Womack and Presley Join the Heavenly Chorus
This week saw the passing of two great names of popular music. Cecil Womack was most famous for his success in the 80’s, in partnership with his wife Linda Womack as Womack and Womack, but Cecil had been successfully writing and performing music since 1953. The Telegraph in the UK gave us the following obituary:-
Born on September 25 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio, Cecil Womack was the son of a steelworker who also sang and played guitar in a gospel group. Cecil and his older brothers — Curtis, Harry, Friendly and Bobby — formed The Womack Brothers in imitation of their father’s group, and as a child Cecil quickly proved proficient on guitar and piano.
Impressed by The Womack Brothers, their father abandoned his own group to sing with his sons, and the six Womacks were soon singing in churches across the Mid-West. In 1953 they opened for The Soul Stirrers, which featured the rising star Sam Cooke. Once established as a solo star, Cooke would sign The Womack Brothers (without their father) to his label, changing their name to The Valentinos and insisting that they sing secular music.
The Valentinos began releasing boisterous R&B singles that exhibited their excellent harmonies, instrumental prowess and songwriting. In 1964 they had an R&B hit in the United States with It’s All Over Now, which was quickly covered (even more successfully) by The Rolling Stones, giving the British band its first UK No 1 and first hit in America. The song had been written by Bobby Womack, who later recalled: “I was still screaming and hollering right up until I got my first royalty cheque. Man, the amount of money rolling in shut me right up.”
Cooke was shot dead in late 1964, and without his support The Valentinos disbanded soon afterwards. Bobby Womack — who had been working as Cooke’s guitarist — married his widow, Barbara, and developed a very successful career as songwriter, session guitarist and, eventually, solo artist. In 1966 Cecil married the Motown singer Mary Wells, for whom he wrote and produced several songs; they went on to have three children together.
Meanwhile, Bobby’s marriage to Barbara had ended disastrously when she discovered that he was having an affair with her daughter Linda, who was still a teenager; Bobby had to flee the family home at the end of a gun barrel.
In 1976 Cecil and Mary Wells divorced, and the next year he married Linda Cooke. Together the couple penned hits for The O’Jays, Patti LaBelle, George Benson and Teddy Pendergrass, for whom they wrote one of his biggest hits, Love TKO. In 1983, as Womack & Womack, they secured a recording contract with Elektra. The duo’s 1983 debut album, Love Wars, won wide critical acclaim, while the title track was a hit in both America and Britain .
In 1987 Womack & Womack moved to Island Records, and their 1988 album Conscience turned out to be the most successful of their career, with the single Teardrops reaching No 3 in the UK charts and proving a huge hit worldwide.
Womack & Womack’s songs combined musical intelligence with fine harmony vocals and supple instrumentation. Yet the couple never managed to capitalise fully on Teardrops’ success, and their 1991 album Family Spirit failed to chart. Not long afterwards, following a visit to Nigeria, Cecil and Linda claimed to have discovered ancestral ties to the Zekkariyas tribe, and they adopted the names Zeriiya (Linda) and Zekuumba (Cecil) Zekkariyas; in 1993 — under the name House of Zekkariyas aka Womack & Womack — they released an album called Transformation to the House of Zekkariyas, which featured their final UK Top 50 hit, Secret Star.
You could easily make a film about the history of the Womacks and they probably will, but fortunately Bobby Womack is still a living the legend, so it may not happen yet.
Reg Presley was from the same era as Cecil Womack and was the lead singer of The Troggs, who notched up seven big hits in the 60’s, most famously Wild Thing. Once again The Telegraph provides a comprehensive obituary, here’s an excerpt from it:-
The Troggs’ vertiginous climb to fame had spanned 18 months, a relatively brief period during which they achieved all seven of their British chart successes, including Any Way That You Want Me and With a Girl Like You; thereafter the band’s popularity hit a sticky patch which lasted in excess of 40 years.
This slow descent from celebrity was dramatically interrupted in 1994, however, when Presley’s composition Love is all Around, a Top 10 hit for The Troggs 27 years earlier, was covered by the Scottish group Wet Wet Wet and used on the soundtrack of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. It reached No 1 and remained there for what seemed an eternity – in fact, 15 weeks.
Reginald Maurice Ball – his unenviable pseudonym was given to him in 1965 by the celebrated publicist Keith Altham – was born in Andover, Hampshire, on June 12 1941. After school he joined the building trade, where he began a career as a bricklayer – a job he abandoned only when Wild Thing entered the Top 10 in 1966. The group’s name, an abbreviation of Troglodyte, was intended to communicate rugged sexuality. Unfortunately, as Presley observed, the title served instead as a gateway to derision.
“Paul McCartney,” he complained, “would always refer to me as ‘Reg Trogg’.”
The Troggs’ brief but intense flirtation with mainstream success was engineered by Larry Page, who turned to production after mixed reactions to his own short-lived performing career as “Larry Page the Teenage Rage”. It was Page who had the idea of persuading The Troggs to record Wild Thing. The song, which would become an anthem for Jimi Hendrix, was written by James Wesley Voight, younger brother of the actor Jon, under the name of Chip Taylor.
Presley recalled: “When I heard those lyrics: ‘Wild thing. You make my heart sing. You make everything groovy,’ I just thought: ‘Oh my God. What has Larry done to us?’”
Page dressed his protégés in loud striped suits and urged them to maintain an impeccable image offstage. Presley, a moderate drinker who smoked, by his own estimation, an average of 80 a day for most of his life, never took illegal drugs. But Page was also particularly insistent that the group refrain from swearing. With time, the musicians found this stricture more difficult to adhere to.
Wild Thing, With a Girl Like You and Any Way That You Want Me were outstanding singles which inspired a host of performers, including Iggy Pop. The late American writer Lester Bangs even went so far as to publish a 25,000 word eulogy to The Troggs, which hailed them as the godfathers of punk and called their music “holy”. At one point Bangs, whose critical instincts occasionally betrayed his prodigious consumption of narcotics, compared Reg Presley to Marcel Proust.
In 1987, when his fortunes were hardly at their zenith, Presley was hailed by Bob Dylan on the set of Richard Marquand’s film Hearts of Fire, in which the leader of the Troggs was appearing as an extra. “I had this guitar around my neck,” Presley told a reporter. “Dylan recognised me. He came up and said: ‘How long have you been playing the guitar?’ I said, ‘All bloody afternoon, mate.’”
Before he first fell ill with a serious stroke in September 2010, The Troggs had been entertaining large audiences at festivals in Belgium and Germany, countries where their legacy was especially well-appreciated.
RIP Cecil and Reg.
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