by Carl Weiser
January 2, 2004
The understated Bill Withers is a Soul music legend, respected for his elegant songwriting and an exceptional voice that compliments his words. We tried to get a sense for why his songs have had such impact, and were treated to a thought-provoking discussion on transference, the X-factor, and making the complicated simple.
Carl Wiser (SF): Your songs have endured, and we’re hoping you can tell us about some of them. “Ain’t No Sunshine,” can you tell us what inspired you to write that?
Bill Withers: It’s pretty obvious what it’s about, I was watching a movie called Days Of Wine And Roses (1962) with Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon. They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. It’s like going back for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you. It’s just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I’m not aware of.
To me, songwriting is you sitting around scratching yourself and something crosses your mind. There are probably more great stories made up about the writing of songs after they’ve been written and received, because you’ve got to say something. I love listening when there’s some song like “Eat My Funky Sweat,” and then somebody makes up this profound story about what inspired him to do it. Sometimes the stories are much more profound than the songs. Being at the age now where I’m a certified curmudgeon, you get a little grouchy when you pass 65, I used to do it when I was younger sometimes, I’ve learned to try to probe a little deeper. Somebody would ask, “What were you thinking when you wrote so and so,” and the obvious answer was, “I was thinking what I wrote.” So I won’t do that to you, Carl.