An Interview with Bill Withers
by Dan Nishimoto
PopMatters | January 31, 2006
A middle-aged man with a heart full of songs makes a career change and leaves an indelible print on pop music. Over 30 years later, he’s still Bill Withers. And thank goodness for that.
From a statistical standpoint, no one is supposed to make it in the music industry. Like hoop dreams, the chances of having “that” talent, meeting a sympathetic label with both an open heart and an open wallet, negotiating an equitable contract and, finally, attaining creative and/or financial success are slim. So, when someone actually hits the jackpot, the listener understandably expects a fantastic story, like: a nasally sliver of a boy kneels at his hero’s deathbed before shaking the world with his message; or, a girl with concert pianist dreams responds to academic racism by raising her booming voice; or, a child beaten under a strict religious upbringing finds release in rhythm and blues with a most merciful cry. Even without hearing their music, these tales carry an air of mythology that feeds right back into the exclusive prestige of Hollywood (and Vine).
So, why isn’t Bill Withers’s name on more people’s lips?