WV: Bill Withers

Raleigh County, West Virginia native, Bill Withers has had an amazing career spanning several decades. That man can sing!

If you are curious about the inspiration for that song, I found this:

Archive Items On Bill Withers:

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The Boston Globe
Boston, Massachusetts
07 Nov 1971, Sun  •  Page 98
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Press and Sun-Bulletin
Binghamton, New York
24 Jun 1972, Sat  •  Page 22
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Times-Advocate
Escondido, California
30 Aug 1972, Wed  •  Page 47
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Asbury Park Press
Asbury Park, New Jersey
10 Aug 1973, Fri  •  Page 9
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The Evening Sun
Baltimore, Maryland
13 Apr 1976, Tue  •  Page 9
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Asbury Park Press
Asbury Park, New Jersey
18 Apr 1976, Sun  •  Page 48
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Asbury Park Press
Asbury Park, New Jersey
29 Jan 1978, Sun  •  Page 121
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The Guardian
London, Greater London, England
20 Sep 1988, Tue  •  Page 21

I had no idea he stuttered in his youth. Such a mellow, soulful, uninterrupted voice as he sings. Before researching for this blog, I had no idea there was a “The Stuttering Foundation”. Per their website:

While Bill Withers has long been on the Stuttering Foundation’s list of Famous People Who Stutter, many people probably didn’t realize he stuttered.

Born in 1938 in Slab Fork, W.V., Withers was the youngest of six children. When his father died when Withers was small, he was raised by his mother and grandmother, both of whom worked as domestics.

Not motivated in school and struggling with stuttering, Withers dropped out after ninth grade, later to join the Navy. It was in the Navy that for the first time he was able receive adequate speech therapy.

The article in Waxpoetics lists, “…his chronic stutter as one of the possible reasons he stayed in the service for so long, because he used the time to become comfortable with speech and gain self-confidence.”

After his hitch in the Navy, Withers worked in jobs ranging from aircraft repairman to milkman. Finally in 1967, at age 29, he decided to pursue his interest in music.

The famed Booker T. Jones produced his first album, Just As I Am, which was recorded with the MG’s as the backing band along with Stephen Stills. Ironically, the lead single Harlem failed to chart, but its B-side, Ain’t No Sunshine went gold. The song also catapulted  Withers to stardom in the music world, as he won his first Grammy as a songwriter.

Withers follow-up album Still Bill yielded hits such as Use Me, Kissing My Love and Who Is He (And Who Is He to You). However, it is the classic song Lean On Me, which is most remembered, topping the Billboard Hot 100 charts for three weeks in July 1972 in addition to topping the R & B charts.

Between 1972 and 1979, Withers put out five albums. In 1981, he teamed up with saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., both writing and performing lead vocals on Washington’s hit Just the Two of Us, which spent three weeks at number two.

Just the Two of Us garnered him four Grammy nominations that year.

In 1987, Withers received his ninth Grammy nomination and won his third Grammy award on account of Club Nouveau covering Lean On Me and taking it to number one on the Billboard charts. It marked the fifth time in the rock era that a song had reached number one by two different artists.

In this case, it was the first time that both artists who recorded the song were African-American. Withers’ songs have been recorded over the last 36 years by hundreds of artists, such as Barbra Stresiand, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Sting, Temptations, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker and Mick Jagger.

Some articles from past decades credit the newfound fluency that Withers received from his speech therapy in the Navy as giving him the confidence to pursue a career in music.

Unlike many other artists, Withers was able to retain much of his songwriting and publishing rights. Lean On Me alone is said to have turned into a multi-million dollar goldmine over the years with use in movies and advertisements, as well as extensive radio play.

He is not alone in his stuttering. Ed Sheeran also stutters.

One of my favorite songs, lyrically, is Lean On Me. It is a friendship anthem. A family anthem. It is just wonderful.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load

If you just call me (call me)
If you need a friend (call me) call me uh huh(call me) if you need a friend (call me)
If you ever need a friend (call me)
Call me (call me) call me (call me) call me
(Call me) call me (call me) if you need a friend
(Call me) call me (call me) call me (call me) call me (call me) call me (call me)

Per his Wikipedia page: William Harrison Withers Jr. (born July 4, 1938) is an American singer-songwriter and musician who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. He recorded several major hits, including “Lean on Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Use Me”, “Just the Two of Us”, “Lovely Day”, and “Grandma’s Hands”. Withers won three Grammy Awards and was nominated for four more. His life was the subject of the 2009 documentary film Still Bill. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

Bill Withers was born in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was born with a stutter and has said he had a hard time fitting in. Raised in nearby Beckley, he was 13 years old when his father died. Withers enlisted with the United States Navy at the age of 18 and served for nine years, during which time he overcame his stutter and became interested in singing and writing songs.

He left the Navy in 1965. Using the $250 he received from selling his furniture to IBM co-worker Ron Sierra, he relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 to start a musical career. 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 from his job because he believed the music business was a fickle industry.

Honors

  • 2002: Honorary doctorate from Mountain State University
  • 2005: Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee
  • 2006: ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage award
  • 2007: Inducted into West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
  • 2015: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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