"There are a lot of quality artists on Columbia who don't turn out records regularly, for whatever reason, like Boz Scaggs and Karla Bonoff. These are talented people--you don't drop them just because they don't make an album once a year. You just have to be patient with them; you wait for them, however long it takes. Bill's in that category. Eventually we knew he'd come up with something we felt would be a hit." Withers singled out Diante and product manager Michael Johnson for praise: "They helped me get out of that hole I was in. If it wasn't for them, I might still be in it."
It's hard for Withers to zero in on a turning point in his relations with Columbia. After a few years, his negative attitude slowly turned positive.
"I was wasting too much time being angry," he explained. "After a while I couldn't get anybody at the label on the phone, so I couldn't scream and yell at anybody. I finally realized the best thing for me to do was shut up and write some more songs and hope for the best."
Now that the album's out and he's counting on label support for his promotional and concert tours, Withers doesn't want to rock the boat.
"I'm going around repairing my relationships with people at the label," he said. "I need them on my side. That's not a compromise; it's just good common sense. The people I had the problems with are now my friends. I'm finally learning how to play the game properly."
In music-business circles, you hear all sorts of speculation about why Withers is finally out of the Columbia's doghouse. Maybe the musical climate changed, becoming more favorable to a folksy singer/songwriter like him. Or maybe some of his adversaries at Columbia were swept out during personnel upheavals. Or maybe he's simply making better music--or more importantly for him, music that Columbia considers commercial. Whatever the reason, he finally got another chance. So far he's made the most of it.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "I've made the best music I know how. I think people will like it. Things should work out."
But he's not totally convinced: "I've been around this business long enough to know that the good guys don't always win."