Most don’t start off with huge ambitions, but imagine writing a few songs that nearly everyone in the world knows? It must be an amazing feeling, and it was a feeling that came to Bill Withers many times during his career.
The singer-songwriter, who died last week (March 30), had a remarkable run when you consider that he was relatively unknown by the time he turned 30. Even after ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ became a hit, he continued his day job, realising that the record industry was a fickle business.
He soon went on to enjoy huge success but ultimately, he was proven right, and he walked away from it all just over a decade later. But Bill Withers became one of the defining singers and songwriters of the 1970s, a golden era for music, in particular soulful music.
This was the era of Stevie Wonder’s amazing run of classic albums, and an era where fellow Motown ’60s star Marvin Gaye also took control of his career and made memorable classics too.
Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Barry White, Carole King, Neil Young, Bob Marley, David Bowie and Elton John were just a few of the solo stars in this amazing era, but it is a testament to the greatness of Bill Withers that he can comfortably sit with the best of them all.
By the time he walked away he had recorded songs which are still sung the world over: ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, ‘Lovely day’, ‘Lean on me’, ‘Use me’ and ‘Just the two of us’, are hugely well-known songs, but scratch beneath the surface and there’s plenty of more memorable gems too.
Bill Withers golden era was marked by record company disputes and the tensions were very evident even by the mid-’70s. Recording delays, disputes and disagreements overshadowed what should have been his glory years, and things came to a head in the ’80s, when he couldn’t hide his disdain for Columbia records A&R team, and he decided to walk away from it all.
Bill Withers did so on his own terms, and it seems having only come to success late gave him a bit of a level-headed approach to life after music. He apparently coped pretty well with life after stardom, and never longed to go back recording or touring.
The Bill Withers industry continued without him and there were many remixes and re-releases in subsequent years. His reputation continued to grow and despite being a very modest person, he was honoured to be inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame, but bar a few songs and appearances, he continued his retirement from music right up until his death. His legacy is assured and his influence on modern singers from a wide variety of backgrounds is immense. As I said at the start, he wrote songs that the whole world now sing, and you can’t really ask for more that that!
Another influential artist also died last week, though one who had a far more modest career. Vaughan Mason recorded some of the most sampled records of all time, including the legendary ‘Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll’.
It was a bit of a Chic ‘Good Times’ lift and an undeniable attempt to cash in on the roller skating craze of that era, but it worked, and it still stands up as one of the defining tracks of that era.
Vaughan Mason did plenty more along the same lines, and his keen eye for musical trends and tastes ensured that he was right in the thick of things when the house music craze started later in the ’80s too.
‘Break 4 Love’ by Raze remains a defining track from this era too, and Mason went on to produce plenty of more big tunes for others artists, such as Doug Lazy, Barbara Joyce and Spyder D.
He openly admitted that he was a little bit of a plagiarist, but the tracks he made back then still stand up, and ironically, have been sampled by some of the biggest hitters in music ever since.
He was no Bill Withers, but Vaughan Mason also played his part in music history.
May they both Rest in Peace.