Puremusic interview with Bill Withers

A black man wearing blue jeans and an orange turtleneck sweater sits alone on a stool. He's slightly hunched over his acoustic guitar. Eyes closed, sweat glistening on his brow, he begins to pluck out a progression of soft minor seventh chords. The groove established, he sings, "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone, it's not warm when she's away..."

Thirty years on, the voice is still electrifying, a sound torn directly from the soul. There are no showy mannerisms or melismas. Just pure feeling. It's a classic R & B voice, with echoes of the blues, but a voice that sounds like no other before or since. This is Bill Withers. Inimitable, completely original, riveting.

The clip, from 1972, is featured on The Best of The Old Grey Whistle Test, a DVD collection from Britain's acclaimed music television program. It's worth tracking down for many reasons, but the performance by Withers and his band is the kind you just don't see on TV anymore. I must've watched it twenty times in a row before deciding, "I've got to interview Bill Withers."

Easier said than done. After a brief twelve-year career that featured classic hits such as "Lean On Me," "Use Me," "Grandma's Hands," and "Just The Two Of Us," Withers walked away from the music business. With the exception of a few samples that have powered contemporary R & B hits, he hasn't been heard from since. And he does interviews about as often as Halley's Comet does a fly-by.

After trading a few emails and phone calls with Bill's wife Mattie, a date was set for a phone interview. In conversation, Withers comes across as he does in his music: warm, honest, and direct.  continue to interview