Soul Legend Bobby Womack Dies at 70
I was shocked and stunned to hear about the death of Bobby Womack this morning. I knew that he had had health problems in recent years, but I thought that he had recovered.
I Feel Like I Wanna Testify
The mainstream press will tell you that Bobby Womack wrote It’s All Over Now, which was a huge early hit for The Rolling Stones and that he played with Sam Cooke. But that is only a very small part of the story.
For me Bobby Womack epitomised soul music, with his deep brown soulful voice, fantastic songs and sweet guitar sound.
Bobby‘s career spanned 7 decades, beginning in a gospel quintet with his brothers Cecil, Curtis, Harry, and Friendly Jr. when he was only 9 years old. The Womack Brothers supported Sam Cooke and numerous other leading gospel acts of the day. But it was the association with Cooke which prompted their cross over to RnB. Cooke signed them to his own label and changed their name to The Valentinos. When their father found out that they were going to sing secular music he kicked them out of his house.
The Valentinos had an RnB chart hit with Lookin for Love in 1962 which Bobby re-recorded and turned into a pop chart hit in 1974. The Lookin’ for a Love Again album, on which it was included, also contained the hit You’re Welcome, Stop on By, later covered and made a hit all over again by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan.
Things took off for Bobby in 1964. He joined Sam Cooke’s backing band as a guitarist and wrote It’s All Over Now, a single for The Valentinos, but a much bigger hit for The Rolling Stones. In fact it was their first UK number one. Incidentally Rod Stewart also recorded a great country style version on his 1970 album Gasoline Alley.
Bobby played guitar and wrote songs for some amazing artists, including Ray Charles, Joe Tex, King Curtis, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone and Aretha Franklin. He became one of Wilson Pickett‘s favourite songwriters, contributing the R&B Top Ten hits I’m in Love and I’m a Midnight Mover and 15 other tunes.
Bobby also partnered with jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo and wrote Breezin’ which was a huge breakthrough hit for George Benson, six years later.
The early 70’s saw some of his best work. That’s the Way I Feel About ‘Cha appeared on the album Communication and made number 2 in the RnB charts. Woman’s Gotta Have It from the follow up, Understanding, was his first chart topper. Harry Hippie, an ironic homage to his brother, also hit the R&B Top Ten. Bobby wrote the score to the ‘blaxploitation’ film Across 110th Street; the title track was revived in the 1998 Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown.
Womack recorded a full album of country music, that he originally wanted to call Step Aside, Charley Pride, Give Another Nigger a Try, but sensibly his label would not allow that and it was released as BW Goes C&W, to an underwhelming response.
Bobby Womack probably first appeared on my radar in the 80′s, everything else I discovered retrospectively. His lead vocal on on Jazz Crusader Wilton Felder‘s 1980 solo album Inherit the Wind brought him back on many people’s radar, having spent some years in the wilderness dealing with personal and addiction issues.
This was followed by arguably two of his best albums, The Poet and The Poet II which were extremely popular in the UK. The latter featured Patti Labelle on three tracks. Her parts were taken by Alltrinna Grayson in Bobby‘s UK shows in the 80′s, but her defining moments were her duets with him on No Matter How High I Get, another Wilton Felder tune.
A moment I will never forget was at Womack‘s show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, as it was in those days. My seat was in the centre of the theatre, just over half way back from the stage. While the house lights were up I couldn’t understand why everyone in the audience appeared to be looking in my direction. After a few minutes I realised that Stevie Wonder was sitting a couple of rows behind me. Bobby of course talked him into joining him on stage for a couple of songs.
Bobby’s career continued in peaks and troughs. In 2010 he appeared on the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach which triggered another return. Only two years ago he partnered with Damon Albarn the frontman for Blur and Gorillaz to release The Bravest Man in the Universe, to wide critical acclaim, but to be honest not one of my favourites of his recordings.
Bobby Womack’s life was peppered with drama, scandal and addiction; some say great music requires great suffering.
When he was only 20 years old he married Sam Cooke’s widow, only three months after his mentor had died. This attracted a great deal of ill will towards him in the RnB community. He later had an affair with her daughter Linda, who in turn later married his brother Cecil and they recorded and toured as Womack and Womack.
Incidentally, Bobby‘s brothers Cecil and Curtis both married Motown star Mary Wells, whose biggest hit was My Guy.
In 1974 His brother Harry was murdered by a jealous girlfriend, in Bobby‘s apartment. In 1979 his infant son died suddenly.
Bobby married and divorced twice and had four children.
If his life story does not make a major movie one day I will be very surprised. One thing is for sure, the soundtrack would be awesome.
Thanks for the music Bobby and Rest In Peace. A lot of us think we’re lonely now
By Max Power