With a stellar career of over 50 years, revered R&B singer-songwriter Bobby Womack died Friday June 27, 2014. He was 70 years old. Described as colorful, the influential singer-songwriter, had a gift – an incomparable voice that few could match. In addition to his stirring vocals he also played the guitar.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio’s Fairfax neighborhood, to Naomi and Friendly Womack, he was the third of five brothers. Raised Baptist, his mother played organ and his father a minister and well-rounded musician, notably played guitar. Bobby and his younger brothers formed the Womack Brothers and toured the gospel circuit with their parents accompanying them on organ and guitar.
Singer Sam Cook discovered the group performing while he was still in the Soul Stirrers and became their mentor. He promised to help the boys as he established himself. He lived up to that promise as he formed SAR Records and signed the group to his label. Changing their names to the Valentino’s, Cooke produced and arranged their group’s first hit single, “Looking for a Love”. It was a pop version of a gospel song that they had recorded earlier. The song became an R&B hit and helped land them an opening spot for James Brown’s tour.
Their next hit “It’s All Over Now” co-written by Bobby was rising on the charts when the Rolling Stones covered it and became the band’s first number-one hit.
Shortly after, Sam Cook was shot and killed and the Valentino’s career was in limbo. Devastated by the tragic news , they disbanded and SAR Records folded.
Womack’s early career was typical of most R&B musicians – he worked at several music studios playing guitar on various projects including Joe Tex and Aretha Franklin. He also wrote hits for Wilson Picket. He also worked with rock musicians Sly and the Family Stone and Janis Joplin, providing vocal and guitar work and penned a ballad for
During the 70’s Womack had an illustrious solo career with many hits like “Across 110th Street,” ”If You Think You’re Lonely Now” and “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much”. He also collaborated with other artist most notably Wilton Felder of The Crusaders “(No Matter How High I Get) I’ll Still Be Looking Up to You” and Patti Labelle (‘Love has Finally Come At Last”).
His personal life hit the rocks after his first marriage, in March 1965, to Sam Cooke’s widow, Barbara, just month’s after his mentor’s death. The union brought the disapproval of Cooke’s family and friends, but Womack went ahead and created a home with Barbara and her 12-year-old daughter with Cooke, Linda. Just five years later, Barbara discovered that Womack had been having an affair with Linda. She loaded a pistol, told him to get out of the house and took a shot at him; it grazed his scalp. They divorced later in 1970. He later married Regina Banks; they split up and then remarried in 2013.
“He had a style that nobody else could ever capture,” longtime friend, gospel singer Candi Staton, said in a statement. “I loved him and I will miss him so, so very much.”
In a statement, musician Peter Gabriel said: “I’m very sad to learn of Bobby Womack’s death … His songs and his voice have been so much a part of the fabric of so many musical lives. In recent years, it was great to see Richard Russell and Damon Albarn bringing his music back into our attention. He was a soul legend. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this time.”
Womack’s death comes as something of a surprise. Though he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago and overcame addiction and multiple health issues, including prostate and colon cancer, recently, he seemed in good health and spirits when he performed earlier this month at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
He told the BBC in 2013 the Alzheimer’s diagnosis came after he began having difficulty remembering his songs and the names of people he had worked with.
And there have been many. The soul singer cut a wide path through the music business as a performer and songwriter in a career that spanned seven decades.
“I must have listened to ‘Facts of Life’ for months, what an influence, what a voice, so long Bobby!!” Rod Stewart said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Rock and Roll and Drugs
Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, long after he’d lost his fortune and his career to addiction.
He spoke of kicking his substance abuse problems in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press and all the friends he’d lost to drugs over the years.
“I think the biggest move for me was to get away from the drug scene,” Womack said. “It wasn’t easy. It was hard because everybody I knew did drugs. … They didn’t know when to turn it off. So for me looking at Wilson Pickett, close friends of mine, Sly Stone, Jim Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and I can go on and on and on, and I say all of them died because of drugs.”
Albarn and XL Recordings president Richard Russell helped Womack regain his career with 2012 comeback album “The Bravest Man in the Universe.” The album was a departure for Womack, full of electronic music and beats. But it was lauded by critics for a simple reason: That distinctive voice of his still brought chills.
“I don’t think he ever really thought that he would do anything again,” Albarn said of Womack in March. “Watching his rehabilitation and watching his ability to confront new material and new challenges was nothing short of miraculous at the time, and he still today continues to battle his demons and his illness. But he’s a beautiful person and when he opens his mouth and that voice comes out, it is something that is somehow touched by God.”
WOMAD, World of Music, Arts and Dance an international established Festival bringing together artists from all over the globe, had booked Bobby Womack to top the bill on the fourth and final night of the internationally-renowned WOMAD festival on Sunday, July 27, at Charlton Park near Malmesbury, England.
Womack is survived by Regina Banks and four children: Gina, Bobby Truth, Cory and Jordan.