So sad, Charles Neville of The Neville Brothers died. I’ve been wanting to do a song from the Brothers but I went looking for good live video and turned up their superb take on Ain’t no Sunshine which obviously deserves a spot, so really today belongs to Bill Withers, but I’m going to use that Nevilles video’ which, appropriately, features Charles.
People don’t appreciate how totally great they were. So many wonderful songs, live and recorded, their concerts sold out, particularly anything at home in New Orleans, and they sold quite a few records; but were never really big stars. OK, enough of that, I’ll really try to throw them a Song of the Day before this series runs out of gas.
Back to Ain’t no Sunshine. Wow, it turns out Bill Withers is apparently still alive at 79. He’s another ace musician who was never a big star, although he sold a ton of records starting with Sunshine in 1971. His story is interesting; he had a blue-collar job at an aircraft plant when he struck musical gold, and was reluctant to give it up because he had a (well-justified) negative opinion of the music business. Eventually, he walked away from that business in 1985.
The song’s got a history; Withers was inspired by the movie Days Of Our Lives starring Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon. The original version was produced by Booker T. Jones and the band included Duck Dunn and Stephen Stills. It’s been covered by, and sold a lot of records for, lots of singers. The ethnic angle is sort of amusing; written by a black guy inspired by a super-white movie, the music is totally middle-of-the-road pop, could be by basically any American songwriter; and then almost all the musicians who covered it were black too, including Michael Jackson and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Ain’t No Sunshine is absolutely one of the greats; an arching, aching melody, Bill’s voice pleasingly rich and raw, with the producer keeping that all-star band way back behind it and deftly deploying a small string section. And then the “I know, I know, I know…” break; there’s just nothing like that anywhere else.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes. As for video, I’m not crazy about Bill Withers live; he takes the song too slow and tries to apply “styling” but man, this tune just needs you to get out of the way. So let’s give the stage to the Neville Brothers; I love Charles’ break but even more his steady pulse behind Aaron’s vocals. Bye, Charles.