WUMB August Program Guide

BILL WITHERS: Born On The Fourth

No matter how old you are, the songs of Bill Withers have likely been in your head for a long time. Great music tends to get the attention of every generation.

But as someone who started listening to the radio in earnest by the early 1970s, I am struck not only by how Withers’s songs represent a foundational part of my music map, but how the sound of his voice alone makes me feel hopeful about the world. His music is a reminder of the importance of love, family, community, peace, and a whole host of other good things.

Radio host Jesse Thorn put it well in a recent show where he replayed his two interviews with Withers (link below): “Bill Withers had two great, unsung gifts: the plain, devastating clarity of his lyrics—which are breathtaking without ever having a moment of pretense—and his voice, deeply and profoundly soulful but distinctly non-churchy.”

He would be turning 82 on July 4 if he hadn’t died in late March, so he’s on my mind a lot at the moment.

Withers released timeless music almost every year throughout the 70s, and then, almost nothing. It’s one of the most notable silences after a period of musical greatness ever. Frustrated by the music industry and wanting to be with his family, Withers moved on and for the most part, never looked back.

Perry will feature Bill Withers on the July 5th Sunday Morning Brew. Meanwhile, here are three other listening suggestions:

• Jesse Thorn’s Bill Withers interviews https://www.npr.org/2020/04/27/846741427/remembering-bill-withers

• Live at Carnegie Hall (1973) – an album Pop Matters calls “one of the greatest live albums of all time.” https://www.popmatters.com/bill-withers-live-carnegie-hall-2645651629.html

• Withers live 1973 concert for the BBC https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/04/opinion/bill-withers-coronavirus.html

At one point in that Thorn show, Withers was asked about his decision to quit the music business: “I’ve never wanted to be some old, grey-haired guy up at two o’clock in the morning, trying to entertain some people. That’s because I have the (choice not to). If I didn’t have that option—hey, man, I’d probably be booked in some place on the road to Lake Tahoe tonight.”

Bill Withers deserved the kind of success that gave him that freedom of choice. But, wow, it would have been cool to see him at some little joint down the road from Lake Tahoe…or anywhere else.

~ Rob Hochschild

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