Bill Withers

Band members                             Related acts

- Bill Withers -- vocals, keyboards, guitar


  backing musicians (1973)
- Bernorce Blackman -- lead guitar

- Melvin Dunlap -- bass

- James Gadson -- drums, percussion

- Bobbye Hall -- percussion

- Ray Jackson -- keyboards


  backing musicians (1975) 

- Tom Bahler -- backing vocals

- Dennis Budimir -- acoustic guitar

- Jim Gilstrap -- backing vocals

- David Grusin --  -- keyboards, synthesizers

- James Jamerson --- bass

- Angie Johnson -- backing vocals

- George Johnson -- bass

- Louis Johnson -- bass

- Harvey Mason -- drums

- Myrna Matthews -- backing vocals

- Ralph McDonald -- percussion

- Larry Nash -- keyboards, synthesizers, melodica

- Ray Parker -- bass

- Melvin Ragin -- guitar, bass

- David T. Walker -- bass

- Ernie Watts -- sax

- Caroline Willis -- backing vocals


  backing musicians (1977)

- Keni Burke -- bass

- Clifford Coukter -- keyboards

- Jerry Knight -- bass

- Russ Kunkel -- drums, percussion

- Ralph MacDonald -- percussion

- Clarence McDonald -- keyboards

- Ray Parker -- guitar

- Alvin Taylor -- drums




- none known





Genre: soul

Rating: 5 stars *****

Title:  Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall

Company: Sussex

Catalog: SXVS-7025-2

Country/State: Stab Fork, West Virginia

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: double LP; gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1429

Price: $25.00



Maybe it's just me, but Bill Withers has always struck me as one of music's classiest guys.  He's one of those rarities in the business; namely a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy who never really fell victim to changing musical tastes.  Unlike most musicians, he seemed to realize when his time had come and gone, effectively retiring from the business and focusing on his domestic life.   How many folks make such sane choices?   Listening to this 1973 double album, 14 track concert set, his old-school values came flooding through - no auto-tuning; no fancy chorography; no pyrotechnics, no totally rearranged songs.   Instead, what you got was Withers steadfastly plowing his way through about an hour of his best known hits and select album tracks.  Recorded at an October 6, 1972 performance at New York's Carnegie Hall, "Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall" the album found him working with a small, tight knit backing band featuring  lead guitarist Bernorce Blackman, bassist Melvin Dunlap, drummer James Gadson, percussionist  Bobbye Hall , and keyboardist Ray Jackson.   Most of the 14 tracks were pulled off his first two studio sets (1971's 'Just As I Am" and 1972's "Still Bill").  None of the arrangements were radically different from the studio versions which should please lots of fans, but will disappoint others who were looking for something different.  True, 'Use Me' and the 'Harlem/Cold Baloney' medley featured extended arrangements, but they were the exceptions and largely stuck with the original melodies.  Lots of highlights to chose from; my picks would include the opening 'Use Me', 'Grandma's Hands', and the jazzy vamp 'Lonely Town Lonely Street'.  Just to be fair, the set wasn't perfect.  The string arrangements sounded like they'd been added after-the-fact and they simply weren't very good.  And as much as I loved Withers unique voice, he sounded raw and ragged on a couple of these tracks - notably the opening part of 'Lean On Me'.   All told, those were shortcomings you could live with, leaving this as one of the best live sets ever recorded.   Well worth looking for the original vinyl pressing.


"Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall" track listing

(side 1) 

1.) Use Me   (Bill Withers) - 8:30

Normally stretched out concert versions of radio hits are simply boring.   'Use Me' is one of those rare exceptions.  Powered by Withers' instantly recognizable voice (sounding a little more ragged than on the studio version), there really wasn't any fluff in this track - with support from lead guitarist bernoce Blackman, percussionist Bobbye Hall, and keyboardist Ray Jackson, Withers simply rode the groove and the first seven minutes  glided by in what seemed like a heartbeat.  Was the extra minutes and half of encore necessary?  No, but the crowd certainly got into it.   rating: **** stars

2.) Friend of Mine   (Bill Withers) - 4:28

One of the few disappointments on the album, 'Friend of Mine' sounded ragged and tired.   The performance certainly wasn't helped by the stings or horns.   If you want to hear who was in the band, this was the track to listen to.   Ironically Sussex tapped this as a single:


- 1973's 'Friend of Mine' b/w 'Lonely Town, Lonely Street' (Sussex catalog number SUX 257)   rating: ** stars

3.) Ain't No Sunshine   (Bill Withers) - 2:57

'Ain't No Sunshine' was clearly one of the tunes that audience wanted to hear.  Withers performance was crisp and enjoyable, though on the heals of an eight minute 'Use Me' it was surprisingly that he didn't stretched this one out as well.   The string instrumentation was also a bit jarring.  Still, a classic tune and nice to hear it live.    rating: **** stars

4.) Grandma's Hands   (Bill Withers) - 4:53

One of the tunes off his debut album, the stark 'Grandma's Hands' has always been one of my favorite performances and powered by Withers rugged voice and Melvin Dunlap's powerhouse bass, it sounded mighty fine on this album.   rating: **** stars


(side 2)

1.) World Keeps Going Around   (Bill Withers) - 5:19

One of his prettier tunes and always loved the combination of Withers acoustic guitar and Bernorce Blackman's electric guitar.  The tune got even better when Melvin Dunlap's pulsating bass kicked in.  rating: **** stars

2.) Let Me In Your Life   (Bill Withers) - 4:16

'Let Me In Your Life' was a  pretty, slightly jazzy ballad, but to be frank, was ultimately kind of boring.   rating: *** stars

3.) Better Off Dead   (Bill Withers) - 3:41

With an incredibly dark lyric describing the ravishes of alcoholism on a family, 'Better Off Dead' was also surprisingly funky.    Originally off the "Still Bill" album, I think I actually like the live version better than the studio original.   rating: **** stars

4.) For My Friend   (Bill Withers) - 3:01

Propelled by Dunlap's melodic bass, 'For My Friend' was another tune with a killer groove and an album highlight.  rating: **** stars


(side 3)

1.) I Can't Write Left Handed   (Bill Withers - Ray Jackson) - 6:52

Perhaps because Withers did time in the Navy,, I always felt he had the understanding required to write a tune like 'I Can't Write Left Handed'.  The extended introductory monolog was apparently recorded after the concert, but was quite effective   When the tune actually kicked in, this Gospel-tinged tune stood as one of the best anti-war songs ever recorded.   Anyone who thinks there's glory in a war should listen to this stark ballad.   rating: ***** stars

2.) Lean On Me   (Bill Withers) - 5:47

Another crowd favorite that you would have expected to get a stretched-out concert arrangement.   Instead, a slightly raspy sounding Withers kept it short and too-the-point.   It wasn't his best vocal performance, but the song was so good the slightly ragged delivery didn't matter.   rating:**** stars

3.) Lonely Town Lonely Street   (Bill Withers) - 3:54

Another tune with an instantly engaging jazzy groove and one of the tunes where the horns actually added to the performance.   rating: **** stars

4.) Hope She'll be Happier   (Bill Withers) - 4:23

Withers fans swoon over this ballad, but I've never heard the magic.  A heavily orchestrated ballad, the tune simply never seemed to kick into gear.   Interesting, Sweetback (Sade's pre-solo act band) recorded a version of the song).   rating: *** stars


(side 4)

1.) Let Us Love   (Bill Withers) - 5:21

Breezy bliss and you were left to wonder why guitarist Bernorce Blackman wasn't better known.  rating: *** stars

2.) Harlem/Cold Baloney   (Bill Withers) - 13:07

Listening to 'Harlem/Cold Baloney' medley build from a slow ballad to a burning, crowd pleasing slice of energy was simply a fascinating experience.  Anyone who ever desired to be a band front man should listen to the way Withers handled the crowd on this one.   By the way, the digs at black churches has always reminded me of Paul Kelly's Stealin' in the Name of the Lord'.    


For a live double album (one of the first), it sold well, hitting # 62 pop and # 6 R&B.  





Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Menagerie

Company: Columbia

Catalog: JC 34903

Country/State: Stab Fork, West Virginia

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 123

Price: $10.00


As far as I'm concerned, Bill Withers stands as one of the classiest people in the music business.  He's never allowed himself to fall victim to his own hype; never fallen victim to the seductive excesses associate with the lifestyle; and is one of the few popular musicians who's managed to age gracefully - seemingly knowing when it was time to move off the stage (and never allowing himself to fall victim to comeback hype).  And all of those factors also mean that lots of younger music fans simply don't have a clue who he is ...   Talk about an overlooked talent.


Produced by Withers with a series of co-producers (Keni Burke, Clifford Coulter, and Clarence McDonald), 1977's "Menagerie" was simply one of the best things Withers ever did.  Withers always had an earthy, back porch, laconic style, but on tracks like 'Lovely Days and 'Tender Days' he brought all of his talents to the table,  wonderful melodies, some state-of-the-art production (for the mid-'70s) and above all that instantly recognizable voice.  In spite of the fact the collection was recorded with different co-producers, the album reflected a unified, easy-going vibe which made for an enjoyable listening experience from start to finish.   Okay, it took me awhile to warm up to the disco-tinged 'She Wants Me (To Get Down)' but I try to remember that this album came out at the peak of disco madness so kudos to Withers for having the strength to resist the pressures of the marketplace.  I know some folks still give the nod to his earlier Sussex releases and I can understand it, but on a song-for-song basis, this set sure gives the earlier catalog a run for its money.


"Menagerie" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Lovely Day   (Bill Withers - Skip Scarborugh) - 4:15

After all these years 'Lovely Days' remains one of those magic songs that can make me stop whatever I'm doing and simply reflect on what a blessed life I've been gifted with.  It certainly isn't the most sophisticated  composition you've ever heard and the lyrics may sound old fashioned and quaint, but Withers seldom sounded as wonderful as on these three minutes and the song's very simplicity certainly adds to it's longstanding charm and appeal ...  Easy to see why Columbia tapped it as the lead-off single.  All hyperbole aside, the album would be worth four stars just for this track.   For anyone interested, here's a late 1980s television performance of the track.  Withers is clearly lip synching and doesn't look all that happy, but the song is still special:    rating: ***** stars

2.) I Want To Spend the Night   (Bill Withers) - 3:41   

Okay, I'll admit that with its breezy bossa-nova stylings and heavy orchestration, 'I Want To Spend the Night' strayed a little too far into cocktail jazz.  In spite of those shortcomings, you had to marvel at Withers honey-sweet voice.   rating: *** stars

3.) Lovely Night for Dancing   (Bill Withers) - 5:21

Kicked along by Keni Burke's bass and Withers' own synthesizer washes, 'Lovely Night for Dancing'  was a nice mid-tempo groover.   Silky smooth and still quite funky, not many folks could pull it off with the style Withers exhibited.  One of those tracks that make it hard to sit still.   Damn, wish I could play bass like Burke does.   And who were the female backing singers that literally hijacked the ending segment of the song (I'm guessing Pat Hodges, Denita James and Jessica Smith) ?      rating: **** stars

4.) Then You Smile At Me   (Bill Withers - Clarence McDonald) - 4:54

One of the album's prettiest melodies, 'Then You Smile At Me' had one of those breezy melodies than Withers seemed to effortlessly throw off.  The lyric was a toss-off as well, but the song served to showcase what a strong voice Withers had and  the funky edge he brought to the song was just icing on the cake (though the goofy production effects at the end of the track were unnecessary).   rating: *** stars  


(side 2)
1.) She Wants Me (To Get Down)   (Bill Withers - L. Nash) - 3:15

If there was one song that I'd label disappointing, it'd be the disco-tinged 'She Wants Me (To Get Down)'.  The song itself wasn't all that bad and I can actually picture folks bopping along to the percolating synthesizers, but you couldn't help but get the feeling Withers' soul wasn't really into this one and it was one the album to placate label executives looking for radio play.  On the other hand, maybe Withers thought this would be a hit ....    rating: ** stars

2.) It Ain't Because of Me Baby   (Bill Withers - M. Jones) - 3:31'It Ain't Because of Me Baby' returned Withers to his aural home turf ...  a slinky up-tempo number that was easily as dance friendly as the previous track, but without any of the pro-forma moves associated with disco.  Shame it wasn't longer.   rating: *** stars

3.) Tender Things   (Bill Withers) - 5:02

Yeah, he's known for those old school ballads and the charming 'Tender Things' is yet another classic offering.   Hearing Withers double track his lead vocal was also a cool effect.   Not sure why, but I occasionally fin

d myself humming he melody.   rating: *** stars

4.) Wintertime   (Clifford Coulture) - 3:17

Penned by keyboardist Clifford Coulter, 'Wintertime' was the lone non-original composition, but fit perfectly into the album's easy going vibe.  Always loved Coulture's cheesy synthesizers. on the track.   rating: *** stars

5.) Let Me Be the One You Need    (Bill Withers - Skip Scarborugh) - 4:44  

Anyone who doesn't recognize Withers as one of soul's best balladeers, need only check out the slow boiling 'Let Me Be the One You Need'.  With a beautiful melody and some attractive Latin percussion, this one was one of the album's overlooked charmers.  And you thought the late Luther Vandross had the market cornered ...    rating: **** stars


As mentioned the album spun off two singles:


- 1977's 'Lovely Day' b/w 'It Ain't Because of Me Baby' (Columbia catalog number 3-10627)

- 1978's 'Lovely Night for Dancing' b/w 'Let Me Be the One You Need' (Columbia catalog number )


For hardcore fans, in 1988 'Lovely Day' was reissued in the UK with a new mix by Ben Liebrand:


  7" format: 

- 1988''s 'Lovely Day' b/w 'Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix)' (CBS catalog number 653001 7)

  12" format: 

- 1988''s 'Lovely Day' b/w 'Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix)' (CBS catalog number 653001 6)


One of those LPs every old school soul fan should have in their collection and you'll make your mom and  grandma proud !!!



Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Making Music

Company: Columbia

Catalog: JC 33704

Country/State: Stab Fork, West Virginia

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: includes original inner sleeve and lyric insert

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2475

Price: $15.00


Having recorded four albums for Clarence Avant's Sussex Records, following that label's collapse, in 1975 Bill Withers finally got a shot at the big time, signing with Columbia.


Co-produced by Larry Nash and Withers, 1975's "Making Music" was one of Withers' most consistent efforts, though over the ensuing years it seems to have fallen through the cracks.  I'll be the first to admit it lacked one of those instant top-40 hits found on the earlier Sussex releases and occasionally leaned a bit too much on mid-'70s styled orchestration.   Still, with backing from an impressive list of friends, tracks like 'I Wish You Well', 'The Best You Can' and 'She's Lonely'  found Withers effortlessly plowing through a collection of patented ballads with lyrics that were simple, yet affecting and  thought provoking.  Yeah,, the album was a bit heavy on ballads; particularly side two, but there was no denying Withers had a fantastic voice that was perfect for the genre. That also  made his atypical forays into more upbeat and even funky territory all the more enjoyable - check out 'Sometimes a Song'.  It remains  the album in his catalog that's consistently grown on me over the years. The album proved a decent seller, hitting # 81 on the US pop charts and # 7 on the R&B charts.


"Making Music" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) I Wish You Well   (Bill Withers) - 3:57    rating: **** stars

Even if you find Withers' work  cloying and overly sentimental, this was a magical tune with a melody and refrain that you simply couldn't shake out of your head.  Hard to imagine how many weddings, funerals, graduations, and other events this one must have been played at.   Lovely.  The tune was tapped as a single:

- 1975's 'I Wish You Well'  b/w 'She's Lonely' (Columbia catalog number 3-10308)

2.) The Best You Can   (Bill Withers - Benroce Blackmon) - 2:23     rating: ***** stars

With a bubbly melody and some great bass, 'The Best You Can' was a wonderful example of how Withers' stark and minimal musical approach resulted in something magical.  And those lyrics ...  A wonderful slice of philosophy for most of us to abide by.    If you're a certain age, you may remember the tune became the theme song for the PBS series "Up and Coming".

3.) Make Love To Your Mind   (Bill Withers) - 6:23    rating: **** stars

Withers at his breezy best ...  slinky and seductive and a great showcase for the man.  What a voice; what a delivery ...   Columbia tapped an edited version of the tune as his first single:

- 1975s 'Make Love To Your Mind' b/w 'I Love You Dawn' (Columbia catalog number 3-10255)

4.) I Love You Dawn   (Bill Withers) - 2:36    rating: **** stars

Simply one of the prettiest things he ever wrote, this one's always reminded me of something Sting recorded years later.   Only comment is the tune would have been even better without the heavy orchestration.

5.) She's Lonely   (Bill Withers) - 5:16    rating: **** stars

'She's Lonely' started out as another beautiful ballad and just when you were starting to think maybe it was a little too much of the slow, introspective mode, the funky refrain kicked in.   Besides, how could you not love a song that included a lyric like "and the books she reads are good" ...


(side 2)

1.) Sometimes a Song    (Bill Withers - R. Jackson) - 4:44    rating: **** stars

A true rarity, 'Sometimes a Song' found Withers getting down and dirty ...  Help from Ray Parker Jr. and Wah Wah Watson certainly didn't hurt.   Makes me wish he did more stuff in this vein.   

2.) Paint Your Pretty Picture   (Bill Withers) -5:43   rating: ** stars

A bit too slow and introspective for my tastes ...   but I know lots of folks who love this one.

3.) Family Table   (Bill Withers - D. Gonneau) - 3:13   rating: *** stars

As much as I've always loved Withers country-blues tunes, 'Family Table' seemed to take the concept and wrap it in an MOR arrangement.   Like the bluesy guitar solo on this one.

4.) Don't You Want To Stay?   (Bill Withers - M. Dunlap - R. Jackson) - 4:02    rating: **** stars

Always loved the melody on this one.  There's just something soothing in Withers' performances.  Guess Lamar Kendrick liked it as well since he got slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit for sampling the song's instrumental introduction without permission on his 'I Do This'.

5.) Hello Like Before   (Bill Withers - J. Colins) - 5:29   rating: *** stars

The album's third single, 'Hello Like Before' was another pretty ballad, but simply too orchestrated and cocktail jazzy for my tastes.

- 1975's 'Hello Like Before' b/w 'Family Table' (Columbia catalog number 3-10357)