Saying goodbye to Bill...

I post this last Friday after receiving the news that Bill Withers had passed away.

I wanted to share it again with my fans in his honor...

 

FRIDAY, APRIL 3RD, 2020 

I've been at a loss for words all morning. I guess I found a bunch to make up for it this afternoon... 

Today, the world is mourning a legend and musical hero that blessed us with his talent and gift of song. 

For me, BILL WITHERS was so much more. To me, he was a true friend, musical mentor and all around jedi master with deep wisdom and compassion. 

I first met Bill in 2008 after his daughter Kori and I became friends and started playing music together. I’ll never forget the day Kori said, “we’re going to rehearse at my dad’s house.” Just meeting Kori was surreal since her dad had been such major influence on my own music already. At that time, I was literally in the middle of a phase where I was constantly listening to and studying Bill Withers' albums. I always found a connection to him because he had the perfect balance of funk groove and acoustic songwriting. I was in the middle of a deep dive of inspiration when I met Kori. We became fast friends and it eventually lead to us playing together over our mutual love for her dad’s music. 

That first day at Bill’s house was mind-blowing. There was a film crew and a bunch of musicians looking to me for direction. I knew I had a choice as music director that day. I could be intimidated, or I could choose to trust my instincts. I chose to trust. Meeting Bill was incredible in itself. He sat with us as we went through the songs and, as Kori and I worked through the arrangements with the band, Bill would chime in as well. He quickly acknowledged my ideas and choices, and a mutual respect was immediately established. We had these great moments of riffing off of each other’s ideas that day that began one of the most amazing relationships of my life. 

When I got back to my apartment later that day, I remember walking in the door and saw that I had my vinyl records out with this picture of Bill’s big smiling face staring right back at me. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. It was like a dream. 

We continued to work together over the next couple years producing shows for Kori and getting to know each other. One day I asked Bill if I could get his help on an arrangement of a cover song I wanted to do and he invited me and my whole band over to work on it. I couldn’t believe it. So, Tamir Barzilay, Mark Corben and I went over to Bill’s and, instead of working on the cover arrangement, he asked me about my own songs. I was beside myself. That turned into us working on my music once a week at Bill’s house for the next 2 months. It was a time I’ll never forget as long as I live. The wisdom and mentorship we got from those sessions was an absolute dream come true. 

Bill and I remained friends and continued to stay in touch. Getting text messages from Bill Withers was always a trip. We had a lot of moments of connection, humor and, at times, tough love. One day, he gave me one of the biggest compliments of my life by telling me that I’m a great songwriter. He also asked me a hard question of whether I every considered having someone else sing my tunes because he wasn’t sure if my voice was the best to deliver the songs in a way that would get them the attention they deserve. I took it well, though it was tough to hear. The next day, he called me to apologize and tell me he didn’t want to pull me off of my game and that he’s just an old guy that doesn’t necessarily know anything about the modern music world. I was okay with it and understood where he was coming from and that it was partly a matter of taste as much as there was some truth in what he said. 

A year or so later, I invited him to go see the Alabama Shakes and Michael Kiwanuka at the Fonda Theater. To my surprise, he told me he would love to. I got us set up with VIP seating all to ourselves in the balcony and we ended up having the best time. Before the show, he brought up that tough conversation to let me know that what he meant was similar to Carole King and how it wasn’t until singers like Aretha Franklin brought attention to her songs that people started paying attention to who Carole King was an artist. I appreciated the compassion he showed me and that he genuinely wanted me to understand what he meant and not take it the wrong way. 

We watched the Alabama Shakes and Bill was in my ear the entire set talking about how much he loved Brittany Howard and how she and the band were the real deal. He was like a kid watching his new favorite band. We went backstage where he turned on the charm for a room full of admirers in awe of him. His larger than life presence even accidentally scared off Juliette Lewis, who was trying to come backstage and say hi in the middle of him telling stories. She ran off before he could tell her he was just messing with her. (I was able to clear that up later with her, don't worry…). I’ll never forget that night and my one-on-one hang with Bill. My friend, Andy Tennille caught some amazing photos from that night. 


About a month ago, Kori came over to see my new house in Laurel Canyon and catch up. She told me that her dad wanted me to come by and see him. I text him the next day and he invited me over. I spent a couple hours with him where we sat and watched Youtube videos about Elgin Baylor and listened to some demos he was working on with Kori. He was older and more scattered than usual, but he was Still Bill, the wise genius with a clever sarcastic sense of humor that will forever go unmatched. He expressed how much he appreciated me coming over and thanked me for visiting him. Little did I know that would be the last time I would see him.  

My heart goes out to his family. Kori and Todd love their dad so much and have lived every day to make him proud. Marcia, his incredible wife is one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. This is going to be a difficult loss for them and I send them all of the love I have to find peace with his passing. After speaking to Kori this morning, I found some peace of my own and was assured that they will get through this time with the love of the people close to them and all of the millions of people touched by his music and legacy. 

Thanks for letting me share a little about what Bill means to me.   
I’ll be listening to his music all day.  

 

Do yourself a favor and put on “Bill Withers - Live at Carnegie Hall”.   
It is one of the greatest live albums of all time and gives a great representation of who Bill Withers was as a person as well as a musical genius.   
If you want to go deeper, listen to his albums, find the STILL BILL DOCUMENTARY and all of the amazing interviews he did on Youtube.   
There’s so much to take in to inspire you and fill your soul.   
I'll be sharing some as the days go by I'm sure. 

His music will live on forever as some of the greatest songs ever written. 
I’m happy to know that the world will continue to be inspired by him and his words. 
I’m gonna miss my mentor and friend. 

RIP BILL WITHERS

1 comment

  • Robert Burke
    Robert Burke La Crescenta, CA
    Very heartfelt, Joel. Thanks for sharing.

    Very heartfelt, Joel. Thanks for sharing.

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