Bill Withers RIP
Updated: Apr 8
This is the transcribed text of a recorded podcast published on April 4th, 2020.
[0:27] Good day, everybody. Today, when I'm recording this right now, today is April 4th.
The news is full, perhaps just a bit fuller than it needs to be with updates on the Covid-19 pandemic, and fair enough. I am certain that we will be talking about that nasty little bug and all its far-reaching social and economic impacts. I mean, how could we not, right? But in all the clamor, we risk missing a few other things because, let's just say, as the viral content shouts its way through us all, time and life continued to slip by. We are only more oblivious to the normal into the steady drip.
But if you would, take a moment with me today and think of Bill Withers. Bill Withers was a truly great song writer. He had a string of influential hits in the 1970s. I think he fits into a genre called Memphis Soul, but I don't think anybody else agrees with me on that. Memphis Soul is everybody from Otis Redding and Al Green and the [Jake Tack Clapper]. There's a lot of people in that group and people don't include Bill Withers in there normally, but I like to fit him in that group. I associate him somehow. His music inspired and was authentic and I think most importantly, it occasionally steps outside the normal cadence and formats of traditional R&B hits.
Great Songs from a Great Song Writer
[1:58] Let me take a moment. Listen to the song, “Grandma's Hands”. There's no chorus. There's no ABA song pattern. The whole thing just comes to a stop in the middle of nowhere, but if you're not left speechless with a tightness in your throat, there's just something wrong with you. [song plays]
[2:41] His song, “Lean on Me”, probably his most famous song. It's become an anthem of sorts, something that we all dust off and sing inside during troubled times. A lot of people are singing that song today. [song plays]
[4:29] The song "Who is He?” It radiates jealousy and suspicion. Again, it skips over the traditional hit-making algorithms of what a formatted song should look like that's going to be a hit on the radio. But it was a hit and it’s a great song. [song plays]
[5:23] “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh.” That’s a complicated title. It’s not easy to remember. The song is called “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh.” It’s an awkward title, but it also violates every rule in the book. It has one of those crazy baselines that seems to groove and speed up then drop back in the pocket and speed up again. And as a bass player, I felt that I had truly accomplished something when my fingers could keep up and find the pocket again in that deceptively simple groove that he has. [song plays]
[7:34] Another song I want to mention is called “Just the Two of Us.” It was a collaboration with saxophone great Grover Washington Jr. And that song, in all of its unapologetic fanciful romance, is our song. It's the song that Ellen and I play. It's our song to this day. [song plays]
On Any Other Day
[8:36] Now, it's going to sound like I'm going off the beam here a little bit, but stick with me on this. I remember back to June 25th, 2009. What's special about that day? Well, a couple of things were special about that particular date. It's the day that Farrah Fawcett died. And on any other normal day, there would have been retrospectives, and remembrances, and TV marathons of her TV shows and movies. But there wasn't. There wasn't because, on that same day, just a few hours later, Michael Jackson died, too. Now certainly, Michael Jackson, he was at the time, and he still is today, a bigger star and a greater cultural influence, and his contributions to music were worthy of every tribute he received, but something missing when one set of remembrance is just buried and covered over in an avalanche of otherness… and we all go on.
Slipping Past with Less Notice than He Desserves
[9:48] So, I want you to do me a favor today. Get Bill Withers on your play list. Do it for this weekend, do it for your next workout, do it whenever you can. Get Bill Withers up on your play list and give him a listen. Maybe you’re listening to him for the first time, maybe you are re-discovering him and what he added to the world of music, or maybe like me, he's just always been there for you and will be for years to come. So, yesterday on April 3rd, Bill Withers died after an illness at the age of 81. If he had died of Covid-19, you would have heard more about it, but since his demise came at the hands of normal mundane mortality, he is slipping past the world with less notice than he deserves, I think.
So let's do something about that.
Give him a listen. Don't think of it as a sadness; think of it as a celebration, and I hope you get as much out of him as I do. Thanks for listening. I really appreciate your time and attention. Talk to you soon. Bye for now.