Vinyl KC: “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers

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The most important lesson I learned as a musician is also one of the hardest to apply: it’s not the notes you play, but the notes you don’t play.

To put it another way, playing simply is sometimes the hardest thing in the world to do.  A master class on how to do it is contained in the Bill Withers classic Lean on Me.

The whole record is a study in economy, especially the drumming of James Gadson, who grew up and got his start in Kansas City. Gadson’s part is perfect for the song, enhancing the simplicity of the song without overwhelming it.

James Gadson, who played drums on Lean on Me, grew up in Kansas City

Gadson is one of the most recorded drummers in R&B history.  He began his recording career in the late 1960s, but began to make a name as a studio musician with with Withers’ album Still Bill, which contains Lean on Me. He’s gone on to work with such A-list artists as Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, B.B. King and Albert King. He’s also worked with Beck, playing live and appearing on the albums The Information and Sea Change.

Gadson was elected to the class of 2011 in the Kansas Music Hall of Fame, and will be inducted March 5, 2011. According to the hall’s web site, he’ll perform that night.


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