|Bill Withers (2006 photo)|
Withers joined the Navy, became an aircraft mechanic and factory worker and was inspired to become a musician when he saw Lou Rawls sing and attract women. He taught himself to play guitar, wrote dozens of songs and got a recording contract. Hits came quickly; he won a Grammy award in 1971 for “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and another in 1981 for “Just the Two of Us.” But he couldn't get along with Columbia Records, so when his contract ended he quit the business and lived off royalties from his often-covered songs; he won his third Grammy in 1987 for “Lean on Me,” re-done by Club Nouveau. The song was performed at inaugurations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and is the theme of a Walmart TV commercial responding to the covid-19 pandemic.
Withers "wrote some of the most memorable and often-covered songs of the 1970s," and "had an evocative, gritty R&B voice that could embody loss or hope," Neil Genzlinger writes for The New York Times. But the deeper story in the Times is from the paper's longtime chief pop-music critic, Jon Pareles, who notes Withers' background and writes, "He hadn’t been sheltered from the everyday lives that he would write about," such as a Vietnam amputee in “I Can’t Write Left-Handed.” He wrote about his West Virginia childhood in "Railroad Man" and "Grandma's Hands."
|Slab Fork is about 11 miles from Beckley. (Google map)|