Wise Man: After Fame, “Lean On Me” Singer Bill Withers Refused To Quit Very Regular Day Job
Bill Withers is best known for his 70’s and 80’s hits that had some of the most poetic lyrics in the history of soul music. Songs like “Lean On Me,” Grandma’s Hands,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Lovely Day,” just to name a few, were all instrumental in shaping the soul music era, but Withers never once let that go to his head. In the beginning of his career he was working a very regular job that he simply refused to clock out of permanently. Why? Because he said he wasn’t convinced that being a music artist was just as stable as the job he’d been clocking into for years, earning $3 per hour.
Withers’ Regular Job Came Before The Superstar Status
Withers worked as a mechanic for an aircraft company in California and he even stated that when he shot the infamous 1971 album cover for his first album, Just As I Am, which included the hits “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Grandma’s Hands,” he was standing right outside of his job on his lunch break because he refused to take a day off for the photoshoot and cut into his paycheck…wow. Now that’s true dedication to the 9-5 and we can’t say that we blame him for that. Here’s what Bill recently told CBS News about that:
“So it was funny because my first album cover picture was actually taken on my lunch break. Cause I didn’t want to take time off, so I said, ‘Send somebody up here.’ You know, they can take my picture. So, I’m standing in the door with my actual lunch box. And so guys are in the back yelling, ‘Hey Hollywood!'” Withers said.
He further explained how he eventually ending up leaving his job as a mechanic:
“My co-workers were making fun of me,” he says. “They thought it was a joke.” Still unconvinced that music would pay off, he held on to his day job until he was laid off in the months before the album’s release. Then, one day, “two letters came in the mail. One was asking me to come back to my job. The other was inviting me on to Johnny Carson.” The Tonight Show appearance, in November 1971, helped propel “Ain’t No Sunshine” into the Top 10, and the follow-up, “Grandma’s Hands,” reached Number 42. [Rolling Stone]
So basically after his job kicked him to the curb, Bill pretty much said “Peace out!” and realized it was probably best for him to put all of his energy into the new opportunities that were presenting themselves…very wise man.
Below is Bill Withers’ album cover that went on to sell millions of records. He’s right, in this photo he was holding a lunch pail and probably laughing at his co-workers’ “Hollywood” jokes…
For a man who later went on to live very well off of his songs’ publishing royalties and other investments outside of music, it’s clear to see that this Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famer was never one to be frivolous with his earnings – good for him. As you know, Mr. Withers’ passed away in March 2020, at the age of 82. May this soul music icon continue to rest in peace and power.