The Complete Bill Withers

Dec 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barbara Schultz

Remastering a Legacy


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Bill Withers

Bill Withers

Just a month ago, in our “Classic Tracks” column, Mix looked back at the making of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by legendary soul singer/songwriter Bill Withers. Well, it turns out we weren’t the only ones who think Withers’ music deserves revisiting. In November, Columbia/Legacy released Bill Withers: The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums.

This beautiful box set includes all nine of Withers’ original releases, from Just as I Am (1971) to Watching You Watching Me (1985), remastered from the original analog tapes. Each disc is packaged with original album art, plus extensive liner notes, including an introductory essay by Withers.

This is the kind of reissue project that makes Sony Music senior mastering engineer Mark Wilder glad to be alive. “Can you imagine a better way to spend the day?” Wilder asks. “I get paid to listen to Bill Withers!”

Leo Sacks and Mark Wilder

Leo Sacks and Mark Wilder

Wilder remastered seven of the nine discs, while Tom Ruff handled Live at Carnegie Hall and Joe Palmaccio worked on the remaster of Still Bill. The project as a whole was guided by producer Leo Sacks, who has also collaborated with Wilder on monumental Legacy box sets on Aretha Franklin (Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia, 11 CDs) and Earth, Wind & Fire (Earth, Wind & Fire: The Columbia Masters, 16 CDs). It’s clear producer and engineer have a great working relationship—not just because of their mutual enthusiasm for the music, but also because of a shared philosophical approach to reissue work.

“Great engineers like Mark and Joe and Tom aren’t just transferring tapes,” Sacks says. “They’re preserving music as a living language. They’re sensitive artists in their own right who recognize and appreciate where Bill’s music sits in the continuum of pop history. They also have great technical chops, which allows them to preserve Bill’s place in American music and introduce it to a new generation.

“So, they’re preservationists on one hand, and modern-day magicians on the other,” Sacks continues. “And I dare you to find their fingerprints, because we’re all incredibly mindful of how easy it can be to alter the original document with the turn of a dial. Occasionally we’ll use our professional judgment to roll some noise off the top or add a touch of mid, or give a little boost to the bottom, but we’re never consciously trying to change anything.”

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