The sound bites flew fast and furious during ASCAP Expo's rollicking "Who Is He (And What Is He To You)" master class session featuring Bill Withers on Friday (May 1).
The newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoree kept interviewer and fellow singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc on his toes throughout an freewheeling 90 minutes that covered everything from creative inspiration and the "Blurred Lines" verdict ("It's touchy") to the seemingly incongruous Kardashian family.
Blacc opened the conversation by asking Withers about the creative spark behind such seminal songs as "Ain't No Sunshine" (the 1962 Jack Lemmon movie Days of Wine and Roses); "Use Me" ("It's called nuance and innuendo; it could be about a guy looking for a job");"Lovely Day" ("That's what I heard when late songwriter Skip Scarborough played it on the piano") and "Harlem" (the first song Withers ever copyrighted).
"I always say we're conduits," the 76-year-old Grammy winner added. "You can be walking around scratching yourself and something comes to mind. But the hardest thing is to be profound and simple. We're talking three to four minutes here. If it takes you six months to come up with four clichés, something is wrong."
Withers' response to Blacc's follow-up query as to who holds the icon's song copyrights -- "None of your business" -- ignited the first in a string of Twitter-worthy sound bites and incisive lessons that prompted both roaring laughter and applause. "Everything isn't the public's business," continued Withers, "unless you're a Kardashian. If you can get paid [like them], then you get a pass."
Among Withers' other memorable takeaways:
-- The "Blurred Lines" verdict: "Well, my wife thinks it was copyright infringement. I have difficulty with that. [Marvin Gaye] was a dear friend. But if we have to start copyrighting grooves, then the whole of rock'n'roll is going to owe Chuck Berry. It's a touchy thing. Let's wait for the appeal, then I'll agree with the winning side."
-- Destroying his masters for an album in a dispute with a former label: "My thoughts were, 'Now, sell this' … I will erase a master tape and a master's ass."
-- Refusing when asked to cover Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto": "I was offended by the assumption that I knew about a ghetto. If you see me in the ghetto, brother, I'm passing through."
-- Career advice for new artists: Giving props to Blacc for his "bright" talent and being smart about the business end, Withers cautioned, "This isn't an easy career to get into. But if you love it, try. Don't cheat yourself out of your music and save enough of yourself to enjoy the beauty of it. Just don't confuse music with the music business. If you think you have something to say, then make yourself available and the world will let you know."
This keynote session marked a return engagement for Withers. He and Justin Timberlake shared the same ASCAP Expo stage in 2010 for the illuminating and funny master session titled "Just the Two of Us."