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Bill Withers’ The Complete Sussex and Columbia Masters Box Set Collects His Nine Landmark Albums, From 1971’s Just As I Am Through 1985’s Watching You Watching Me


Available everywhere October 30, 2012

Complex and deeply-rooted emotional and sentimental forces are at the heart of one of our greatest living American popular songwriters, forces which course through the 91 tracks on BILL WITHERS – THE COMPLETE SUSSEX AND COLUMBIA MASTERS. The box set, contain­ing all nine albums that Withers recorded from 1971 to 1985, will be available at the website – – as well as all general retail on October 30th through Columbia/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.

As with many of the more than two dozen box sets released so far in Legacy’s Complete Album Collections series, BILL WITHERS – THE COMPLETE SUSSEX AND COLUMBIA MASTERS benefits from the artist’s entire catalog, on two separate record labels, being under the Sony Music banner:

BILL WITHERS – THE COMPLETE SUSSEX AND COLUMBIA MASTERS was compiled by Leo Sacks, the longtime Legacy producer who also supervised Take A Look: Aretha Franklin Complete On Columbia and Earth Wind & Fire: The Columbia Masters (both 2011). All music has been been newly mastered from the original analog tapes by Sony Senior Mastering Engineer Mark Wilder, recipient of seven Grammy Award® nominations and three Grammy Awards® in his nearly 25 years at Sony.

Inside the box set, the nine albums are each packaged in a replica mini-LP sleeve reproducing that LP’s original front and back cover artwork. The accompanying booklet includes complete discographical information for each album, along with a personal introduction to the box set written by Bill Withers. In the case of Bill’s debut album, 1971’s Just As I Am, an essay is included that he wrote for a 2005 CD reissue on Legacy. Complete notes are also included that were originally written for various LPs at the time of their release, notably Live At Carnegie Hall, +’Justments, Making Music, and Naked & Warm.

The new 1,500-word essay, “Hello Like Before,” that is the centerpiece of the booklet, was written by Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and a Political Analyst on MSNBC. Named by Ebony magazine as one of the 100 most influential black Americans, Dyson received the American Book Award for Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and The Color of Disaster. He is also the author of Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (2001); I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King (2000, winner of an NAACP Image Award),and the best-selling Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye (2004).

Three-time Grammy Award®-winner Bill Withers established his reputation at the very onset of his career in 1971 and ’72, when his string of consecutive hits on the indie Sussex Records label dominated the Pop and R&B charts and became American standards. “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Lean On Me,” and “Use Me” are inscribed in our collective musical psyche, and have turned into cultural touchstones in the four decades since they were produced.

Numerous examples exist of Bill Withers’ continuing influence on culture. Lean On Me, director John Avildsen’s critically hailed 1989 film, utilized three different versions of the song (as recorded by Thelma Houston with the Winans, by Club Nouveau, and by a member of the cast) to connect the spirit of the song with the film’s story. Another example is Al Jarreau, who has always paid homage onstage to Bill Withers, and who recorded a tribute album of eight of his songs, issued under several titles in the U.S. and abroad. And then there is “Just the Two Of Us,” a top 20 pop and R&B hit for Will Smith in 1998, from his debut Columbia album, Big Willie Style. The track later showed up on 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me movie soundtrack, as a hilarious duet with Dr. Evil.

Covers and tricked-out samples of Bill Withers’ litany of signature compositions spice up the pop and hip-hop landscape with regularity. Over the last two decades, such gems as “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?,” “Lovely Day” and “Kissing My Love” have made their way back into many repertoires.

The unlikeliest star to emerge from Slab Fork in the dirt-poor Appalachia coal mining hills of West Virginia, where he was born on the 4th of July in 1938, Bill Withers struggled throughout his youth. “I was small,” he confessed to one writer, “I stuttered, I wet the bed, I was sickly and unpopular. Later in life I started writing poetry and songs as a way to legitimize myself.” After nine years in the Navy followed by a variety of blue collar jobs he settled in Los Angeles around 1967, where he found work at the aerospace facilities of McDonald-Douglas and Lockheed. A co-worker, keyboardist Ray Jackson, helped Bill put together his first demos which they worked on in drummer James Gadson’s garage; Jackson and Gadson later became the nucleus of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, along with bassist Melvin Dunlap.

The demos won Bill a deal with Sussex Records, run by black businessman Clarence Avant. Bill’s debut album, Just As I Am, was produced by Booker T. Jones of Booker T & the MG’s, and featured MG’s drummer Al Jackson. Guitarist Steve Cropper of the MG’s was unavailable, so Booker recruited 26-year-old Stephen Stills for the sessions. The LP was in the right place at the right time in the summer of 1971, when the RIAA gold Top 10 “Ain’t No Sunshine” established Bill Withers. The followup single, “Grandma’s Hands,” worked its way into people’s hearts via the 1973 cover by the Staples Singers. “Ain’t No Sunshine” went on to win the Grammy Award® as Best R&B Song (a songwriter’s award).

Booker T was unavailable to produce the next LP, so Bill took over, aided by Jackson, Gadson, Dunlap and guitarist Benorce Blackman. The title, Still Bill, pointed to his humble sense of staying unspoiled in an age of excess. The massive back-to-back success of “Lean On Me” and “Use Me,” both gold singles, sent the LP to RIAA gold as well. (One track, “Let Me In Your Life,” became the title tune of Aretha Franklin’s Let Me In Your Life LP of 1974.)

Live At Carnegie Hall, was an unprecedented double-LP that confirmed the arrival of a major artist. It did not fare as well on the charts as his first two LPs, nor did its followup, +’Justments (a not-so-subtle commentary on his financial mess with Sussex), but by that time, 1975, Bill was already on his way to Columbia Records. The new label association took some time (and two LPs, Making Music, whose “Make Love To Your Mind” was a #10 Soul hit, and Naked & Warm) to break in, but the third was the charm. “Lovely Day” became Bill’s biggest R&B (#6) and pop (#30) crossover hit in five years, as Menagerie returned him to the RIAA gold realm.

He ended the decade of the ’70s with ’Bout Love. A long hiatus was ended in 1981 with “Just the Two Of Us,” his timeless smash hit with saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. (on Elektra). “Just The Two Of Us” (#2 pop and #3 R&B) went on to win the Grammy Award® as Best R&B Song for Bill and co-writers William Salter and Ralph McDonald. In 1984, Bill teamed with percussionist McDonald for another hit single, “In the Name Of Love” (Polydor), which reached #13 R&B. Bill finally returned with one last Columbia album in 1985, Watching You Watching Me, which yielded two modest mid-chart R&B singles (“Oh Yeah!” and “Something That Turns You On”).

After recording 91 tracks on his nine albums, Bill Withers stepped away from active recording and turned his attention to one of his other passions, home repair. But his admirers on both sides of the Atlantic have kept his music publishing concerns very busy, starting in 1987, when Club Nouveau adapted “Lean On Me” for a new generation. The track reached #1 pop, #2 R&B, and #3 in the UK, and won Bill his third Grammy Award® as Best R&B Song. The following year, British DJ Ben Leibrand’s Sunshine Mix of “Lovely Day” returned the song to the UK national chart.

A sample of “Grandma’s Hands” was heard on 1996’s “No Diggity” by BLACKstreet featuring Dr. Dre. The massive RIAA platinum #1 pop and #1 R&B hit (4 weeks each) went on to win the Grammy Award® as Best R&B Vocal Performance, Duo/Group. Also in ’96, Me’Shell Ndegéocello revived “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?” on her Peace Beyond Passion album. Bill’s original version of the song showed up the next year on Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown movie soundtrack.

Aaron Neville brought “Use Me” back onto the charts in 1995 (on his Tattooed Heart album) and five years later, Hootie & the Blowfish closed out their Scattered, Smothered & Covered album with the tune. A Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, and recipient of ASCAP’s 2006 Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award, Bill Withers has two songs in the Grammy® Hall Of Fame: “Ain’t No Sunshine” (inducted 1999) and “Lean On Me” (2007). There are hundreds of Bill Withers covers to be found on Internet sources, and hip-hop sampling never ends.

“The magnitude of Bill Withers’ own value can’t be denied,” Dyson concludes. “His stories have shaped a generation’s understanding of itself. His poetry has touched the lives of millions around the globe whose tongues can barely express what their hearts so deeply feel.”


(Columbia/Legacy 88697 89467 2)

JUST AS I AM by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1971, as Sussex 7006) Selections: 1. Harlem • 2. Ain’t No Sunshine (1st single, Hot 100 #3, R&B #6) • 3. Grandma’s Hands (2nd single, Hot 100 #42, R&B #18) • 4. Sweet Wanomi • 5. Every­body’s Talkin’ • 6. Do It Good • 7. Hope She’ll Be Happier • 8. Let It Be • 9. I’m Her Daddy • 10. In My Heart • 11. Moanin’ And Groanin’ • 12. Better Off Dead.

STILL BILL by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1972, as Sussex 7014) Selections: 1. Lonely Town, Lonely Street • 2. Let Me In Your Life • 3. Who Is He (And What Is He To You)? • 4. Use Me (2nd single, Hot 100 #2, R&B #2) • 5. Lean On Me (1st, single, Hot 100 #1, R&B #1) • 6. Kissing My Love (3rd single, #12 R&B, #31 Pop) • 7. I Don’t Know • 8. Another Day To Run • 9. I Don’t Want You On My Mind • 10. Take It All In And Check It All Out.

BILL WITHERS LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL (originally issued 1973, as double-LP Sussex 7025) Selections: 1. Use Me • 2. Friend Of Mine (2nd single, Hot 100 #80, R&B #25) • 3. Ain’t No Sunshine • 4. Grandma’s Hands – With Rap • 5. World Keeps Going Around • 6. Let Me In Your Life – With Rap • 7. Better Off Dead • 8. For My Friend • 9. Can’t Write Left-Handed • 10. Lean On Me • 11. Lonely Town, Lonely Street • 12. Hope She’ll Be Happier • 13. Let Us Love (1st single, Hot 100 #47, R&B #17) • 14. Medley: Harlem / Cold Baloney.

+’JUSTMENTS by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1974, as Sussex 8032) Selections: 1. You (2nd single, R&B #15) • 2. The Same Love That Made Me Laugh (1st single, Hot 100 #50, R&B #10) • 3. Stories • 4. Green Grass • 5. Ruby Lee • 6. Heartbreak Road (3rd single, Hot 100 #89, R&B #13) • 7. Can We Pretend • 8. Liza • 9. Make A Smile For Me • 10. Railroad Man.

MAKING MUSIC by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1975, as Columbia 33704) Selections: 1. I Wish You Well (2nd single, R&B #54) • 2. The Best You Can • 3. Make Love To Your Mind (1st single, Hot 100 #76, R&B #10) • 4. I Love You Dawn • 5. She’s Lonely • 6. Sometimes A Song • 7. Paint Your Little Picture • 8. Family Table • 9. Don’t You Want To Stay? • 10. Hello Like Before.

NAKED & WARM by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1976, as Columbia 33704) Selections: 1. Close To Me (2nd single, R&B #88) • 2. Naked & Warm (Heaven! Oh! Heaven!) • 3. Where You Are • 4. Dreams • 5. If I Didn’t Mean You Well (1st single, R&B #74) • 6. I’ll Be With You • 7. City Of The Angels • 8. My Imagination.

MENAGERIE by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1977, as Columbia 34903) Selections: 1. Lovely Day (1st single, Hot 100 #30, R&B #6) • 2. I Want To Spend the Night • 3. Lovely Night For Dancing (2nd single, R&B #75) • 4. Then You Smile At Me • 5. She Wants To (Get On Down) • 6. It Ain’t Because Of Me Baby • 7. Tender Things • 8. Wintertime • 9. Let Me Be the One You Need.

’BOUT LOVE by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1979, as Columbia 35596) Selections: 1. All Because Of You • 2. Dedicated To You My Love • 3. Don’t It Make It Better (1st single, R&B #30) • 4. You Got The Stuff (2nd single, R&B #85) • 5. Look To Each Other For Love • 6. Love • 7. Love Is • 8. Memories Are That Way.

WATCHING YOU WATCHING ME by BILL WITHERS (originally issued 1985, as Columbia 39887) Selections: 1. Oh Yeah! (1st single, Hot 100 #106, R&B #22) • 2. Something That Turns You On (2nd single, R&B #46) • 3. Don’t Make Me Wait • 4. Heart In Your Life • 5. Watching You Watching Me • 6. We Could Be Sweet Lovers • 7. You Just Can’t Smile It Away • 8. Steppin’ Right Along • 9. Whatever Happens • 10. You Try To Find A Love.