Bill Withers, 35,000 people and a ride in a hearse

When I was a senior in high school, word got to a popular musician/bandleader in Louisville, Wayne Young, about a young band I happened to be in.  He hired us to be his backup band, putting on shows around Kentucky.  In our rock stardom, Wayne found a converted hearse (read: old beat up limo) that we would show up at gigs in.  One of those gigs was in Hazard, Ky in the far reaches of Appalachia.  After the gig, we were starting back when the hearse's alternator gave out and the car lights started to dim.  We drove all the way back to Louisville (probably a 100 mi. drive, much through mountainous back roads) with someone holding a flashlight out of the window to see the lines on the road.

Having survived to live another day with Wayne Young and Co., Wayne got a gig at an annual event called Toys for Tots at Freedom Hall in Louisville.  It was my first time on a concert stage and also my first experience with female fans screaming at me from the balcony back stage.  Bill Withers was to perform there as well and showed up with no backup band.  We were asked to back him up.  The rehearsal consisted of a backstage get-together in a dressing room with Bill talking through his tunes including Ain't No Sunshine with Bill and Wayne playing guitars.   We went on to playing our set with Wayne and then a set with Bill in front of an audience of 35,000 - still the largest audience I have ever performed in front of.

John ClayComment