Posts Tagged ‘Grover Washington Jr.’

Saturday Single No. 683

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

Once a year during three of the four school years I worked for the Eden Prairie News, I taught an informal class in songwriting. And it was, sort of, Bill Withers’ fault.

Well, it was my fault. But it all came about because of Withers, who died this week at the age of 81, leaving behind a catalog of nine albums of R&B that crossed a lot of boundaries (and found a wide audience). Sadly, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Withers’ music when he was active. (His first album, Just As I Am, came out in 1971, and his last, Watching You Watching Me, was released in 1985.)

I knew and liked the major tunes, of course: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” “Just The Two Of Us,” and “Lean On Me” chief among them. And it was that last song that sparked my awkward and very limited turns as a teacher of songwriting.

It was early on a Monday, if I recall things rightly, and I was at Eden Prairie High School to shoot some photos of the concert choir as it prepared for a performance sometime in the next few weeks. The members of the choir were milling around the room and gabbing, and I stood waiting off to the side, camera slung around my neck, not far from the piano.

Then one of the young men in the choir said to another, “Hey, listen to this song I heard!” And he sat at the piano and sang the first verse to “Lean On Me.” But instead of underscoring every note of the melody with a chord, he played chords under only the first and last words of phrases.

His buddy nodded and said something nice about the song. And I couldn’t help myself. I went to the piano and told the first young man it was a good song, but he really needed to play all the intermediate chords for the song to sound right. He was puzzled, so I sat at the piano and played the song pretty much like Withers does, a chord for almost every note.

As I played, other students gathered around the piano, and when the choir director – a woman named Julie Kanthak – came in, one of the students said, “Hey, check this out!” She came to the piano as I played a bit more of the song. I’d been reporting for the paper for a year-and-a-half by that time, and I guess I’d never mentioned that I was a musician, and she looked surprised.

And when she learned that I also wrote songs, she asked me to come back on another day – when the choir was not deep into preparation for a concert – and talk to the students (many of whom I knew from having covered them in other school activities) about songwriting.

I did so a few weeks later, having given at least some thought to my process. I talked about the challenges of starting with lyrics, which I generally do, and the very different challenges of starting with the music, which I have done only rarely. And as I talked about that, I was surprised to realize something that I then shared with the students: Even though I’ve only written three or four songs by starting with the music, those three or four are among my best.

And I performed one or two of those songs, and a few of my others, talking between songs – sometimes between verses – about the process of putting each of those songs together.

I was in Eden Prairie for two more school years after that, and during each of those, I spent an hour with the concert choir, talking about songwriting and, I expect, learning more each time than did the students I was supposedly teaching.

And here, I imagine, I’m supposed to share Withers’ “Lean On Me.” But despite its small role in my very limited time as a teacher of songwriting – a memory I do cherish – it was never my favorite piece from Withers. I much prefer the album version of “Just The Two Of Us,” his collaboration with saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. It’s found on Washington’s 1980 album Winelight, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Yet Another Teaser

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Things have gotten mildly complicated around the EITW studios this week. No real worries, but things are just slightly askew. So here’s another tease for the post I had hoped to offer today, a post that will now be presented Monday.

One of the better aural pairings of the early 1980s was the voice of Bill Withers and the saxophone of Grover Washington, Jr., which showed up in 1980 in “Just The Two Of Us,” a track on Washington’s Winelight album. An edited version of the track – credited to Washington “with Bill Withers” – hit the charts early in 1981 and went to No. 2 on the pop chart and No. 3 on the R&B chart. Here’s the album track.

Chart Digging, April 17, 1982

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

So what was I up to in April of 1982? I was a reporter at the Monticello Times, writing features and covering city governments, school happenings, high school sports and the police and fire departments in Monticello and the nearby city of Big Lake. I was driving a one-year old Chevette (the first car I ever bought new off the lot). The Other Half and I were living in a mobile home south of Monticello, taking care of our three cats and feeding the frequent strays who dropped by for a meal.

The idea of graduate school at the University of Missouri was taking shape as I began to think about what came after Monticello. I went to see a couple of Minnesota Twins baseball games in the new Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. And I was listening to less and less hit radio, evidenced by the fact that several of the records in the Billboard Top Ten from thirty years ago today seemed unfamiliar until I cued them up this morning on YouTube. Here’s that Top Ten:

“I Love Rock ’N Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
“We Got The Beat” by the Go-Go’s
“Chariots of Fire – Titles” by Vangelis
“Freeze-Frame/Flamethrower” by the J. Geils Band
“Make A Move On Me” by Olivia Newton-John
“Don’t Talk To Strangers” by Rick Springfield
“Do You Believe In Love” by Huey Lewis & The News
“Key Largo” by Bertie Higgins
“Open Arms” by Journey
“That Girl” by Stevie Wonder

The tunes I didn’t recall until I heard them were those by Newton-John, Springfield and Wonder. But I do not recall hearing the B-Side of the J. Geils Band record at all. (That doesn’t surprise me; I never got into the J. Geils Band’s stuff.)  Nor do I recall all the records that show up lower down in the Billboard Hot 100 from April 17, 1982, but there’s some fun stuff there.

Duke Jupiter, says Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, was a rock band from Rochester, New York, with members by the names of Tom Swift, Sam Deluxe, Cadillac Jack, Koko Dee, Bobby Blue Sky and the superbly christened Rhinestone Mudflaps. The band got three singles into the Hot 100 between 1982 and 1984, all of them wearing influences that seem to include Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stanley and ZZ Top. “I’ll Drink To You” was the first and highest charting of the three. Thirty years ago today, it sat at No. 65, heading to a peak at No. 58.

Another group with limited success on the pop chart was Aurra, an R&B quintet from Ohio that grew out of the funk band Slave, according to All-Music Guide. “Make Up Your Mind” was the only record the group placed in the Hot 100, and on April 17, 1982, the record was sitting at No. 73 on its way to No. 71. Aurra did a fair amount better on the R&B chart, placing four records in the R&B Top 40 between 1981 and 1983. “Make Up Your Mind,” which is a nicely funky bit of dance-pop, did the best, peaking at No. 6 on the R&B chart.

Eddie Schwartz was a Canadian musician who managed to get two records into the American charts in 1982. “All Our Tomorrows” went to No. 28 in mid-February, and two months later, “Over the Line” was sitting at No. 91. In Canada, according to a commenter at YouTube, “Over the Line” went to No. 28, but here in the states, No. 91 was as high as it would go. It’s not a bad record, but there’s not a lot to distinguish it from, say, Huey Lewis & The News.

Three records sitting in the Bubbling Under section on that long-ago April day caught my ear this morning. The first is from Third World, a Jamaican group that Whitburn describes as a “reggae fusion band.” In 1981 – two years after “Now That We Found Love” went to No. 47 on the pop chart and No. 9 on the R&B chart – Third World was joined onstage by Stevie Wonder while performing at the Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica. Wonder then joined Third World in the studio, co-writing, arranging and producing “Try Jah Love” for the group’s 1982 album You’ve Got the Power. A single edit of the track was at No. 102 thirty years ago today; it would peak one spot higher at No. 101 (but get to No. 23 on the R&B chart). The video below includes the album track.

Oddly enough, we remain with a Jamaican theme for the next two records as well, though in different ways. Bobby Caldwell’s “Jamaica” was bubbling under in April 1982, sitting at No. 105. Caldwell, of course, had reached No. 9 in 1978 with the ultra-smooth ‘What You Won’t Do For Love,” but subsequent releases had failed to reach the Top 40. The highest charting of those follow-ups had been “Coming Down From Love,” which had peaked at No. 42 in 1980. “Jamaica” would stall as well, going no higher than No. 105.

Last up today is an instrumental from saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. In 1981, “Just The Two Of Us,” featuring a vocal by Bill Withers, had gone to No. 2 (No. 3 on the R&B chart), but ensuing releases did less well; the best-performing of them – No. 92 on the pop chart and No. 13 on the R&B chart – had been “Be Mine Tonight,” with Grady Tate on vocals. In mid-April 1982, Washington’s cover of Bob Marley’s “Jamming” was bubbling under at No. 107 after peaking at No. 102.