About William Harrison Withers, Jr.
William Harrison "Bill" Withers, Jr. (born July 4, 1938) is an American singer-songwriter and musician who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. Some of his best-known songs are "Lean on Me", "Ain't No Sunshine", "Use Me", "Just the Two of Us", "Lovely Day", and "Grandma's Hands". His life was recently the subject of the documentary film Still Bill.
Withers was born the youngest of thirteen children in the small coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. Raised in nearby Beckley, West Virginia, Withers was thirteen years old when his father died. He enlisted with the United States Navy at age eighteen and served for nine years, during which time he became interested in singing and writing songs. Soon after his discharge from the Navy in 1970, he relocated to Los Angeles for 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 his job because of his belief that the music business was a fickle industry and that he was still a novice compared to other acts.
During early 1970, Withers' demonstration tape was audited favorably by Clarence Avant of Sussex Records. Avant signed Withers to a record deal and assigned Booker T. Jones to produce Withers' first album. Four three-hour studio sessions were planned to record the album, but funding caused the album to be recorded in three sessions with a six-month break between the second and final sessions. Just as I Am was released in 1971 with the tracks "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands" as singles. The album features Stephen Stills playing lead guitar.
The album was a success and Withers began touring with a band assembled from members of The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: drummer James Gadson, guitarist Benorce Blackmon, keyboardist Ray Jackson, and bassist Melvin Dunlap.
At the 14th annual Grammy Awards on Tuesday, March 14, 1972, Withers won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for "Ain't No Sunshine." The track had already sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in September 1971.
During a hiatus from touring, Withers recorded his second album, Still Bill. The single "Lean on Me" went to number one the week of July 8, 1972. It was Withers' second gold disc awarded track with confirmed sales in excess of three million. His single "Use Me" released in August 1972, became his third million seller, with the R.I.A.A. gold disc award taking place on October 12, 1972. A Friday, October 6, 1972 performance on a rainy night was recorded for the live album Bill Withers, Live at Carnegie Hall released November 30, 1972. In 1974 Withers recorded the album +'Justments. But he became involved in a legal dispute with the Sussex company and was unable to record thereafter.
During this time, he wrote and produced two songs on the Gladys Knight & the Pips record I Feel a Song, and in October 1974 performed in concert together with James Brown, Etta James, and B. B. King at the historic Rumble in the Jungle fight between Foreman and Ali in Zaire. Footage of his performance was included in the 1996 documentary film, When We Were Kings, and he is heard on the accompanying soundtrack.
Withers signed with Columbia Records in 1975. His first release with the label, Making Music, Making Friends, included the single "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) and Bout Love (1978) and Get On Down, the latter song was also on Looking for Mr. Goodbar soundtrack.