Aaron Byrd pays tribute to Bill Withers with 18 forever-classic songs

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Bill Withers Photo by annulla (Creative Commons)

It's been a particularly rough start of the year for us Angelenos. First, Woody Phillips, the founder of the famous Woody's Bar-B-Que, died on the eve of 2020. Then, just a few weeks later we lost Kobe. Now, Bill Withers too! Bill wasn’t from LA, but he began his music career here and adopted the city as his own and was accepted with open arms.

Of course, Bill Withers’ music stretches well beyond this city. It stretches across time too. His impact on the musical community has had a profound ripple effect that no doubt will remain. Just as the business of the music industry began to change and challenge his creative process, he made the bold and rather unprecedented decision to step away. Many folks don't even realize that his last release was 1985. Yeah, 35 years ago. The truth is, when you're able to craft narratives that distill the complexities of the human condition into simple yet profound songs with depth and sensitivity, your art is universal and cannot be defined by space or time. That's what Bill gave us and still does.  

Bill Withers made music that epitomizes “classic.” "Lovely Day" will be played at weddings until the end of time. "Grandma's Hands" will always evoke memories of the strong women who raised us. "Lean On Me" at worst, is a song of comfort and inspiration; at best, is a cultural phenomenon. Perhaps part of the reason why these and many others will stand the test of time is because many were crafted by classic musicians.

Did you know he worked with legends like drummer James Gadson who played with Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, B.B. King, Rose Royce, Beck, Flea, Wilco and Feist, just to name a few. Gadson was the drummer on Still Bill, which includes "Use Me," "Lean On Me," and "Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?" Withers also recorded with Bernard Purdie, who is the most recorded drummer ever! Purdie has worked with everyone from Nina Simon, John Lee Hooker, Herbie Mann, Aretha Franklin, Richie Havens, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, Bette Midler...everyone. Purdie is the drummer on "Ain't No Sunshine", which was produced by Booker T. Jones and features Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, Nash) on guitar. Guitarist José Feliciano and the legendary harpist Dorothy Ashby are both featured on 'Justments, which includes some of my favorite Bill Withers songs, "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh" and "Make A Smile for Me."

In my opinion, Bill Withers is one of the greatest American writers of all time. Not songwriters. Writers...period. Ask anyone who knows me well, I've said this for many years. If you haven't, I highly encourage you to check the man's catalogue. He did not make a bad song. Ever. His songs have meant so much to me and "Make A Smile for Me" is one of my top 10 favorite songs of all time. So when I woke up to the news of his passing last Friday morning, I was really shaken. I was also compelled to dedicate my daily IG Live mix to the genius, Bill Withers. 

I played a little over an hour's worth of songs from his catalogue that are some of my personal favorites, and some of them that aren't that well known. I'd like to share those songs with you. I start things off with my favorite song about Los Angeles, from one of the city's favorite adopted sons. 

What's your favorite Bill Withers song?

By the way, if you want to check out my daily mixes on Instagram, follow me at @itsabyrd

Tracklist:

1) "City of the Angels"
2) "Make a Smile for Me"
3) "Hope She'll Be Happier"
4) "The Gift of Giving"
5) "I Don't Know"
6) "Don't You Want to Stay?"
7) "Naked & Warm"
8) "Ruby Lee"
9) "Harlem"
10) "I'm Her Daddy"
11) "Do It Good"
12) "I Don't Want You On My Mind"
13) "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh"
14) "Moanin' and Groanin'"
15) "Better Off Dead"
16) "Kissing My Love"
17) "Lonely Town, Lonely Street"
18) "Sometimes a Song"