In a recording career that lasted only 15 years, but left a lasting legacy, 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Bill Withers mastered the vocabularies of the acoustic singer-songwriter, R&B, disco and even mainstream jazz, while maintaining a distinctive personality as a composer and vocalist. Here are my picks for essential Bill Withers songs.
“Ain’t No Sunshine”
A breakthrough hit from Just As I Am (produced by Hall of Fame Inductee Booker T. Jones), “Ain’t No Sunshine” set the framework for the Bill Withers sound with its sparse arrangement, direct, no-frills lyric and in the pocket groove. It was also a bona fide hit, reaching Number Three on the Billboard 100 in 1971.
“I was one of those kids who was smaller than all the girls. I stuttered. I had asthma. So I had some issues," recalled Bill Withers. "My grandmother was that one person who would always say that I was going to be OK. … When you're a weaker kid, whoever champions you becomes very important to you." This song is a tribute to those healing hands.
“Who Is He (and What is He to You?)”
Just the right undertone ...
After countless hours researching, interviewing Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Paul Simon and collecting for Paul Simon: Words and Music, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum lead curator Craig Inciardi shares some of his favorite things in the new Paul Simon feature exhibit, which opened October 30, 2014.
1. Paul Simon's First Acoustic Guitar
All musicians get their start somewhere. On his 13th birthday, Paul Simon received his first guitar as a gift from his father Louis Simon, who was a musician. His father taught him a few chords and Simon quickly realized that many of the popular songs from the 1950s – the ones he was listening to – used the same chords and patterns. He and childhood friend Art Garfunkel began to write songs using those voicings. The first song they wrote using the Stadium brand acoustic guitar was called “The Girl for Me.”
2. Letter from Paul Simon to Art Garfunkel
Paul Simon wrote this letter dated August 13, 1957, when he was attending summer camp in Bellport, New York. Art Garfunkel was at different summer camp in New Jersey, and it was a pivotal moment in their young lives. They had been singing ...
The biggest hit of Simon and Garfunkel's career turned into their swan song. The much-loved and critically acclaimed duo personified poetic, collegiate folk rock. Throughout the 1960s, however, Paul Simon's songs increasingly discarded formal language for more colloquial lyrics. Similarly, his music expanded from the folkie roots implicit in his guitar finger picking. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" reflected these trends, besides being a typically well-manicured production. Similar qualities characterized Simon's subsequent solo career.
"'Bridge Over Troubled Water' is something of a mystery to me," notes Simon in the Rock Hall's latest exhibit, Paul Simon: Words & Music. "Because nothing prompted me to write it. I was listening to a lot of gospel quartets, particularly the Swan Silvertones and the Everly Brothers album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. I was stunned and I thought, 'that’s a lot better than I usually write.'"
With a dramatic piano introduction and majestic melody, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is a moving, spiritual song that like the Beatles' "Let It Be" evokes gospel themes without the overt trappings of that genre. Some theorize that its massive success piqued Simon, who not only wrote the tune but also was intimately involved in its ...
Who was Mrs. Roosevelt and what's her relation to Mrs. Robinson? Where did Joe DiMaggio go? Where does Paul Simon come up with his lyrics?
"So goodbye to Mrs. Roosevelt, all along the road down to glory hallelujah," Simon recites from an old handwritten lyric manuscript (pictured) featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's new exhibit, Paul Simon: Words and Music. "I don't think of what I do as writing poetry, but the language may have imagery in it."
Watch Hall of Fame Inductee Paul Simon talk about how "Mrs. Roosevelt" became the famous "Mrs. Robinson," the real background to the "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio" lyric and more:
Opening on October 30, 2014, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland's new exhibit Paul Simon: Words & Music will feature exclusive candid commentary gathered from hours of filmed interview footage that walks the audience through the personal story of Simon’s life and his creative process. This opening marks the Museum’s first-ever exhibit anchored by first-person narration by the artist. In addition to the autobiographical films, there will be videos of select performance highlights from Simon’s ...
What do Chet Atkins, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Graham Nash, the Hollies, Linda Ronstadt, Paul McCartney, Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day have in common? As the above infographic illustrates, each has a connection to the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Music Masters honorees the Everly Brothers.
Click the image above for a free illustrated history of the Everly Brothers infographic download!
"It's impossible to imagine popular music without the Everly Brothers," said 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Donovan in a recorded tribute to the brotherly duo to be honored at the Rock Hall's annual Music Masters event on Saturday, October 25, 2014. "I am influenced tremendously by Don and Phil [Everly], and their incredible recordings."
Although Donovan will not be in Cleveland for the week of events surrounding this year's Music Masters, the Saturday tribute concert will include performances by Hall of Fame Inductee Graham Nash, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, JD Souther, Emmylou Harris, Albert Lee, Keb' Mo', Shelby Lynne, Secret Sisters, Alison Krauss, Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Dawn McCarthy, Allison Moorer and more. Get details on the week of Music Masters events celebrating 1986 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees the Everly Brothers, including tickets for the tribute concert!
Watch Donovan sing a stripped-down acoustic version of the Everly Brothers' "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)."
(pictured: Donovan visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2012, the year of his induction.)
British music magazine NME recently published a feature asking more than two dozen performers what are the songs they'd wish they had written. The responses gathered from artists young and old, across genres, included nods to the likes of Bob Dylan ("It's Alright Ma(I'm Only Bleeding)"), David Bowie ("Ziggy Stardust" and "Life on Mars?"), James Brown ("Hot Pants" and "Cold Sweat"), Abba ("The Winner Takes It All"), the Beach Boys ("God Only Knows"), Ike and Tina Turner ("Nutbush City Limits") and more. (pictured, clockwise from left: Jimi Hendrix's 1967 Gibson Flying V dubbed "Love Drops;" Slash performs live at the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony; dresses worn by the Supremes in 1969.)
"Cole Porter and Irving Berlin are just the best," Ray Davies of Hall of Fame Inductees the Kinks told NME. "Songs by Chuck Berry, Otis Redding and Hank Williams I love, too. Or anything Holland-Dozier-Holland did for the Supremes." All those artists – as well as the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland – are Hall of Fame Inductees and feature prominently in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Cities and Sounds and Legends exhibits.
2012 Hall of Fame ...
Fifty years ago, in 1964, a group of musicians – Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark – came together in Los Angeles, California, calling themselves the Beefeaters. By December of 1964, the Beefeaters had recruited Chris Hillman on bass guitar and Michael Clarke on drums, and changed their name to the Byrds. Far more than a name change, the group charted a new course in rock and roll history, pioneering the folk rock sounds that would become so emblematic of an era and influential generations later.
Folk rock didn't necessarily begin with the Byrds' "Mr Tambourine Man" – four months before they recorded it, the Animals were topping the pop charts with "The House of the Rising Sun" – but its combination of song and performance epitomized the genre, with the happy effect of giving Bob Dylan (as songwriter, at least) a Number One hit. The only Byrd playing on it, though, was electric 12-string guitarist McGuinn. Producer Terry Melcher, doubtful of the new band's abilities, hired session musicians to back up the vocals of McGuinn, Crosby and Clark. Perhaps Melcher had heard the group's originally private 1964 recording of the tune, which sounds like an arrangement for a music ...