Retrieved 2009-07-02. 
  9. ^ a b "CAN Charts > Bill Withers". RPM. Retrieved 2012-01-19. 
  10. ^ a b c "UK Charts > Bill Withers". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2011-10-06. 
  11. ^ a b c "US Certifications > Bill Withers". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 2012-01-19. 
  12. ^ a b c "US Singles Charts > Bill Withers". Billboard. Retrieved 2009-07-02. 
  13. ^ David Kent (1993). Australian Charts Book 1970—1992. Australian Chart Book Pty Ltd, Turramurra, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  14. ^ Associated Press (2006-06-02). "LL Cool J, Bill Withers to Be Honored"
  15. ^ Morris, Edward (2007-11-12). "Little Jimmy Dickens Joins West Virginia Music Hall of Fame". 

[edit] External links