As part of the Rock Hall's Celebration Day, the Museum will screen the Bill Withers documentary, Still Bill, at 5pm ET. In this post, the film's co-director (along with Damani Baker) Alex Vlack, shares how he found Bill Withers, his hero, and transformed the experience into a movie.
Everyone who's ever turned on the radio, walked into a restaurant, been in a bar, lived in this country for more than a few days knows Bill Withers' biggest songs. But most people don't know his name, and most people don't know most of his music.
I didn't really discover it until college, when my friend Jon Fine turned me on to Still Bill, Withers' second record. We listened to it on cassette over and over and over. I'd grown up on blues and jazz and rock, and thought I was pretty well-versed – when you're 18 years old, you can think of yourself as a lot of things! – so how could an album like this have slipped past me? It was, simply, the best album I'd ever heard. Fine and I started a band, and one of the first things we did was ...
In 1970, Lou Reed quit the Velvet Underground at the end of a nine-week performance residency at the famous rock club Max’s Kansas City (in New York City), leaving the VU album Loaded recorded but unmixed; and leaving the VU to continue on with none of its original members.
Two years later, Reed released his self-titled, first solo album on RCA records. The album was mostly made up of songs he had written for – and in some cases even performed live with – the Velvet Underground. While the release generated a lot of buzz, it turned out to be a critical and commercial flop. There are some strong songs, but even listening to it today it feels… well, lost. It doesn’t have the bite of the early VU songs like “Heroin,” nor the pop sensibilities of songs like “Sweet Jane.” So with the album as disappointment to everyone including Reed, what to do next?
Reed, for his part, was enamored with ...
“Ain’t No Sunshine”
The song that set the framework for the Bill Withers sound with its sparse arrangement, direct, no-frills lyric and in-the-pocket groove.
“I was one of those kids who was smaller than all the girls. I stuttered. I had asthma. So I had some issues," recalled Bill Withers. "My grandmother was that one person who would always say that I was going to be OK. … When you're a weaker kid, whoever champions you becomes very important to you."
“Who Is He(and What is He to You?)”
Just the right undertone of menace and an unrelenting repeated funky riff drives this testament of a jealous lover home.
“Lean on Me”
Bill Withers’ first Number One hit took us to church. "It's a rural song that translates across demographic lines,” Withers recalled. “My experience was, there were people who were that way. They would help you out. Even in the rural South, there were people who would help you out even across racial lines. Somebody who would probably stand in a mob that might lynch you if you pissed them off, would help you out in another way."
“I Can’t Write ...
In advance of opening the latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit Herb Ritts: The Rock Portraits on March, 13, 2015, the Rock Hall caught up with Chris Isaak for a look back at 1989's "Wicked Game" music video directed by Herb Ritts and featuring supermodel Helena Christensen.
What was the song "Wicked Game" about? Did the on-camera chemistry with supermodel Helena Christensen happen off-camera, too? What was photographer/director Herb Ritts' vision for the video? Chris Isaak answers all those questions and more.
Rock Hall: What was the song "Wicked Game" about?
Chris Isaak: It's about four in the morning, and somebody calling and saying I'm coming over to your house and I thought right after I said okay, I thought I should have never allowed this person to come over to my house. I know what's going to happen.
And I wrote the song between the time I got off the phone and the person came over to visit. It was just about what happens when you have a strong attraction to people that aren't necessarily good for you.
I think it hit a nerve because I think a lot of us ...
Long Island, New York rap crew and Hall of Fame Inductees Public Enemy saw Armageddon everywhere and all of life as a struggle. Adding dissonance, noise and speed to the muscular hip hop of their idols Run-D.M.C., they came on as "Prophets of Rage" with ties to the Nation of Islam and an eye toward revolution.
That's some high-wire act to sustain, but while they walked it, Public Enemy's music was both viscerally and rhetorically scorching. And then they joined forces with a thrash metal group in 1991, recasting their 1987 single "Bring the Noise" as a rap-metal explosion that challenged perceptions and preempted a mainstream surge in rap-rock sounds by more than a decade.
The F**king Jugular of Doubt
"Bring the Noise" first emerged as a rap single from Public Enemy before its inclusion on 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Fittingly, the track's lyrics made arguments for rap's historical connections to rock and roll (Soul control, beat is the father of your rock 'n' roll). The track caught the ear of Anthrax and in 1991 the group recorded a new version with Public Enemy. A ...
This week, millions of music fans, pop culture mavens and dedicated viewers tuned in to the star-studded 2015 Grammy Awards. Over the course of more than three hours, the ceremony offered up a whirlwind of performances – nearly two dozen, in fact – and there were a handful of awards presented, some to Kanye West's chagrin. Throughout it all, there were many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame connections. Did you catch them all?
AC/DC Goes Down a "Highway to Hell"
Although Aussie rockers AC/DC have taken their unmistakable, hard-charging, loud and fiery brand of music-making around the world for more than 40 years, it was the 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees first time on the Grammy stage. The group opened with new track "Rock or Bust" before segueing into classic rock anthem "Highway to Hell" – the same song they played at their 2003 Hall of Fame Induction. Other familiar nods? Angus Young's signature school boy outfit, one of which is also featured in the Rock Hall's heavy metal exhibit alongside the handwritten lyrics to "Highway to Hell."
Hozier and Annie Lennox cover Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You"
Irish songwriter ...
In the pantheon of rock and roll's greatest guitarists, there is a cadre of fabled axemen who consistently bubble to the top, including such Hall of Fame Inductees as Jeff Beck, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, BB King and Jimmy Page – all artists represented at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. And no discussion of six-string masters would be complete without Eddie Van Halen, the innovative firebrand that turned the world of guitar playing on its ear in the late 70s and early 1980s. "I was so used to doing old blues licks with the first three fingers," Van Halen once explained to a reporter. "When I started using my pinky and finding more spread things, that's when I started getting my own style." That style went on to influence millions of budding shredders. Here are five tracks that contributed to that influence:
Guitar Solo, from Live Without a Net (1986)
Van Halen went out with something to prove during the live tour for the 5150 album. With new singer Sammy Hagar, the band had to show fans and critics alike that it could keep rocking without Diamond Dave ...
Discover more amazing Clash stories in the Rock Hall's punk rock exhibit and plan your visit today.
Below is an excerpt from Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash by Randal Doane.
With her Pentax camera in hand, Pennie Smith stepped onto the left wing of the stage of the Palladium, just behind the curtain, and waited for The Clash to return for their encore. It was September 21, 1979, the second of a two-night stint for The Clash in New York City. WNEW-FM, the album-oriented rock station that had recently found felicity in punk and new wave, supplied a live simulcast for the tri-state region. On the opposite stage wing, Richard Neer, the on-air host, gushed: “If you’ve never seen The Clash it’s an experience, I’ll tell you that. I was out front for a bit and it’s so loud. I’m used to loud music but it is loud to the point of real distortion, and the people are just totally enveloped in the music. . . . They’re dancing, they’re jumping up and down and they are just totally into it!” Back onstage, The Clash offered the audience a respite from ...