New Smooth Soul Survivor - "Use Me"

withersThere is no doubt that ‘Use Me' by Bill Withers is a worthy Smooth Soul Survivor, but less clear cut is the genre to which Bill, or for that matter, ‘Use Me', belongs.  His music is not really what could be classed as soul.  It is funky but could not be called funk.  Perhaps the best way to define this rich jazzy blend is to say it stands alone, dappled by blues, touched by country, warmed by soul and blessed with gospel.  The word ‘eclectic' sums it up rather well.
withersThere is no doubt that ‘Use Me' by Bill Withers is a worthy Smooth Soul Survivor, but less clear cut is the genre to which Bill, or for that matter, ‘Use Me', belongs.  His music is not really what could be classed as soul.  It is funky but could not be called funk.  Perhaps the best way to define this rich jazzy blend is to say it stands alone, dappled by blues, touched by country, warmed by soul and blessed with gospel.  The word ‘eclectic' sums it up rather well.

Bill Withers was born on 4 July 1938 in Slab Fork, West Virginia and his early upbringing in this working class mining area heavily influenced the subject matter of the music that followed.  In fact his career took off when he moved to Los Angeles.  His debut album, ‘Just As I Am', was released in 1971 and was produced by Booker T Jones.  The 1972 follow up ‘Still Bill' included both ‘Use Me' and the other hit of the time ‘Lean On Me'.  From there his success was assured and, throughout the seventies and into the eighties, he continued to deliver a sequence of hit records.

One of his many memorable releases, the 1981 classic ‘Just The Two Of Us', teamed him with smooth jazz heavyweight Grover Washington JR. and in so doing forged a creative relationship that endured well into the nineties.  It also linked him, as a writing partner, with Ralph McDonald.  The two of them worked together with notable success on the 1984 hit ‘In The Name Of Love'.

Although the last charting album that Withers made was ‘Watching You Watching Me' in 1985 he continued to work and, as the millennium approached, became much sampled by various hip hop and rap bands of the day.  His musical collaborations with Grover Washington bore testimony to his strong jazz links and he has also worked with the Crusaders.  As for ‘Use Me', it has been well covered by an array of jazz related artists.

Significantly, Al Jarreau devoted an entire CD to Bill Withers covers with his 1998 ‘A Tribute To Bill Withers' whereas ‘Use Me' is featured on ‘Companion' by Patricia Barber.  This album was recorded live at Chicago's famous Green Mill jazz club and from that same neck of the woods comes electric Chicago blues exponent Junior Wells who includes it on his ‘Everybody's Getting Some'.  Jazz artist Michael Benedict took his 1997 release ‘Skin To Earth' as the chance to afford ‘Use Me' a fresh new look and one year later the track became part of ‘City Lights' by jazz and urban groove stalwart Mark Winkler.

Caught off guard in cabaret lounge mode, its none other than Isaac Hayes who makes ‘Use Me' a component of his 1973 ‘Live At The Sahara Tahoe' whereas a more recognizable cabaret star, Liza Minnelli, chose that same year to add the song to her album ‘LM The Singer'.  Interestingly this latter recording can be found on the 1996 anthology ‘Groovy Volume 1 - A Collection Of Rare Club Tracks' where Minnelli, who by any stretch is not immediately synonymous with rare club grooves, finds herself in the outstanding company of Pattie Austin and her seminal ‘That's Enough For Me'.

Not surprisingly, the original Withers recording and other assorted covers can be located on a myriad of compilations.  One such example, from the 1995 CD ‘Move To The Groove - The Best Of 70's Jazz Funk', is by Wesley, Fred and the JBs.  Now, almost thirty six years on, and with a constant presence on ‘oldies' radio, ‘Use Me' continues to be a real Smooth Soul Survivor.

By Denis Poole, http://www.smoothjazztherapy.com/

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