Monday, April 25, 2011

Stuff I like:
Still Bill

Of all the rags to riches stories in show business history, there may be none as remarkable as Bill Withers'. He was born in a West Virginia coal mining company town called Slab Fork. He was a stammerer and it made him shy, reticent to speak. He joined the Navy and when he got out, he worked at an aircraft company, installing toilets on 747s. At the age of 32, he had never been on stage professionally when he decided to take some of his songs into a studio to make a demo tape.

Sussex Records heard his demo and signed him. Booker T. Jones produced his first album, which included the breakout hit Ain't No Sunshine and Withers' personal favorite, Grandma's Hands. His second album included the number one hit Lean On Me and the top ten song Use Me. As a songwriter, he returned to the top of the charts in 1981 with Just the Two of Us, a huge success for Grover Washington, Jr.

The documentary Still Bill takes a look at his life now. He's 70 and he's been away from the music business for a very long time. There's a famous quote from Elvis Presley after he left the Army and some female reporter asked him if things had gotten back to normal yet.

"Ma'am, when things get back to normal, I'll be driving a truck."

Elvis only drove a truck for a few months before he became crazy famous. He got a small taste of "normal life" when he was drafted and served two years. Bill Withers saw "normal adult life" for over a decade before the first single on his first album became a monster hit. He never completely trusted the music industry, but thankfully his is not a story of riches going up in a puff of smoke. After he quit in 1985, he didn't tour or make any attempts to record new music. Bill had had enough, thank you very much.

The movie does a great job of showing Bill's relationships with friends and family and with his gifts as a songwriter. I didn't know much of his music other than the big hits, and I was pleasantly surprised how much good stuff he wrote. On the extras on the DVD, the Swell Season are among the acts who were part of a Bill Withers tribute concert in New York City, and they play a song of his off of +'Justments called Stories. I had never heard it before, but it's hauntingly beautiful. I'm using the lyric from the bridge as my tagline right now, and I give you a link to Bill's original version, available on the You Tubes.

Matty Boy says check it out.


namastenancy said...

A loving tribute to a great guy. I loved his "hit" song and didn't know a thing about his life. Thanks for all your research!

CDP said...

I didn't know that Mr. Withers wrote "Just the Two of Us". I love that song. I also love "Lean on Me" and "Ain't no Sunshine". I will do as directed and check this movie out.