Backbeat: Bill Withers Talks 'Just As I Am,' Calls A&R 'Antagonism & Redundant' @ Grammy Museum
Backbeat: Bill Withers Talks 'Just As I Am,' Calls A&R 'Antagonism & Redundant' @ Grammy Museum

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Chilling prior to the Q&A are, from left, Universal Music Publishing Group/North America president Evan Lamberg, Universal Music Group Worldwide president/COO Zach Horowitz, Bill Withers, industry veteran Clarence Avant, and Kori Withers. UMPG administers Avant's publishing companies Avant Garde and Interior Music, whose catalogs include songs by Withers, Dennis Coffey and others.

It was a full house that greeted Songwriters Hall of Fame member Bill Withers at the Grammy Museum (@TheGrammyMuseum) in Los Angeles (Nov. 17). The occasion was the 40th anniversary of Withers' debut album, "Just As I Am." Released on Sussex Records and produced by Booker T. Jones, the set yielded the Grammy-winning classic "Ain't No Sunshine" and the equally memorable "Grandma's Hands."

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About writing and singing songs, Withers told Scott Goldman (back to camera) and the audience, "If you're honest about it, you're just a conduit deemed worthy by something in the universe."

Recalling his childhood in Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers reflected on his creative influences ("I was small, stuttered and had asthma, but my grandmother was the one person who said I would always be OK"), his fortuitous introduction to Sussex owner Clarence Avant and being told by Graham Nash during the recording of the album, "You don't know how good you are." From there, Withers took the audience and moderator Scott Goldman on a rollicking ride through his career. Drawing frequent laughter, he talked about everything from humility and emotion in songs to people trying to box him in musically during his tenure at Columbia. While there, he said he renamed A&R, calling it "antagonistic and redundant" after a label exec suggested he cover Elvis Presley's 'In the Ghetto.'"

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Thanking the audience for appreciating his music and coming out to see him, Withers dashed fans' hopes on the subject of his performing again: "I'm not crazy about old people singing." Stepping in for Withers was his daughter Kori, also a singer/songwriter (@kori_withers). Backed by a three-piece group, she covered such jewels as "Grandma's Hands," "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me."

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Following her performance, Kori Withers catches up with her father's former label chief, Clarence Avant.