What Would Bill Do?
The dictionary defines Inspiration as something “of extraordinary quality, as if arising from some external creative impulse.”
All artists draw inspiration from somewhere and occasionally they let their fans or admirers in on the story.
Hanson have been candid in their admiration for the writer of the songs, Use Me, Lean On Me and Ain’t No Sunshine and declared that when working in the studio they ask themselves, “ What would Bill do?”
Bill Withers was 33 years old when he had his first hit in 1971 and although his recording career lasted a brief 15 years, his musical legacy has made him respected and beloved by musicians across genres and generations.
His work has been covered, sampled and studied, in the search for a great song with honesty, integrity and power.
The soulful Ain’t No Sunshine, was a hit in 1971 and was produced by Booker T Jones, with backing vocals by Stephen Stills and The MGs.
His later work became funkier and jazzier and included two more hits, Use Me and Lean On Me.
His music reveals the considerable skills of the acoustic singer songwriter, who could work with jazz, R&B and even Disco music.
Bill Withers learned early on in his career about the hype of the music industry and its intrusion into the work of the artist. Like many before and since, he wrestled with the dilemma of keeping control of his craft or giving in to the demands of commerce.
It is no wonder that Hanson like this man and his music.
The commitment to remaining independent and in control of the art; the capacity to cross genres and make music from the heart, are things that these musicians all hold in common. It is no wonder that, at some time in their career, Hanson would cover his songs.
Ain’t No Sunshine first made an appearance on The Underneath Acoustic Tour in 2003.
Sung acoustically by Isaac as a solo then, it has since been performed by the whole band as it was at BTTI in January.
It was sung during The Underneath Tour, has been sung on radio and subsequent tours and featured in The Underneath Acoustic dvd.
Here Hanson included both their performance and a story told by Isaac and Zac, of first seeing the song performed on a dvd and finding inspiration in it.
The dvd was a 30th anniversary edition of a BBC live music show called The Old Grey Whistle Test.
This show ran from 1971 to 1988 and showcased up and coming acts in a stripped down studio not much larger than a broom cupboard. It was called the OGWT, because if the old guys working in the studio were heard whistling the music the day after, it was a success and therefore passed the test.
The bands performing were shown in the true, raw, beauty of their live selves and new acts were discovered just as often as hits were made.
In an interview, Taylor once described the show as being like a “sieve” in which one was left “with only the gold”.
Isaac has since spoken of watching the dvd of Withers playing Ain’t No Sunshine keenly, when learning how to play the song Bill’s Way.
During SXSW4Japan, Hanson played Lean On Me with a group of artists and the super funky Use Me was performed, to the delight of fans, during the 2008 tour.
As for Hanson’s own music, there are a few places where lyrics and concepts walk in similar territory to some of Bill Withers’. But then both of these artists root their music in the stuff of human experience and dig into it with feeling.
In April, Hanson will be attending the 2015 ACSAP EXPO in LA and so will Bill.
The conversation, should it happen, between Hanson and Bill Withers, would be one to listen to.
A conversation about the joys of music making, the risks and challenges of surviving the industry machine and the simple life of the musician pouring their feelings and experiences into songs that others will identify with.
If it goes ahead, we hope that some of it will be shared with those of us who find joy in the music and inspiration between extraordinary artists with free spirits.
Maybe Hanson will ask “What would you do Bill”?
Maybe he will tell them. Maybe they will tell us.
Whatever happens, it will surely add to the inspiration already given and Hanson will use it on their own journey as creative and soulful master craftsmen.
With Bill Withers set to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 18, the following articles may be interesting, with a little Hanson thrown in too.