April 3rd: Bill Withers, RIP

So sad to hear of the death of Bill Withers, life guide and fine songwriter. Here’s a reprint of a couple of Five Things about Bill.

Bill Withers onstage in 1973.

The things you learn…
Sent on a small Bill Withers journey by The Immortal Jukebox, I came across the interesting tale of his first album on the mix site, written by Barbara Schultz. There’s the fascinating story of Wally Heider’s studio in the piece, which is basically an interview with the great engineer Bill Halverson. And how many articles about recording studios feature the word “soffit”? “Withers was eventually signed to Sussex Records, and the great Booker T. Jones was enlisted to produce the new artist’s debut album, Just as I Am in 1971. Also on the session were two members of the MGs – drummer Al Jackson and bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn – plus singer/songwriter Stephen Stills on guitar. The recordings were made in Wally Heider’s Studio 3, then situated in L.A. at the corner of Cahuenga and Selma. The engineer was Bill Halverson, whose credits at that point included such essential records as Crosby Stills and Nash’s massive self-titled debut, Cream’s Badge, Tom Jones Sings She’s a Lady and CSNY’s Déjà Vu.

“It was Stephen Stills’ studio time that we were using,” Halverson recalls by phone from his home in Nashville. “I was working with Stephen on his first solo record, and he came to me a couple nights before this and said, ‘I’ve got this guy who needs a night of studio time.’ Stephen was hanging with Rita Coolidge, and Booker was marrying [Rita Coolidge’s sister] Priscilla Coolidge, and somehow Booker asked Stephen for some studio time. We just spent the one night.” On Withers’ session, Halverson placed Jackson’s kit near the control room glass, under an overhanging soffit – an emulation of United Western 3 [a fabled room in LA Studio lore — ed] – that held the studio playback speakers. “If you tucked the drums as close as you could under that overhang of the big speakers, you were out in the room but you had really good isolation,” Halverson says.

“When Bill Withers showed up,” Halverson says, “he comes walking in with his guitar and a straight-back chair, like a dining room chair, and asks, ‘Where do I set up?’ I showed him right in the middle of the room, and then he left and he came back in with this platform, a kind of wooden box that didn’t have a bottom. It was about four inches tall, and was maybe 3 foot by 4 foot; it was a fairly large platform, and he set it down in the middle of the room. Then he put his chair on it and got his guitar out, and he’s sitting on top of this box. So I miked him and I miked his guitar, and then I was doing other things – getting sounds together. But then he calls me over and he points down to the box and says, ‘You gotta mike the box.’ Well, the way I was trained, you serve the artist, whatever the artist needs. So I got a couple other mics and I miked the box, the place down near the floor, next to this platform.
 
“And now, when you listen to “Ain’t No Sunshine,” you know that all that tapping that goes on [while Withers sings] ‘I know I know I know’ all through it, actually, that’s him tapping his feet on the box, which is actually more intricate than the guitar on that track. He had evidently rehearsed that in his living room, maybe for years.”

I found the great documentary, Still Bill, directed by Damani Baker and Alex Vlack, complete on YouTube. I wrote a little about it in 2012:

It’s Bill Withers’ World: we just live in it… the Wonderful Still Bill
Everyone is hereby urged to see this fine, fine piece of work, less a music documentary than a meditation on how to live a life. Best human moment: Bill’s visit to an educational project helping kids who stutter (Withers did until the age of 28). Best musical moment: a toss-up between Raul Midón and Bill on the telephone, and at a tribute concert, Bill watching Cornell Dupree glide ’n’ slide through Grandma’s Hands, talent undimmed by illness (even though he has an oxygen tube on). Bill steps onto the stage and sings a verse, but then, as Barney Hoskyns’ wrote: “as if concerned not to upstage the ailing but grinning Dupree—one of soul music’s greatest guitar players—he almost immediately sat down beside him, continuing to sing but deferring to Dupree.” And with his hand resting on Cornell’s knee.

If you haven’t seen it, rectify that omission soon. The Cornell Dupree version of “Grandma’s Hands” is at 1 hr 6 minutes.

Thursday, 7th July

ONE THE WORLD IS IN AN UPROAR, THE DANGER ZONE IS EVERYWHERE
And this tweet brilliantly summed up recent job losses…

Spice

TWO FOUND IN THE VAULTS OF ROCK’S BACKPAGES…
This series of ads and subscription offers from a very early copy of Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy. “I know you need the bread!”, “About everything in life except June-moon-croon!” “Because Nyro is Nyro!”

crawdaddy

THREE THE THINGS YOU LEARN
Sent on a small Bill Withers journey by The Immortal Jukebox, I came across the interesting tale of his first album on the mix site, written by Barbara Schultz. There’s the fascinating story of Wally Heider’s studio in the piece, which is basically an interview with the great engineer Bill Halverson. And how many articles about recording studios feature the word “soffit”? “Withers was eventually signed to Sussex Records, and the great Booker T. Jones was enlisted to produce the new artist’s debut album, Just as I Am in 1971. Also on the session were two members of the MGs – drummer Al Jackson and bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn – plus singer/songwriter Stephen Stills on guitar. The recordings were made in Wally Heider’s Studio 3, then situated in L.A. at the corner of Cahuenga and Selma. The engineer was Bill Halverson, whose credits at that point included such essential records as Crosby Stills and Nash’s massive self-titled debut, Cream’s Badge, Tom Jones Sings She’s a Lady and CSNY’s Déjà Vu.

“It was Stephen Stills’ studio time that we were using,” Halverson recalls by phone from his home in Nashville. “I was working with Stephen on his first solo record, and he came to me a couple nights before this and said, ‘I’ve got this guy who needs a night of studio time.’ Stephen was hanging with Rita Coolidge, and Booker was marrying [Rita Coolidge’s sister] Priscilla Coolidge, and somehow Booker asked Stephen for some studio time. We just spent the one night.” On Withers’ session, Halverson placed Jackson’s kit near the control room glass, under an overhanging soffit – again, an emulation of United Western 3 – that held the studio playback speakers. “If you tucked the drums as close as you could under that overhang of the big speakers, you were out in the room but you had really good isolation,” Halverson says.

“When Bill Withers showed up,” Halverson says, “he comes walking in with his guitar and a straight-back chair, like a dining room chair, and asks, ‘Where do I set up?’ I showed him right in the middle of the room, and then he left and he came back in with this platform, a kind of wooden box that didn’t have a bottom. It was about four inches tall, and was maybe 3 foot by 4 foot; it was a fairly large platform, and he set it down in the middle of the room. Then he put his chair on it and got his guitar out, and he’s sitting on top of this box. So I miked him and I miked his guitar, and then I was doing other things – getting sounds together. But then he calls me over and he points down to the box and says, ‘You gotta mike the box.’ Well, the way I was trained, you serve the artist, whatever the artist needs. So I got a couple other mics and I miked the box, the place down near the floor, next to this platform.
 
“And now, when you listen to “Ain’t No Sunshine,” you know that all that tapping that goes on [while Withers sings] ‘I know I know I know’ all through it, actually, that’s him tapping his feet on the box, which is actually more intricate than the guitar on that track. He had evidently rehearsed that in his living room, maybe for years.”

I found the great documentary, Still Bill, directed by Damani Baker and Alex Vlack, complete on YouTube. I wrote a little about it in 2012. If you haven’t seen it, rectify that omission soon. Oh, and check out the Cornell Dupree version of “Grandma’s Hands” at 1 hr 6 minutes.

FOUR AT WIMBLEDON, A NICE JUXTAPOSITION OF WORDS

! cornetkeys
Words that sent me back to Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, on trumpet and piano, playing “Weather Bird”, one of the marvels of 20th Century music. It’s in the Music Player on the right.

FIVE MUSIC SOFTWARE AND THE INTERNET LEAD TO SOME MOST-STRANGE BEDFELLOWS…
Such as Auctioneers and Hip Hop. Clever and hypnotic.

For the full 5 Things experience, please click on the Date Headline of the page in the email and you will go to the proper site (which allows you to see the Music Player). Also all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 14th March

David Whitaker
The death, at 81, of the man responsible for the strings that were sampled by The Verve for Bittersweet Symphony brought forth this excellent little nugget, recounted by Bob Stanley in his Guardian obit: “He spent much of his time in Paris working with the cream of the country’s “yé-yé” scene, including Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Claude François, France Gall and Serge Gainsbourg.  Gainsbourg’s song Comic Strip was recorded in London, with Brigitte Bardot providing back-up vocals. Whitaker later explained how they decided where they worked: “If Serge wanted some new clothes, we recorded in London, and if I wanted some we recorded in Paris.” Ha! There are, by the way, excellent waxworks of both Johnny and Serge in the Musée Grévin in Paris.

Liza with a What?
News comes via Andy Schwartz on the rocksbackpages blog of an album cut by Liza Minelli at Muscle Shoals. Aside from the fact that that we need much more information on this, it make you wonder about any other weird combos that may come out of the woodwork, from a long-gone time when no talent mix was too strange to consider. Prime runners?  The lost Doris Day at Stax album, or the rumoured Mae West: Gettin’ Down & Dirty with Little Beaver Miami masterwork?

Do You Remember The Tyla Gang?
At lunch with friends on Sunday it turns out that Weston’s brother Mike was the drummer in The Tyla Gang. We had a fine time reminiscing about The Nashville Rooms & Bees Make Honey and the London music scene of the early seventies, and Mike had great stories to tell of his times with Brian Eno and Sean Tyla. I saw Ducks Deluxe, Tyla’s band before The Gang, many times at The Fulham Greyhound. Most of my memories of Fulham Palace Road are pretty fuzzy, centering around Nazareth and Head, Hands & Feet.  Oh, and being shouted at by Ian Dury: “Oi, Four Eyes… get your beer off my fucking amp…”

It’s Bill Withers’ World: we just live in it… the Wonderful Still Bill
Everyone is hereby urged to see this fine, fine piece of work, less a music documentary than a meditation on how to live a life. Best human moment: Bill’s visit to an educational project helping kids who stutter (Withers did until the age of 28). Best musical moment: a toss-up between Raul Midón and Bill on the telephone, and at a tribute concert, Bill watching Cornell Dupree glide ’n’ slide through Grandma’s Hands, talent undimmed by illness (even though he has an oxygen tube on). Bill steps onto the stage and sings a verse, but then, as Barney Hoskyns’ wrote: “as if concerned not to upstage the ailing but grinning Dupree—one of soul music’s greatest guitar players—he almost immediately sat down beside him, continuing to sing but deferring to Dupree.” And with his hand resting on Cornell’s knee.

A Strange Englishness
A beautifully compiled curio: Tyneham House, a 14 track CD, beautifully packaged in a Gocco-printed card box with booklet and a ‘bonus’ cassette tape, all illustrated by award-winning artist Frances Castle (a Jarvis Cocker favourite) of Clay Pipe Music. The subject is the Dorset village  requisitioned by the government for ‘training purposes’ by the British Government in the lead-up to WWII. The music itself is by regular conributors to the label’s releases, but all anonymous here, with a mixture of new and archive performances. Perfect English Summer listening. Now we just need the Summer.

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