RIP: Bobby Womack

Posted June 28, 2014 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Soul singer and Rock Hall of Fame inductee dies at the age of 70

Bobby Womack, the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with the unforgettable gospel-trained, soulful gritty voice, passed away at the age of 70, according to reports. shared the news after getting word from a trusted resource. “It was confirmed for me by Darryl Payne,” SoulTracks publisher Chris Rizik said. “There was apparently a hoax a week ago, but Darryl is always very knowledgeable and reliable.”

Minutes later, Rolling Stone published a confirmation: “A representative for Womack’s label XL Recordings confirmed the singer has died to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was currently unknown.”

Born in Cleveland, Ohio – home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Womack rose up the musical ladder singing in the family gospel quartet Womack Brothers before departing gospel for pop. Under the direction of SAR Records’ Sam Cooke, the family group changed their name to the Valentinos and released a few hit singles: “It’s All Over Now” became a regional hit, but became a bigger success on the Rolling Stones, which went to No. 1 on the UK singles charts; 1961’s “I’m Lookin’ for a Love,” their first hit, climbed to number eight on the r&b charts and was later re-recorded on Womack with a prot0-disco slant in 1974.

After Cooke died in 1964, Womack married Cooke’s widow Barbara and left the Valentinos to pursue a solo career. After playing guitar on studio sessions for Aretha Franklin on the landmark LP Lady Soul and writing songs for Wilson Pickett (“I’m in Love”), Womack finally released his debut album, Fly Me to the Moon, on Minit Records. His 1968 cover of the Mama and Papas’ hit, “California Dreamin'” catapulted his career. He eventually signed with United Artists and found his own sound on 1971’s Communication, which featured the Top 40 hit “That’s the Way I Feel About ‘Cha.” Heading into more deep soulful grooves and unapologetic gospel-powered crooning, Womack released a slew of r&b smashes with the No. 1 “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” “Harry Hippie,” “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out” and the moving blaxplotation movie anthem “Across 110th Street.” 1974’s “Lookin’ for a Love” proved to be another crowning moment in Womack’s career, soaring to number one r&b and number ten on the pop side. Another highlight, “You’re Welcome, Stop on By,” danced its way to number five R&B and found new life months later on Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Rufusized.

By the end of the Eighties, Womack’s music was out of touch with listeners. His late ’70’s albums for United Artists and works with Columbia failed to sale and his lifestyle – ravished by a bad drug habit – became hard to control. But he found a way to bounce back. “Oh yeah, ’cos I looked around and I say everybody I know, the ones that taught me and the ones that were doing the same thing that I’m doing, none of these people are here no more.” Womack told Telegraph in 2013.

During those though years, Womack manged to produce and write music for other acts, including disco diva Loleatta Holloway. After re-recorded Womack’s “I’m in Love” in 1978, Holloway sought for Womack’s work on her self-titled 1979 LP, where he scored “There Must Be a Reason” and lent his vocals to a remake of the Shirelles’ hit “Baby, It’s You.”

In the Eighties, Womack found a jolt of sweet relief with a minor “comeback” hit, the bluesy-soul classic “If You’re Think You’re Lonely Now.” The track, released on the indie record label Beverly Glenn and found etched on 1981’s The Poet II, shot to number three R&B the following year. A few other hits, including his duet with Patti Labelle on “Love Has Finally Come at Last,” kept his name out in the opening, but eventually dissipated from the conversation of soul music as the tide opened up with glossy contemporary giants like Luther Vandross and Freddie Jackson.

Despite battling with Alzheimer’s disease and ailing issues surrounding his diabetes and colon cancer, Womack enjoyed a lucrative touring gig and received rave reviews across the board for his live performances. His latter-day work with Gorillaz – giving him a much-needed re-invention, catapulted his name back into fame. Thanks to the wicked alt-feeling hip-hop single “Stylo,” Womack’s vocal work was in high demand again. 2012’s The Bravest Man in the Universe dropped, and even earned critical acclaim from Rolling Stone (even falling on their 50 Best Albums of 2012). “Bobby is a precious thing,” Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn told The Independent. “He’s getting on but his voice is still there. Which is really rare; the voice usually diminishes as time goes by.”

“Life is strange,” Womack once said. “I know it’s strange, because I ask the question, why am I still here? I’ve been as crazy as anybody could have been; what particular reason do you lose the Marvin Gayes and the Sam Cookes, the Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix – the list goes on; I say it never stops, the world keeps bouncing and those other artists go underneath. But I’m still here .”

Prior to his passing, Womack was at work on his upcoming album, which planned to feature appearances from Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Ronnie Wood, Ron Isley and Snoop Dogg. The album was also planned to feature performances from the late Gerald Levert and the late Teena Marie.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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