Thursday Throwback – Bill Withers

The talent and influence of singer/songwriter/musician Bill Withers is often underrated.  His career has spanned 45 years with phenomenal influence.  The youngest of six, Withers’ humble beginnings started in Slab Fork, West Virginia.  He began to develop his talent for singing and writing while serving in the Navy, and after his nine year stint in the military he went to sunny Los Angeles in 1967 to launch his musical career.  While working a full-time job at an aircraft company, he recorded and shopped demo tapes around town and also performed in local night clubs.  In 1970, Withers signed with Sussex Records and the following year he recorded his debut album Just As I Am, produced by Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the MG’s.  The album featured the songs “Grandmas Hands” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” During this time, Withers continued to work his day job, wary of the instability of the music industry.  However, another song from his album, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” made it to number six on the Billboard R&B chart and number three on the Hot 100 chart.  After that, Withers assembled a band and hit the road, touring in the states and abroad.  His sophomore release Still Bill achieved even greater success thanks to the tunes “Use Me” and the number one hit “Lean On Me.”   Future Withers albums would yield hits like “Lovely Day” and “Just The Two of Us,” the latter recorded with saxophone great Grover Washington, Jr.  “Lean on Me” made it to the top of the charts again in 1987 when it was covered by the group Club Nouveau.  The list of artists who have performed and sampled Withers’ songs is a virtual “who’s who” in music.  Just to name a few: Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Maroon 5, Linda Ronstadt, Sting, Joe Cocker, Johnny Mathis, Mick Jagger, Lee Ritenour, and Al Jarreau; not to mention the countless hip hop artists who have sampled his music. Withers is a three-time Grammy Award winner and a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  His songs have been used in feature films from Looking for Mr. Goodbar to Austin Powers, and television shows from Entourage to The Simpsons. Although he enjoys a life outside the glitz and glam of the industry, Bill Withers’ music continues to remain a pop music mainstay.

–Montrose Cunningham

Montrose Cunningham is an independent funk/rock/soul artist and devoted music aficionado residing in Dallas, Texas. When he isn’t digging through the crates–digital and analog–he’s jamming with his band or hanging with his daughters, sometimes both at the same time. Purchase his latest release “Inertia” at www.MontroseMusic.com, visit him online at Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @MontroseC.

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