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A veteran who paid his dues for over a decade before getting his shot at solo stardom, Bobby Womack persevered through tragedy and addiction to emerge as one of soul music's great survivors. Able to shine in the spotlight as a singer or behind the scenes as an instrumentalist and songwriter, Womack never got his due from pop audiences, but during the late '60s and much of the '70s, he was a consistent hitmaker on the R&B charts, with a high standard of quality control. His records were quintessential soul, with a bag of tricks learned from the likes of Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, and Sly Stone, all of whom Womack worked closely with at one time or another. Yet often, they also bore the stamp of Womack's own idiosyncratic personality, whether through a lengthy spoken philosophical monologue or a radical reinterpretation of a pop standard. An underrated guitarist, Womack helped pioneer a lean, minimalist approach similar to that of Curtis Mayfield, and was an early influence on the young Jimi Hendrix. Additionally, his songs have been recorded by numerous artists in the realms of both R&B and rock, and the best of them rank as all-time classics.
Bobby Dwayne Womack was born in Cleveland on March 4, 1944. His upbringing was strict and religious, but his father Friendly also encouraged his sons to pursue music as he had (he sang and played guitar in a gospel group). In the early '50s, while still a child, Bobby joined his siblings Cecil, Curtis, Harry, and Friendly Jr. to form the gospel quintet the Womack Brothers. They were chosen to open a local show for the Soul Stirrers in 1953, where Bobby befriended lead singer Sam Cooke; following this break, they toured the country as an opening act for numerous gospel groups. When Cooke formed his own SAR label, he recruited the Womack Brothers with an eye toward transforming them into a crossover R&B act. Learning that his sons were moving into secular music, Friendly Womack threw them out of the house, and Cooke wired them the money to buy a car and drive out to his Los Angeles offices. The Womack Brothers made several recordings for SAR over 1960 and 1961, including a few gospel sides, but Cooke soon convinced them to record R&B and renamed them the Valentinos. In 1962, they scored a Top Ten hit on the R&B charts with "Lookin' for a Love," and Cooke sent them on the road behind James Brown to serve a boot-camp-style musical apprenticeship. Bobby eventually joined Cooke's backing band as guitarist. The Valentinos' 1964 single "It's All Over Now," written by Bobby, was quickly covered by the Rolling Stones with Cooke's blessing; when it became the Stones' first U.K. number one, Womack suddenly found himself a rich man.
Cooke's tragic death in December 1964 left Womack greatly shaken and the Valentinos' career in limbo. Just three months later, Womack married Cooke's widow, Barbara Campbell, which earned him tremendous ill will in the R&B community; many viewed him as a shady opportunist looking to cash in on Cooke's legacy, especially since Campbell was significantly older than Womack. According to Womack, he was initially motivated to look after Campbell in an unstable time, not to tarnish the memory of a beloved mentor. Regardless, Womack found himself unable to get his solo career rolling in the wake of the scandal; singles for Chess ("I Found a True Love") and Him ("Nothing You Can Do") were avoided like the plague despite their quality. The Valentinos cut a couple of singles for Chess in 1966, "What About Me" and "Sweeter Than the Day Before," which also failed to make much of a splash. To make ends meet, Womack became a backing guitarist, first landing a job with Ray Charles; he went on to make a valuable connection in producer Chips Moman, and appeared often at Moman's American Studio in Memphis, as well as nearby Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the process, Womack appeared on classic recordings by the likes of Joe Tex, King Curtis, and Aretha Franklin (Lady Soul), among others. He recorded singles for Keymen and Atlantic without success, but became one of Wilson Pickett's favorite songwriters, contributing the R&B Top Ten hits "I'm in Love" and "I'm a Midnight Mover" (plus 15 other tunes) to the singer's repertoire.
Womack had been slated to record a solo album for Minit, but had given Pickett most of his best material, which actually wound up getting his name back in the public eye in a positive light. In 1968, he scored the first charting single of his solo career with "What Is This?" and soon hit with a string of inventively reimagined pop covers -- "Fly Me to the Moon," "California Dreamin'," and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," the former two of which reached the R&B Top 20. A songwriting partnership with engineer Darryl Carter resulted in the R&B hits "It's Gonna Rain," "How I Miss You Baby," and "More Than I Can Stand" over 1969-1970. A series of label absorptions bumped Womack up to United Artists in 1971, which proved to be the home of his greatest solo success; in the meantime, he contributed the ballad "Trust Me" to Janis Joplin's masterpiece Pearl, and the J. Geils Band revived "Lookin' for a Love" for their first hit. He also teamed up with jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo on the LP High Contrast, which debuted Womack's composition "Breezin'" (which, of course, became a smash for George Benson six years later). Most importantly, however, Womack played guitar on Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, a masterpiece of darkly psychedelic funk that would have an impact on Womack's own sound and sense of style.
Womack issued his first UA album, Communication, in 1971, which kicked off a string of excellent releases that ran through the first half of the decade. In addition to several of Womack's trademark pop covers, the album also contained the original ballad "That's the Way I Feel About 'Cha," which climbed all the way to number two on the R&B chart and became his long-awaited breakout hit. The 1972 follow-up Understanding spawned Womack's first chart-topper, "Woman's Gotta Have It," co-written with Darryl Carter and stepdaughter Linda (Womack divorced Barbara Campbell in 1970). The follow-up "Harry Hippie," a gently ironic tribute to Womack's brother, also hit the R&B Top Ten. Later that year, Womack scored the blaxploitation flick Across 110th Street; the title cut was later revived in the 1998 Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown. Released in 1973, The Facts of Life had an R&B number two hit in a rearrangement of the perennial "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," and the following year's Lookin' for a Love Again found Womack revisiting his Valentinos hit; the re-recorded "Lookin' for a Love" became his second number one R&B single and his only Top Ten hit on the pop charts. Follow-up single "You're Welcome, Stop on By" made the R&B Top Five.
Womack was by this time a seasoned veteran of the rock & roll lifestyle, having befriended the likes of the Rolling Stones, the late Janis Joplin, and Sly Stone. After his brother Harry was murdered by a jealous girlfriend in 1974 (in Bobby's own apartment), the drug usage began to take a more serious turn. Womack scored further R&B Top Ten hits with 1975's "Check It Out" and 1976's "Daylight," the latter of which seemed to indicate a longing for escape from the nonstop partying that often masked serious depression. Despite Womack's new marriage to Regina Banks, the song was a sign that things were coming to a head. Womack pushed UA into letting him do a full album of country music, something he'd always loved but which the label regarded as commercially inadvisable (especially under the title Womack reportedly wanted to use: Step Aside, Charley Pride, Give Another Nigger a Try). They eventually relented, and when BW Goes C&W met with predictably minimal response, UA palmed the increasingly difficult Womack off on Columbia. A pair of albums there failed to recapture his commercial momentum or reinvent him for the disco age, and he moved to Arista for 1979's Roads of Life, which appeared not long after the sudden death of his infant son.
At a low point in his life, Womack took a bit of time off from music to gather himself. He appeared as a guest vocalist on Jazz Crusader Wilton Felder's 1980 solo album, Inherit the Wind, singing the hit title track, and subsequently signed with black entrepreneur Otis Smith's independent Beverly Glen label. His label debut, 1981's The Poet, was a critically acclaimed left-field hit, rejuvenating his career and producing a number three R&B hit with "If You Think You're Lonely Now." Unfortunately, money disputes soured the relationship between Womack and Smith rather quickly. The Poet II was delayed until 1984, and featured several duets with Patti LaBelle, including another number three R&B hit, "Love Has Finally Come at Last." Beverly Glen released a final LP culled from Womack's previous sessions, Someday We'll All Be Free, in 1985, by which time the singer had already broken free and signed with MCA. Another hit with Wilton Felder, "(No Matter How High I Get) I'll Still Be Looking Up to You," appeared that year, and his label debut, So Many Rivers, produced a Top Five R&B hit in "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much." Released in 1986, Womagic reunited Womack with Chips Moman, and he also backed the Rolling Stones on their remake of "Harlem Shuffle." By the following year he'd christened himself The Last Soul Man, which proved to be his final recording for MCA.
In the years since, Womack has made high-profile returns to the music business only sporadically. Released in 1994, Resurrection was recorded for Ron Wood's Slide label and featured an array of guest stars including Wood, Keith Richards, Rod Stewart, and Stevie Wonder. In 1999, he fulfilled a longstanding promise to his father (who passed away in 1981) by delivering his first-ever gospel album, Back to My Roots. While he continued to perform throughout the following decade, his guest appearance on the 2010 Gorillaz album Plastic Beach seemed like a return. A couple years later, after being the subject of TV One's Unsung documentary series, he released The Bravest Man in the Universe, a collaboration with the XL label's Richard Russell and Gorillaz's Damon Albarn.
Robert Dwayne "Bobby" Womack (/ˈoʊæ/; March 4, 1944 – June 27, 2014) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. An active recording artist since the early 1960s, when he started his career as the lead singer of his family musical group the Valentinos and as Sam Cooke's backing guitarist, Womack's career spanned more than 50 years, during which he played in the styles of R&B, soul, rock and roll, doo-wop, gospel, and country.
Womack wrote and originally recorded the Rolling Stones' first UK No. 1 hit, "It's All Over Now" and New Birth's "I Can Understand It" among other songs. As a singer he is most notable for the hits "Lookin' For a Love", "That's The Way I Feel About Cha", "Woman's Gotta Have It", "Harry Hippie", "Across 110th Street" and his 1980s hit "If You Think You're Lonely Now".Smirke, Richard (December 9, 2011). "XL's Richard Russell on Adele, Six Grammy Noms, What's Next (Bobby Womack!)". Billboard.biz. Retrieved April 30, 2012. "Bobby Womack". Front Row. December 26, 2012. BBC Radio 4. http://bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pg54v. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
ContentsBiography1.1 1944–1966: Early life and career: The Valentinos1.2 1967–1972: Early solo career1.3 1972–1985: Solo success1.4 1985–2014: Later career
1944–1966: Early life and career: The ValentinosMain article: The Valentinos
Born and raised near East 85th Street & Quincy Avenue in Cleveland's Fairfax neighborhood to Naomi Womack and Friendly Womack, Womack was the third of five brothers. His younger brothers were musicians Cecil and Harry. Raised Baptist, their mother played organ in their church and their father was a minister and musician, often known to play guitar though he advised his sons to not touch the instrument while he was away. One night, eight-year-old Bobby, who was often playing it, broke a guitar string. After Friendly replaced the string with a shoelace, he let Bobby play the guitar for him. According to Bobby later, Friendly was shocked by his son's talents as well as the talents of his other sons. Soon afterwards, he bought Bobby his own guitar and formed The Womack Brothers. The group toured the gospel circuit with their parents accompanying them on organ and guitar respectively. In 1954, under the moniker Curtis Womack and the Womack Brothers, the group issued the Pennant single, "Buffalo Bill". Bobby was only ten years old at the time.
Even though Curtis Womack often sang lead, Bobby Womack was allowed to sing alongside him showcasing his gruff baritone vocals in contrast to his older brother's smoother tenor. During performances, Bobby would sometimes imitate the role of a preacher, which later became his nickname. Sam Cooke discovered the group performing while he was still in the Soul Stirrers in 1956 and began mentoring the boys, promising them that he would help with their careers once he established himself. Within four years, Cooke had formed SAR Records and signed the quintet to the label. Changing their name to the Valentinos, Cooke produced and arranged the group's first hit single, "Looking for a Love", which was a pop version of a gospel song they had recorded titled "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray". The song became an R&B hit and helped land the group an opening spot for James Brown's tour. The group's next hit came in 1964 with the country-tinged "It's All Over Now", co-composed by Bobby. Their version was rising on the charts when the Rolling Stones covered it. The Valentinos' career was left shaky after Sam Cooke was shot and killed in a Los Angeles motel. Devastated by the news, the brothers disbanded and SAR Records folded.
1967–1972: Early solo career
Womack worked at Chips Moman's American Studios in Memphis and played on recordings by Joe Tex and the Box Tops. Womack played guitar on several of Aretha Franklin's albums, including Lady Soul, but not on the hit song "Chain of Fools", as erroneously reported. His work as a songwriter caught the eye of music executives after Wilson Pickett took a liking to some of the songs and insisted on recording them. Among those songs included the hits "I'm a Midnight Mover" and "I'm in Love".
In 1968, he signed with Minit Records and recorded his first solo album, Fly Me to the Moon, where he scored his first major hit with a cover of the Mamas & The Papas' "California Dreamin'". In 1969, Womack forged a partnership with Gábor Szabó and with Szabó, penned the instrumental "Breezin'", later a hit for George Benson. Womack also worked with rock musicians Sly and the Family Stone and Janis Joplin, contributing vocals and guitar work on The Family Stone's accomplished album There's a Riot Goin' On, and penning the ballad "Trust Me", for Joplin on her album Pearl.
After two more albums with Minit, Bobby switched labels, signing with United Artists where he changed his attire and his musical direction with the album Communication. The album bolstered his first top 40 hit, "That's the Way I Feel About Cha", which peaked at number two R&B and number twenty-seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1972.
1972–1985: Solo success
Following Communication, Womack's profile was raised with two more albums, released in 1972. The first was Understanding, noted for the album track "I Can Understand It", later covered by the funk band New Birth and a three-sibling lineup of Bobby's old group, the Valentinos, and two hit singles, "Woman's Gotta Have It" and "Harry Hippie". The latter song was written for Womack by Jim Ford in a country version, which Womack re-arranged in an R&B version. "Harry Hippie" later became Womack's first to be certified gold. Contrary to popular belief, the song was not about Womack's brother Harry. "Woman's Gotta Have It" became Womack's first single to hit number-one on the R&B charts.
Another hit album released after Understanding was the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Across 110th Street. The title track became popular during its initial 1972 release and later would be played during the opening and closing scenes of the film, Jackie Brown, years later. In 1973, Womack released another hit album, Facts of Life, and had a top 40 hit with "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", an older song Sam Cooke had done years before.
In 1974, Womack released his most successful single during this period with a remake of his first hit single, "Lookin' for a Love". His solo version of the song became even more successful than the original with the Valentinos', becoming his second number-one hit on the R&B chart and peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming his only hit to reach that high on the pop chart. The song was featured on the album Lookin' for a Love Again and featured the minor charted "You're Welcome, Stop on By", later covered by Rufus & Chaka Khan. Womack's career began stalling after Womack received the news of his brother Harry's death. Womack continued to record albums with United Artists through 1975 and 1976 but with less success than previous albums. In 1975, Womack collaborated with Rolling Stones member Ronnie Wood, on Wood's second solo album, Now Look.
Womack languished with his own recordings during the late 1970s but continued to be a frequent collaborator with other artists, most notably Wilton Felder of The Crusaders. In 1980, Wilton Felder released on MCA Records, the album 'Inherit The Wind' featuring Bobby Womack which became a Jazz-Funk classic (notably in the UK – Robbie Vincent at Radio London included the track as one of his all-time winners in October 1982). In 1981, Womack signed with Beverly Glen Records and had his first R&B top ten single in five years since the 1976 single Daylight with "If You Think You're Lonely Now", which peaked at number three on the R&B singles chart. His accompanying album The Poet reached number one on the R&B album charts and is now seen as the high point of his long career, bringing him wider acclaim not only in the U.S. but also in Europe. He had two more R&B top ten singles during the 1980s including the Patti LaBelle duet, "Love Has Finally Come at Last", and "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much". He had a hit featuring on the Wilton Felder single "(No Matter How High I Get) I'll Still Be Looking Up to You".
1985–2014: Later career
Womack's solo career started to slow down, however, after 1985, partially due to Womack's issues with drug addiction. After sobering up in the mid-1990s, he released the album Resurrection and continued his performing career.
In 1989, Womack sang on Todd Rundgren's "For the Want of a Nail" on the album Nearly Human. In 1998, he performed George Gershwin's "Summertime" with The Roots for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody, a tribute to George Gershwin, which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease.
In 2010, Womack contributed lyrics and sang on "Stylo" alongside Mos Def, the first single from the third Gorillaz album Plastic Beach. Womack was told to sing whatever was on his mind during the recording of "Stylo". "I was in there for an hour going crazy about love and politics, getting it off my chest", said Womack. He also provided vocals on the song "Cloud of Unknowing" in addition to the song "Bobby in Phoenix" on their December 2010 release "The Fall".
A new album was released on June 12, 2012 by XL Recordings of London. The album, The Bravest Man in the Universe was produced by Damon Albarn and Richard Russell. The first Song "Please Forgive My Heart" was offered as a free download on XL Recordings' official website on March 8, 2012. Contact Music reported that Womack was working on a blues album called Living in the House of Blues, featuring collaborations with Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg and Rod Stewart. In an interview with Uncut, Womack revealed that the followup would now be called The Best Is Yet To Come and feature Teena Marie and Ronnie Isley."The Valentino's Page". Soulwalking.co.uk. Retrieved April 11, 2012. "About 1:15–2:32 into the video". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. Cite error: The named reference NYT_obit was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 322–323. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. Davis, Johnny (March 2010). "Yo Ho Ho". (Bauer Media Group) (284): 44–52. "Bobby Womack teams up with Damon Albarn for new album " Consequence of Sound". Consequenceofsound.net. March 8, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2012. "Bobby Womack – Bobby Womack Thanks Gorillaz For Inspiring Comeback". Contact Music. August 26, 2011. Retrieved December 25, 2012. Spencer, Neil (April 2012). "Same attitude, different times". Uncut: 7–8.
Jodeci's K-Ci Hailey, a notable admirer of Womack's work, covered "If You Think You're Lonely Now" in 1994. Hailey again covered Womack in 2006 with his rendition of "A Woman's Gotta Have It". The song is referenced in Mariah Carey's song "We Belong Together", a number-one hit in June 2005. Carey sings "I can't sleep at night / When you are on my mind / Bobby Womack's on the radio / Singing to me: 'If you think you're lonely now.'" In 2007, R&B singer Jaheim interpolated the song as "Lonely" on his album "The Making of a Man". Neo Soul Singer, Calvin Richardson also covered many of Womack's tunes. The song was covered by the late R&B musician Gerald Levert and fellow singer Mary J. Blige from Levert's 1998 album Love & Consequences.
Film director Quentin Tarantino used "Across 110th Street" (which, in a different version, had been the title song of the 1972 movie) in the opening and closing sequences of his 1997 film Jackie Brown. His work has been used in several other popular films, including Meet the Parents (2000), Ali (2001) and American Gangster (2007). A 2003 Saab commercial used Womack's interpretation of "California Dreamin'". In 2005, "Across 110th Street" appeared in the hit Activision video game True Crime: New York City.
On the 1994 release 1-800-NEW-FUNK, Nona Gaye covered "Woman's Gotta Have It," produced by Prince and backed by his band, New Power Generation.
During the spring of 1997, R&B singer Rome covered the original song from his self-titled debut album.
In 2008, Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child recorded her own version of his R&B hit "Daylight" with Travis McCoy of the Gym Class Heroes, which became a hit in the UK Singles Chart, where it was previously released as a single by Womack in 1976.
In 2009, Calvin Richardson was chosen to record a tribute album to Womack to coincide with Womack's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Grammy-nominated album was entitled Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack. It reached No. 30 on the US R&B chart.
In early 2012, Womack's career was the subject of the documentary show Unsung on TV One."Facts of Life: The Soul of Bobby Womack – Calvin Richardson". billboard.com. Retrieved September 27, 2011. "Bobby Womack on TV One's Unsung". Soultracks.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
ContentsPersonal life1.1 Barbara Campbell1.2 Drug addiction and health problems1.3 Death
In March 1965, just three months after Sam Cooke's death, 21-year-old Womack created scandal by marrying Cooke's 29-year-old widow, Barbara Campbell. Womack claimed he initially went to Barbara's side to console her following Cooke's death for fear that, if she were left alone, she would "do something crazy."
By 1970, Bobby and Barbara were divorced after she found out that he had an affair with his step-daughter Linda, daughter of Sam Cooke and Barbara. In the ensuing tussle, Barbara fired a gun at her husband. Vincent Womack, his son with Barbara, committed suicide in 1986. Bobby Womack's second marriage was to Regina Banks with whom he had a son Bobby Truth and a daughter Gina. From his relationship with Jody Laba he fathered two sons, Cory and Jordan.
Bobby Womack's younger brother, Cecil (1947–2013), later married Linda, the daughter of Sam Cooke and Campbell. Womack and Linda collaborated on the hit song "Woman's Gotta Have It" and he applied background vocals for his brother and Linda as the pair teamed up as Womack & Womack. Womack & Womack also sang the song "Baby I'm Scared of You" (released as a single in the US and UK from the 'Love Wars' Album, 1983).
Drug addiction and health problems
Womack opened up about his frequent drug use in his memoirs, Midnight Mover. Womack said he began using cocaine sometime in the late 1960s. His cocaine use turned into an addiction by the late 1970s. Womack partially blamed his habit for his son Truth's death as an infant in 1976. At the end of the 1980s, Womack went into a rehabilitation facility to get over his cocaine addiction, which he said he conquered. Womack developed diabetes in his later years. In early 2012, Womack entered several hospitals with health problems including pneumonia, for which he was successfully treated. It was revealed in March that Womack was diagnosed with colon cancer after Bootsy Collins reported it on his Facebook page. Womack announced afterwards that he was undergoing cancer surgery. On May 24, 2012, it was announced that Womack's surgery to remove a tumor from his colon was successful and he was declared cancer free. On January 1, 2013, Womack admitted that he has struggled to remember his songs and other people's names, leading doctors to suggest that he was in early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Womack died at his home in Tarzana, California at the age of 70 on June 27, 2014. He had numerous health issues, including prostate cancer, colon cancer, pneumonia, and Alzheimer's disease.Jason Newman. "Bobby Womack Dead: Soul Singer Dies at 70 | Music News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-06-28. "Bobby Womack Exposed". Hollywoodstreetking.com. January 10, 2012. Cite error: The named reference Midnight_Mover_.27Prologue.27 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Guardian (UK) obit" John Lewis, 'Bobby Womack dies aged 70', The Guardian, 28 June 28, 2014. Womack, Bobby; Ashton, Robert (2006). Bobby Womack – Midnight Mover. John Blake Publishing. ISBN 978-1844541485. Losh, Jack (January 1, 2012). "Bobby Womack Alzheimer's torment". The Sun. Retrieved January 2, 2012. Vitello, Paul (June 27, 2014). "Bobby Womack, Royalty of the Soul Era, Dies at 70". The New York Times. Martens, Todd (June 27, 2014). "Bobby Womack dies at 70; soul singer and song writer". Los Angeles Times.