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WPGM Commentary: Bobby Womack (1944 – 2014) – A Legend Passes Away

On June 28th, it was confirmed that legendary Soul singer Bobby Womack had died at the age of 70. His death had been rumoured earlier in the week and the soul singer had suffered ill health in recent years from pneumonia and colon cancer. In 2013, he told his fans that he was “showing signs of Alzheimer’s” as he was forgetting the lyrics to his music and people’s names. In 2009, the singer songwriter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Chaka Khan and many more artists have recorded the songs he wrote; he worked closely with Ray Charles, and played the guitar on recordings of songs from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield.

Womack came from humble beginnings. The third of five boys and raised a Baptist, his parents were active in the church throughout his childhood and teenage years. His father was a minister and musician who played the guitar and his mother played organ in the church. Bobby would regularly play his father’s guitar and when he was eight, his father asked Bobby to play it for him. He was so astounded at the musical talents of Bobby and his other sons that he bought a guitar for Bobby and formed The Womack Brothers. They toured the gospel circuit accompanied by their parents who were on the organ and guitar. Sam Cooke, known famously as the King of Soul, discovered the group in 1956 and began to mentor them.

“Looking For A Love”:

Within four years, Cooke had founded his own record label SAR Records and signed the quintet to the label. He changed their name to The Valentinos, then produced and arranged the group’s first single “Looking For A Love”. The song became a R&B hit and landed the group a spot on James Brown’s Revue. Another hit came in 1964, but they were left disturbed by the murder of Cooke who was shot dead in Los Angeles. The group of brothers disbanded and SAR Records went under. Womack’s actions after Cooke’s death shocked everyone and left him a pariah. Three months after the death of Cooke, Womack married his widow Barbara at the age of 21. Many saw this as backstabbing and led to Womack being booed at concerts and falling out with his brothers. The marriage did not last long as Womack was caught cheating with Cooke and Barbara’s daughter who was aged 18.

After the demise of his marriage and in the grappling of a vicious cocaine habit, Womack had successes as a solo singer. His first major solo hit was “California Dreaming” in 1968, which was followed by his first Top 40 solo single “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha”. In 1972, he was responsible for the soundtrack to the Barry Shear film Across 110th Street. The title track would prove to be his most popular hit and would go on to feature in several Hollywood classics, including Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown and 2007’s American Gangster by Ridley Scott.

“Across 110th Street”:

UK rock singer Damon Albarn requested a collaboration with him for the 2010 Gorillaz album Plastic Beach. Following this, Womack recorded his 2012 comeback album with Albarn on XL Recordings, The Bravest Man in the Universe which was his 27th studio album. This was listed as #36 on the Rolling Stone’s list of the top 50 albums of 2012 and was winner of the UK’s Q award for Best Album of 2012. The album received mostly positive reviews from music critics. About recording this 2012 album, in Womack’s own words he stated, “I was ostracised from the music community aged 21 when I married Sam Cooke’s widow, after 45 years, I feel like Damon has welcomed me back in“.

His successes as a songwriter cannot be emphasised enough. Writing for the Rolling Stones, the song titled “It’s All Over Now” was the band’s first #1 UK hit. He would receive unspeakable royalties for this track throughout his lifetime. His influence on modern music and artists remains a mark of his indelible legacy. Jodeci’s K-Ci Hailey covered Womack’s “If You’re Lonely Now” in 1994, and outperformed him commercially with his cover rendition going to #17 on BillBoard’s Hot 100 and #11 on Hot R&B Singles Chart.

“Please Forgive My Heart”:

The Hip Hop scene has also borrowed heavily from, and been inspired by Bobby Womack; Kanye West, Juicy J and Kendrick Lamar are just a few who have sampled his works, while Rick Ross had collaborated with the singer-songwriter before his passing for the long-awaited “Maybach Music V“. In her early solo career, Kelly Rowland recorded the Womack track “Daylight” with Gym Class Heroes member Travis McCoy; it was a hit in the UK singles chart.

Womack’s life was one of intense conflict, power struggles and addictions, but his passion for music surpassed his issues and saw him still grow successfully as an artist. His presence will be missed by those who were most inspired by his amazing work and it will continue to touch lives long after.

“The Bravest Man In The Universe”:

Words by Halimat Shode // Edited by Ayo Adepoju

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