Bill Withers - Still Bill

The Bill Withers hit, "Use Me", which originally appeared on his 1972 album, Still Bill, reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was Wither's second biggest in the USA.

This funky soul groove, performed by drummer James Gadson, was originally played at 77-78 bpm, with straight sixteenth-notes on the HiHat and linear, quasi-paradiddle figures between the Snare (cross-stick) and Kick drum. The interplay between the Kick and Snare varies from phrase to phrase, flowing with the music and lyrics, but there is a basic foundation to it all, and that is what I've chosen to notate for you here.

Use Me drum groove

With a close listen, you'll notice that those open HiHat notes in the second measure of my notation often sound closer to a 'loose' HiHat sound with no left foot activity (until the end of the bar). I would recommend that you work on being able to play it the way I've notated as well as the loose HiHat. Why? Because Gadson vacillates between the two approaches, which you can do as well, or simply pick the technique that works and sounds best to you.

This groove is a great example of a feel known as "playing in the cracks", that is phrasing in-between a straight and swung feel, something James Gadson was known for.

To practice and develop this unique feel, you'll want to spend a good deal of time playing hand-to-hand straight sixteenths (RLRL) and gradually moving to a swung sixteenth, then back to straight. Once you can achieve this transition from straight to swung notes, you'll want to get comfortable playing in that place that isn't exactly straight or swung ... it's in-between. Work with a metronome to help you make sure the pulse remains constant. Once you get that sound and feel in your head and hands, work on achieving the same results with just one hand, right or left.

While there's a broad range of space between straight sixteenths and swung sixteenths, Gadson's feel is actually very close to a straight sixteenth, more so than actually swung. Listen and get inside the groove. It takes a lot of time, practice and patience to not only achieve the feel, but to do some consistently — through an entire song.

Give a listen to the original recording of "Use Me", or better still, pick up The Best of Bill Withers CD and enjoy other hits with that in-between straight/swing feel, such as "Aint No Sunshine" and "Kissing My Love".