In 1985, the great R&B singer Bill Withers made his last record, leaving fans hungry for more of the sinuous grooves, poignant lyrics and smooth voice that made his songs so instantly recognizable. For the last 30 years, Withers has lived a life of contented domesticity with his wife, Marcia, and children Todd and Kori.
But despite his best efforts to leave fame behind, suddenly he's everywhere, with his sultry ballad "Use Me" promoting the HBO series "Hung" and two films coming out: "Still Bill," a documentary on Withers' life and career, and "Soul Power," about the concert that preceded the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman boxing match in Zaire in 1974. (The latter film will be shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Sunday.)
Bill Withers, you're having a moment. It seems like wherever you go, one of your songs is playing.
I don't know. Marcia deals with all that stuff in the office, so she's probably more aware of that than I am. So I'll take your word for it.
So you have no interest in a comeback?
You know, this whole music thing for me was something that came into my life after I was formed socially. So it was fun, it served its purpose, I still like it, but it's not my main focus. In fact, it hasn't been for a long time. There are other requirements. You're somebody's father, you're somebody's husband, you're somebody's friend. And for me, it was important that I not neglect those other requirements just to satisfy some personal need that I might have for approval or attention from people that I don't even know.
I can't let you go without asking you something for my personal benefit. When "Ain't No Sunshine" was a huge hit back in 1971, my father and I had a competition going about who could count the number of times you sing "I know" during the bridge. Once and for all, how many was it?
We'll have to take the word of someone who counted it. And the most consistent number that has come up is 26.
You know, I wasn't going to write anything there, but [the record's producer] Booker T. [Jones] said, "Just do that, just do 'I know.' "
Those are things you do when you're not thinking about it. You're just singing the song.
Ann Hornaday writes for the Washington Post