Bill Withers

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Bill Withers wrote and performed some of the best-loved, most covered songs of all time. But he didn’t even pick up an instrument till he was in his late twenties. Just out of the Navy, Withers was working at an airplane factory when he was inspired to drop by a pawnshop and pick up a guitar. Wrote some songs, made some demos, never expected much to come of it. Kept his day job even after he landed a record deal. Was so humble that when he finally did get in to the studio to record his first album—under the guidance of Booker T. no less—he asked who was gonna be singing his songs. Luckily, he did…

That first album—Just As I Am—was one of the most astonishing soul debuts ever. Before long, he decided to try to play the piano. Sat down at the keys. And this was the first thing he played. Though Bill Withers didn’t think much of the song, “Lean on Me” shot to number one. And despite his massive songwriting success, he soon got fed up with the music industry. Stopped writing and playing entirely. All told, he was only active for 8 years. As he told Rolling Stone recently, “These days, I wouldn’t know a pop chart from a Pop-Tart.” Here’s a song that topped those charts in 1972. “Use Me.”