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Who’s the best singer-songwriter from the early 70s? You know the genre: one man, his guitar, and songs with a focus on thoughtful lyrics. In this town full of acoustic guitar slingers, lots will chime in and say Townes Van Zandt or Guy Clark. No one can argue Townes or Guy shouldn’t be mentioned, but lots will overlook Bill Withers. You may ask, Bill Withers the soul guy was a singer-songwriter? Heck yeah he was! The man got his start writing songs on his acoustic guitar. When he played live, it was just Bill sitting still, singing and strumming guitar. Listen to “Ain’t No Sunshine”, it starts with acoustic string picking and tapping foot. His songs are great character stories, it can be the story of his “Grandma’s Hands”, or a neighborhood like “Harlem”. Want a folky anti-war song? Listen to “I Can’t Write Left Handed”.  Granted, by his second album, Bill was touring with one of the most energetic backing bands in the business, complete with funky bass and clavinet, and making hits with danceable music like “Use Me”. Underneath all that production and instrumentation still lies a well written song.

So what’s Bill been up to since he retired from the business? I have no idea, which is why I want to see the documentary Still Bill, which has interviews with friends, family, and the man himself. I usually like music documentaries to be mostly music, like The Last Waltz. But with Withers, I know so little about the man, I’d rather see a behind the scenes look at the man’s life. This doc screened at SXSW in 2009, but I missed it, and have waited some 345 days to see it.

The nine days of music and movie madness known as SXSW starts soon. To last the full week, you’ll need to be in shape, so stretch out tonight and do a warm up lap with Still Bill. Screening tonight at the Alamo Ritz, tickets are an insanely cheap $2. 

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