Bill Withers, photographed by Jeff Riedel for Garden & Gun
Bill Withers is a man who needs no introduction to most Okayplayers, his discography representing something of a holy grail to fanatical collectors (hello) of throwback soul and folk music. That is undoubtedly because of the music itself–characterized by consistently brilliant quality, originality and the kind of empathy and human insight that only great writers can make into a popular song–as well as its disappearance from our lives. Nothing makes collectors more fanatical than telling them (okay, us) they can’t have any more. In fact, it’s been twenty years almost exactly since ‘Bill Withers’ made the transition from ‘recording artist’ to ‘standard by which recording artists are measured’; a reference point for understanding the music of Aloe Blacc or John Mayer or Michael Kiwanuka, just to name a few of the thousands who have walked the road Withers paved.
But today (technically, tomorrow) is a lovely day. On the eve of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Withers granted an extremely rare interview to Charleston, South Carolina’s lifestyle publication Garden & Gun, speaking on his regrets, the reason he dropped the mic definitely circa 1985 and what the induction means to him. Undoubtedly because of our widely-known status as Bill Withers superstans, G&G shared a sneak preview with us–and we quickly secured permission to extend inner circle Bill Withers superstan status to OKP’s readers. Without further ado, find below an exclusive excerpt from Wither’s interview with G&G‘s Allison Glock, which hits newsstands tomorrow in their April/May issue. Then hit the link at bottom to read more via Garden & Gun–or better yet, pick up a physical copy and add it to the other precious relics in your Bill Withers collection:
Bill Withers: Soul Survivor
Thirty years after walking away from music, Bill Withers joins the ranks of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame royalty
By Allison Glock for G&G
When he was growing up in Beckley, West Virginia, the only music the three-time Grammy winner Bill Withers was exposed to was “in the church.” But, he says, “When you have a facility for music, you know right away, when you’re born, I guess.” It would be several decades before Withers acknowledged that gift, re-embracing his hymn-honed voice and unleashing his natural inclination for arrow-sharp lyricism on such indispensable tracks as “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Use Me,” high points of a career that lasted only fifteen years but whose legacy endures. Withers, who withdrew from the public eye to focus on his family in the mid-1980s, will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. Now seventy-six, he’s pleased at the recognition, though hardly inclined to gloat. “Pride goeth before the great fall,” he says jokingly. Besides, he continues, “the induction could have happened or could not have happened. Either way, I was going to have to keep living.”
G&G: In a short time span, you wrote and recorded several indelible songs. Then, in 1985, you walked away from it all. That choice seems to vex a lot of folks.
Bill Withers: Yeah, well, that’s their problem [laughs]. The music business was no piece of cake. There was this guy at my record label who wanted me to do stuff like cover Elvis Presley songs [snorts]. Get the hell out of here. I got tired of it. Most of my dreams came true and some of my nightmares, too. I had a pretty good run. And by then I had a family and some kids, so I went about trying to do a good job at that. Without even thinking about it, I just went ahead with my life.
G&G: Do you have regrets?
BW: Everybody’s got regrets. The trick is not to spend a lot of time thinking about them.
G&G: And now you’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
BW: The induction is a compliment. I’m not ambivalent. I’m actually looking forward to it. But I’m not a jump-up-and-down kind of guy. If I go to a football game, I sit there and watch it. I’m not waving my arms and carrying on. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel something, you know. I feel it’s healthier to look out at the world through a window rather than through a mirror. With a mirror, all you see is yourself and whatever is behind you.
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