#379 BILL WITHERS HELLO LIKE BEFORE

#379

BILL WITHERS

HELLO LIKE BEFORE

Like a lot of people, I first heard Bill Withers in the summer of 1972 when his first big hit song “Ain’t No Sunshine (When She’s Gone)” was playing–once an hour, every hour, so it seemed–all over the country. Withers had written the song when he moved from Slab Fork, West Virginia to Los Angeles, hoping for a big break in the music business. The song was kind of a homesick lament for the tight-knit qualities of his hometown where everyone knew and cared for everyone else. In Los Angeles, he was living in even more dirt-poor and much more impersonal conditions than he had back in West Virginia.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” was a tremendous success. Withers had two follow-up hits, “Lean On Me” and “Just the Two of Us”, both of which won Grammys as the Best Rhythm and Blues songs of the year. “Just the Two of Us” was also a Grammy Record of the Year.

I loved all three of these songs. Withers (b. 1938) had a way of delivering the lyrics of his songs as one who has really lived them. Slab Fork, a small coal-mining town, can hardly be found on a map of West Virginia. Born with a severe stutter, Withers grew up there. His father died when he was 13. In order to escape the misery of his childhood—as well as simply get by financially—Withers enlisted in the navy at 18. He served for nine years. And with just $250 in his pocket, he left the navy and made his way to LA, hoping—like many another aspiring artist—to make it.

When his audition tape was favorably received at Sussex Records, he refused to quit his job as a furniture assembler, not trusting the music business to offer him a successful life.

But he was definitely wrong about that. Withers not only wrote his own songs, but he wrote for other artists and performed with them as well—Gladys Knight, James Brown, Etta James, and BB King among them. Withers released a new album just about every year until the mid-1980’s. But he (rightfully) felt he was being exploited by Columbia Records (who he signed with when Sussex Records folded) and he simply left the music business in 1985.

Interestingly, Withers said that finding musical success later in life than most, at 32, he was just a regular guy who had a life before the music, so he did not feel an inherent need to keep recording once he fell out of love with the industry. He has also stated that he does not miss touring and performing live and does not regret leaving music behind. His records—and his song-writing—still continue to garner awards, however. And Withers never lost the respect accorded to him by other performing musicians.

It would feel good to link here to “Ain’t No Sunshine” or “Lean On Me.” I love those songs. But there is another Bill Withers song that did not achieve that level of notoriety, although it really should have. And that is “Hello Like Before.” Released as a track on Withers’ Making Music album, it is an example of wonderful song-writing as performing—proving the dictum that, very often, the best performer of a song-writer’s songs is the song-writer himself.

The lyrics of “Hello” are about a man who unexpectedly encounters a woman he knew intimately, and all the old feelings come rushing back. Reading the listener comments section of any of the YouTube postings of “Hello Like Before” gives an idea of the strength of attachment that many people have for “Hello.”

It is a mellow song, performed well, so meaningfully, and it just fades away…

A “hello” like before…
I’d never come here
If I’d known that you were here
I must admit though
That’s it’s nice to see you, dear
You look like you’ve been doing well

A “hello” like before
I hope we’ve grown
‘Cause we were only children then
For laughs I guess we both can say
‘I knew you when’
But then again, that’s kiss and tell

Hello like before
I guess it’s different
‘Cause we know each other now
I guess I’ve always known
We’d meet again somehow
So that it might as well be now

Hello like before
I hope we’ve grown
‘Cause we were only children then
For laughs I guess we both can say
‘I knew you when’
But then again, that’s kiss and tell

Hello like before
I guess it’s different
‘Cause we know each other now
I guess I’ve always known
We’d meet again somehow
So that it might as well be now

Pics are Bill Withers and the coal-mining town he grew up in.

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