"You don't know how frigging good you are. Just be yourself and sing." That is the advice rock icon Graham Nash offered 34 years ago to a nervous Bill Withers. The occasion? The recording of Withers'
"You don't know how frigging good you are. Just be yourself and sing." That is the advice rock icon Graham Nash offered 34 years ago to a nervous Bill Withers. The occasion? The recording of Withers' 1971 Sussex Records debut album, "Just As I Am."
The former Navy man and Boeing airplane-toilet-seat-maker relaxed enough to spin off two major R&B hits, "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands." Those, in turn, launched a career studded with such enduring R&B/pop gems as "Lean on Me," "Use Me," "Lovely Day" and "Just the Two of Us."
As previously reported, Columbia/Legacy commemorated Withers' momentous debut earlier this week with a DualDisc reissue of "Just As I Am," which also marks the album's U.S. CD debut. The package includes an original stereo mix of the album on CD plus a DVD 5.1 surround-sound version. The DVD also features a specially commissioned 20-minute documentary and rare vintage footage of Withers performing three of the tracks. Complementing the Withers-penned liner notes are studio recollections by the album's original producer, Booker T. Jones.
But Withers, now 67, has been heard from infrequently in recent years; his most recent writing and recording credits are on Jimmy Buffett's 2004 album, "Licensed to Chill." Though Withers still dabbles in recording at his home studio, he is not concerned about touring or even issuing another album -- despite word that there is unreleased material to be mined.
"I feel very flattered that my songs have become part of the American landscape," he tells Billboard. "But I don't want to make a fool of myself, dragging myself around the country trying to be something I'm not. It's too late to learn to play show business now. I never did it before. I don't know how."
In addition to being sampled by urban acts (including Blackstreet on the hit "No Diggity"), Withers' songs continue to be heard in commercials and soundtracks. "Use Me" and "Just the Two of Us" are in TV ads for GMC trucks and Chase bank. The film "Roll Bounce," starring Bow Wow, features "Lovely Day." And Withers sang behind Maroon 5 on a new version of "Day" for an upcoming Buffett film, "Hoot."