Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | William Howard Witherspoon

Sax player Bill Witherspoon found peace in his final years

HOLIDAY — Bill Witherspoon could blow the roof off the joint. A versatile musician with a reputation as one of the best saxophone players in the area, he performed with several popular groups, such as Taxi, over the last several decades. One group, the Melting Pot, toured nationwide, opening for the Allman Brothers.

He could also dazzle with his singing. A disciple of Ray Charles, his voice growled and soared to cathedral heights, former colleagues say.

Sometimes he hammed it up onstage, playing two saxophones at the same time and harmonizing. But fellow musicians knew Mr. Witherspoon for his punctuality and businesslike demeanor.

Away from the stage, he endured his share of suffering. Two marriages ended. A warehouse job ruined his back. Though physically imposing — 6 feet 5, 380 pounds — his body did not rebound well from injury.

His melancholy lifted the last dozen years of his life. That's the same period of time he married for the third time and converted to Christianity.

Mr. Witherspoon died July 6, at Orchard Ridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in New Port Richey. He was 61.

"When he performed, it came from his bone marrow," said Bobby Barnes, leader of the Impacs and Bobby's Big Band, who also relied on Mr. Witherspoon for attitude adjustment.

"Every time some of my singers would get all about themselves," he said, "I would have Billy the Sax Player sing. And he would politely outsing everybody on the stage."

He grew up in Dayton, Ohio, the son of a drummer. He and a brother, Ron, formed a sax-trumpet duo that lasted for decades.

"We were known as the instant horn section," said Ron Witherspoon, 69. "We did all of the '60s and '70s rhythm and blues. Sam and Dave, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Wilson Pickett, all of that."

"They were tighter than a tick when they played," said drummer Jerry Thompson, 65.

He lived a Clearwater suburb, with a swimming pool, for much of his adult life. Then a 17-year marriage broke up. He moved to an apartment and blotted his senses with drugs, both prescribed and recreational, said his wife, Penelope.

He was in a beach bar the first time she laid eyes on him, belting out Mustang Sally.

"He said, 'Gee, I've been looking for someone like you,' " Witherspoon recalled. "And I said, 'The women and the coke have to go.' "

They married in 1997. Mr. Witherspoon played and composed Christian music, and performed regularly at Countryside Christian Center. In one of his last jobs, he played with Grammy Award-winning Christian musician Phil Driscoll.

He had just played at River of Praise Church on June 14 when he fell and broke his leg. He died of complications three weeks later.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or


William Howard Witherspoon

Born: Feb. 24, 1948.

Died: July 6, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Penelope; son,

William; brothers Ronald and Michael; sister, Carol; and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Service: 11 a.m. Saturday, Living Word Church, 5151 Rowan Road, New Port Richey. Celebration of life 7 to 10 p.m. July 24, Countryside Christian Center, 1850 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater.

Sax player Bill Witherspoon found peace in his final years 07/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 9:34am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated


    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humilation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  2. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person


    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry announced crowd of 24,325 at Raymond James Stadium.

    Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  3. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.
  4. Bucs probe how to fix deep-ball chances missed vs. Bears


    TAMPA — It was only minutes after the Bucs had demolished the Bears 29-7 Sunday when quarterback Jameis Winston tried one final time to connect with receiver DeSean Jackson.

    QB Jameis Winston says he’s focused on the deep-ball chances to DeSean Jackson he missed in the opener: “We left a lot out there.”
  5. Rays journal: Ugly first inning dooms Andriese, Rays against Orioles (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Thursday's game that RHP Matt Andriese was among the pitchers who would most benefit from a strong finish to the season.

    Matt Andriese has a tough first: hits to four of first five batters, leading to three runs, the only ones he gives up in six innings