Stuttering and dating
Amazingly, Sunshine was originally released in July 1971 as the B-side of his debut single, Harlem.
Even Lennon and Mc Cartney at their zenith would have been proud of perhaps his finest achievement, Ain’t No Sunshine, which won the Grammy for Best R&B Song in 1972. More than 250 artists have recorded a cover version and it has earned royalties from television adverts all over the world.
Not surprisingly he was desperate to leave and at 18 he enlisted with the US Navy for nine years, travelling the world and learning mechanical skills.
After leaving the navy, he relocated to LA, frequenting nightclubs in order ‘to meet girls’, he says.
I would like to know how it feels for my desperation to get louder.’ I find him slumped in his wife’s Los Angeles office, from which she runs their music company, handling rights and royalties to his songs.
For a second it’s hard to reconcile this figure with the powerfully built, dark-haired man who chopped out the chords to Use Me.
It’s not that his curls are now grey, he also seems to have shrunk.
He’s polite but taciturn, uttering pithy statements punctuated with a defiant stare. That kind of stuff, to me, was a lot more interesting at 35 than at 71 years of age. Now it’s something else.’ This is a peculiar answer and a disingenuous one, since the documentary shows him working with guitarist Raul Midón on a song called Mi Amigo Cubano, about a recently deceased friend. ‘No, that’s it.’ Born in 1938 in the segregated coal-mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers was the youngest of six children and only 13 when his father died.
He was the sympathetic professional that the raw but talented Withers needed.‘I wasn’t particularly interested in music, though I sat up when it was Lou Rawls or Little Willie John.Then one night this guy behind the bar was moaning that the performer was late and he said, “You know, I’m paying this guy ,000 a week and he can’t even show up on time!Songs like Grandma’s Hands brought warmth, intimacy and simplicity to a bombastic music scene. Mostly what everybody found out was: we had been shaped and transformed by American culture and the history we had here, and they had been shaped by whoever colonised their place. We were speaking English and they were speaking French. ’ Despite his no-nonsense persona, there’s a huge heart beating in his chest and a refreshing sense of modesty.Withers recalls A&R men telling him he should copy James Brown, and use some horns, female singers and a driving backbeat. In Still Bill he is seen talking with Princeton professor of African-American studies Dr Cornel West.