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Ain’t No Sunshine: The Smooth Soul and Rough Edges of Bill Withers
The first biography of Bill Withers, the most accidental music supernova, who walked away from fame and never looked back.
Bill Withers entered the music fray as hardly an afterthought, rewrote the rules for a decade, earned a fortune, then, unable to square himself with the requisites of the music business, took his leave. When he died in 2019 at eighty-one, he was every bit the mystery he was when he started.
Born and raised in Slab Fork, West Virginia—his father a coal miner, his childhood spent in a pit of racism, and a shy kid who was asthmatic and stuttered—Withers had every reason to say, “People ask what are the blues. Hell, I wasthe blues!” His adulthood was spent running away from Slab Fork as a navy enlistee who worked military-related jobs, including making toilets for 747s. Music was a fantasy, ruled by unscrupulous brokers whom he thought he would never be able to live easily with. When he sang of calling on a “lonely brother” in “Lean on Me,” his biggest hit and an astounding feast for the ears, few knew that he was singing about himself. He was the lonely brother, and the business whose audio rules he refashioned only made him lonelier. His songs were not riling, but easing and caressing the deepest of emotional clefts that bore the weight of the world and the reassurance of a better day on his shoulders—“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Use Me,” “Lovely Day,” “Just the Two of Us”—as well as album cuts that leaped off the vinyl and helped form a coterie of evergreens among his fans. Yet he ruled in his precious fold of time—eight years in the sun—without as much as an agent, manager, lawyer, accountant, valet, or flunky. He was on his own in every way.
This is the craziest success story music has known—a whirlwind that didn’t begin until Withers was in his thirties and carried on as if in neat slow-motion. Now, in this remarkable biography by acclaimed author Mark Ribowsky, Withers is brought to life in vivid detail, told with insights from those who knew him throughout his short but incredibly impactful career.
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