Bill Withers Part Two
I’m picking where I left off on Part One with Bill Withers Part Two, and I hope you enjoy it.
After Sussex Records folded, Withers signed with Columbia Records in 1975. Hisfirst album release with the label, Making Music, Making Friends, included thesingle “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“), “Bout Love“ (1978)and “Get on Down“; the latter song also included on the Looking for Mr. Goodbarsoundtrack.
In 1976, Withers performed “Ain’t No Sunshine“ on Saturday Night Live.
Due to problems with Columbia and being unable to get songs approved for hisalbum, he concentrated on joint projects from 1977 to 1985, including “Just theTwo of Us“, with jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., which was released duringJune 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 latterbeing nominated for a Grammy for vocal performance.
In 1982, Withers was a featured vocalist on the album, “Dreams in Stone“ by Frenchsinger Michel Berger. This record included one composition co-written and sung byWithers, an upbeat disco song about New York City entitled “Apple Pie.“ The albumwas not released in North America, although it contains several songs aboutAmerica.
In 1985 came Watching You Watching Me, which featured the Top 40-rated R&B single“Oh Yeah“, and ended Withers‘ business association with Columbia Records. Withersstated in interviews that a lot of the songs approved for the album, inparticular, two of the first three singles released, were the same songs whichwere rejected in 1982, hence contributing significantly to the eight-year hiatusbetween albums. Withers also stated it was frustrating seeing his record labelrelease an album for Mr. T, an actor, when they were preventing him, an actualsinger, from releasing his own. He toured with Jennifer Holliday in 1985 topromote what would be his final studio album.
His disdain for Columbia‘s A&R executives or “blaxperts“, as he termed them,trying to exert control over how he should sound if he wanted to sell more albums,played a part in his making the decision to not record or re-sign to a recordlabel after 1985, effectively ending his performing career, even though remixes ofhis previously recorded music were released after his ‘retirement‘. Findingmusical success later in life than most, at 32, he has said he was socialized as a‘regular guy‘ who had a life before the music, so he did not feel an inherent needto keep recording once he fell out of love with the industry. He has also statedthat he does not miss touring and performing live and does not regret leavingmusic behind. He seemingly no longer suffers from the speech impediment ofstuttering that affected him during his recording career
In 1988, a new version of “Lovely Day“ from the 1977 Menagerie album, entitled“Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix)“ and remixed by Ben Liebrand, reached the Top 10 in theUnited Kingdom, leading to Withers‘ performance on the long-running Top of thePops that year. The original release had reached # 7 in the UK in early 1978, andthe re-release climbed higher to # 4.
In 1987, he received his ninth Grammy Award nomination and on March 2, 1988, histhird 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 in1986 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 Number 1 on theBillboard Hot 100 chart and sold 1.6 million copies and won a Grammy in 1998 forBest R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Withers contributed two songs to Jimmy Buffett‘s 2004 release License to Chill.Following the reissues of Still Bill on January 28, 2003, and Just As I Am onMarch 8, 2005, there was speculation of previously unreleased material beingissued as a new album. In 2006, Sony gave back to Withers his previouslyunreleased tapes.
In 2007, “Lean on Me“ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
On January 26, 2014, at the 56th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, BillWithers: The Complete Sussex & Columbia Albums Collection, a nine-disc setfeaturing Withers‘s eight studio albums, as well as his live album Live atCarnegie Hall, received the “Best Historical“ Grammy Award (in a tie with TheRolling Stones‘ “Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland 1965.“) The award was presentedto Leo Sacks, who produced the collection, and the mastering engineers MarkWilder, Joseph M. Palmaccio and Tom Ruff.
On April 18, 2015, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by StevieWonder. Withers was stunned when he learned he had been inducted into the Rock andRoll Hall of Fame. “I see it as an award of attrition,“ he says. “What few songs Iwrote during my brief career, there ain’t a genre that somebody didn’t record themin. I‘m not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identifywith. I don’t think I‘ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia.“
On October 1, 2015, there was a tribute concert at Carnegie Hall in his honor,featuring Aloe Blacc, Ed Sheeran, Dr. John, Michael McDonald and Anthony Hamiltonrecreating his 1973 concert album, Live at Carnegie Hall, along with other Withersmaterial. Withers was in attendance and spoke briefly onstage.
On February 12, 2017, he made an appearance on MSNBC to talk about the refugeecrisis, as well as the political climate in America.