The soul world is in shock and mourning today at the news of the death of the legendary BOBBY WOMACK. The singer, guitarist and songwriter died yesterday, June 27th, aged 70. The cause of death was not announced, but Womack had suffered from diabetes, cancer, heart problems and Alzheimer’s disease and battled with drug addiction.
Bobby Womack was born in 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio and began singing in a gospel group in the 1950s with his brothers. His father, Friendly, though strict and devout encouraged his sons’ musicality and was delighted when they were chosen to support the Soul Stirrers in 1953 and young Bobby immediately struck up a friendship with their then lead singer Sam Cooke. Later in 1960 when Cooke set up SAR Records he signed the Womack boys (Cecil, Curtis, Harry, Friendly Jr and Bobby) intending to turn them into a secular attraction – the decision causing a rift with Friendly Sr.
With SAR and working as the Valentinos, the Womacks scored a hit with ‘Looking For a Love’ while their ‘It’s All Over Now’ was famously covered by the Rolling Stones a topic that in later years Bobby was always ambivalent about. When Cooke was shot dead, the Valentinos were left in limbo. Controversially Bobby married Cooke’s widow, Barbara – a move, some say, that held back his career as the soul world turned in on him.
Spells at Chess and Minit failed to yield hits though he found plenty of work as a road and session guitarist and his songs were recorded by many of music’s big names – most notably Wilson Picket.
By 1971 he was signed to United Artists (which had absorbed Minit) and his album ‘Communication’ finally brought him solo success – kicking off a high that would run through the 70s with acclaimed albums like ‘Understanding’ and the ‘Across 110th Street’ soundtrack.
By then end of the 70s, personal and addiction problems started to take a toll and ill-advised recordings (an odd C&W album springs to mind) meant his career started to dip. Work with Wilton Felder kept him in the limelight though it was his 1981 Beverly Glen LP, ‘The Poet’ that made him a soul superstar. 1984’s ‘Poet II’ continued the momentum till, once again personal issues and business arguments caused his career to stutter. He continued to record with varying levels of success and acclaim but his life remained dogged with complex addiction, health, business and personal issues. In a 2013 interview with the BBC he freely admitted that drugs had a lot to do with his erratic career trajectory.
In 2102 he made a comeback of sorts when he released his ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’ (a set produced by Damon Albarn and Richard Russell). Though the music was patchy the album brought Bobby Womack to a new audience though his health problems made it difficult for him to capitalise on it.
In many ways that summed up his whole career –a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Whatever, Bobby Womack left much magnificent soul music; his ‘Poet’ albums became classic benchmarks and songs like ‘Where Do We Go From Here’, ‘Woman’s Gotta Have It’, ‘So May Sides Of You’ and ‘That’s The Way I Feel About Cha’ remain dear to all real soul fans.
Bobby Womack – last of the great soul men – RIP