Mr. Bill Withers passed away at the age of 81 on April 3rd. His poignant tunes touched many lives, mine being no exception.
Recently, I told someone about a road trip I took with my parents to the Grand Canyon as a child. I tagged along with my father to Pic ‘N’ Save, now Big Lots, to prepare for the trip. He casually walked through the aisles, buying snacks, drinks, and other necessary items. Just before he pushed the cart of goodies to the checkout counter, he slowed down and headed toward the northeast corner of the store to peruse the Pic ‘N’ Save music collection. I found it to be odd at that time since we frequented Tower Records for music.
As far-fetched as it seemed, this would serve as a pivotal moment in my music education. Before I was a twinkle in his eye, my father was a well known DJ in his hometown, Ondo, Nigeria. Digging for goods of the music variety came naturally to him. He picked up two tapes and placed them in the cart filled with road trip treats and we were on our way.
Fast forward to interstate 40. My dad had control of the music selection. He asked my mom to put a white tape in the cassette player of the Grand Am they rented for the voyage. And so it began. Mr. Withers backed the rest of the trip. As we drove past Red Rock State Park, “Grandma’s Hands” played. A Pitstop at McDonald’s with the bass of “Lovely Day.” I fell asleep to “Who is He (And What is He to You)” in one county and woke up to “Grandma’s Hands” in another. I totally bought into the experience. At one point, I tried to sustain the long ass note in “Lovely Day” and crooned “I know, I know, I know” during “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
To say that I did not grow weary on this ride would be a lie, since the drive to and fro took nearly twelve hours (the rest of the trip was backed by this best of tape). Notwithstanding, I did find that on the way home, the then all too familiar tunes were comforting.
Now as an adult, I reflect back on that time so fondly. I can’t hear a Bill Withers song without thinking of times with those I love the most. Whenever I tell close friends childhood stories, I try to bring this one up. I still joke with my dad about our hours long Withers experience. I play “Lovely Day” every morning. Mr. Withers’ passing breaks my heart. What a loss! But those beautiful memories, the memories he created for listeners and his greater impact on music as a whole – are all things to hold dear.