Bobby Womack died aged seventy years on 27th June 2014 at his home in Tarzana, California, U.S.A.. He was cremated, and his ashes were interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, U.S.A.
Bobby Womack was born in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. to Naomi and Friendly Womack and was the third of five brothers. They all grew up in the Cleveland slums, so poor that the family would fish pig snouts out of the local supermarket's trash. Bobby had to share a bed with his brothers and his mother told him he could "sing his way out of the ghetto."
She played the organ for the church choir, and their father was a steelworker, part-time minister, and musician who played the guitar and also sang gospel and told his sons to not touch his guitar while he was away, yet all five brothers regularly played it while their father was at work. One night, eight-year-old Bobby broke a guitar string, then tried to replace the string with a shoelace. After Friendly deduced that Bobby had broken the string, he gave Bobby the chance to play the guitar for him instead of getting a whipping.
Soon afterwards, Friendly bought guitars for all five of his sons. Because Bobby was left-handed, he flipped his guitar upside-down to play, not knowing that the guitar could have been restrung to accommodate a left-handed player.
By the mid-1950s, the ten year-old Bobby was touring with his brothers on the midwest gospel circuit as The Womack Brothers, along with Naomi on organ and Friendly Sr. on guitar. In 1954, under the moniker Curtis Womack and the Womack Brothers, the group issued the Pennant single, "Buffalo Bill" and more records followed.
Sam Cooke, the lead singer of The Soul Stirrers, first saw the Womacks performing in the mid-1950s. He became their mentor and helped them go on tour. They also went on national tours with The Staple Singers. Even though Curtis often sang lead, Bobby 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. At just sixteen years old, Bobby dropped out of high school.
At the beginning of the 1960s, Sam Cooke formed SAR Records and signed the quintet to the label in 1961, where they released a handful of gospel singles. Then, Sam Cooke changed their name to the Valentinos, relocated them to Los Angeles and convinced them to change from gospel music to a soul-and pop-influenced sound. Sam Cooke produced and arranged the group's first hit single, "Lookin' for a Love", which was a pop version of the gospel song, "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray", they had recorded earlier. The song became a Rythm&Blues hit and helped land the group an opening spot on James Brown's tour. The Wommack'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.
Bobby Womack was also a member of Sam Cooke's band, touring and recording with him from 1961. 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. Bobby Womack continued to work as a session musician and between 1965 and 1968, he toured and recorded with Ray Charles.
In March 1965, just three months after Sam Cooke's death, Bobby Womack married Barbara, Sam Cooke's widow, who was ten years his senior. The marriage was considered a scandal by some in the music business, and Bobby found himself ostracized in the soul-music world.
In 1970, Bobby and Barbara divorced after she found out that he had an affair with his 18-year-old stepdaughter Linda.
Bobby Womack's second marriage, in 1976, was to Regina with whom he had two sons and a daughter. That marriage also ended in divorce. From his relationship with girlfriend Jody Laba, he fathered two sons, Cory and Jordan.
In 1965, Womack relocated to Memphis where he worked at Chips Moman's American Studios. He played guitar on recordings by Joe Tex and the Box Tops and played guitar on several of Aretha Franklin's albums, including Lady Soul. His work as a songwriter caught the eye of music executives after Wilson Pickett took a liking to some of his songs and insisted on recording them. Among the songs were "I'm a Midnight Mover" and "I'm in Love".
In 1968, Bobby signed with Minit Records and recorded his first solo album, 'Fly Me to the Moon', where he scored a major hit with a cover of "California Dreamin'". In 1969, Bobby Womack forged a partnership with Gábor Szabó and with Szabó, penned the instrumental "Breezin'", later a hit for George Benson. Bobby 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 Janis Joplin on her album Pearl. In fact, Bobby was one of the last people to see Janis alive, having visited her hours before she died.
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 at top 40 hit, "That's the Way I Feel About Cha", which peaked at number two Rythm&Blues and number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1972.
Following Communication, Womack's profile was raised with two more albums, released in 1972. The first was Understanding, noted for the 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 Bobby Womack by Jim Ford in a country version, which Bobby re-arranged as a Rythm&Blues version. "Harry Hippie" later became Bobby's first single to be certified gold. "Woman's Gotta Have It" became Bobby Womack's first single to hit number one on the Rythm&Blues 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 1997 film, Jackie Brown. In 1973, Bobby Womack released another hit album, Facts of Life, and had a top 40 hit with "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out".
In 1974, Bobby 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 Rythm&Blues 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. Bobby Womack continued to record albums with United Artists through 1975 and 1976 but with less success than previous albums. In 1975, he collaborated with Rolling Stones member Ronnie Wood, on Ronnie's second solo album, Now Look.
BobbyWomack 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, that became a jazz-funk classic, notably in the UK. In 1981, Bobby Womack signed with Beverly Glen Records and had his first Rythm&Blues top 10 single in five years—since the 1976 single "Daylight"—with "If You Think You're Lonely Now" that peaked at number three on the US Rythm&Blues singles chart. His accompanying album The Poet reached number one on the US Rythm&Blues 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 Rythm&Blues top 10 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".
Bobby Womack's solo career started to slow down after 1985, in part due to his issues with drug addiction. After sobering up in the mid-1990s, he released his twentieth studio album, 'Resurrection' on his friend Ronnie Wood's label. The album included session background work from admiring associates that included Rod Stewart, Ronald Isley, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. His remaining brothers from the Valentinos, Curtis, Friendly and Cecil, featured as background singers. Two singles from the album—a duet with Ronald Isley, "Tryin' Not To Break Down", and "Forever Love"—appeared on the Billboard Rythm&Blues chart, but although the album contained two of Bobby's best latter songs, "Cousin Henry" and "Don't Break Your Promise", the album received a mixed critical reception. A gospel album, Back to My Roots, appeared at the end of the decade, but Bobby largely concentrated on session and guest work for the next ten years.
In 1986, The Manhattans released the album Back To Basics, which contained songs written and produced by Bobby Womack who contributed vocals and acoustic guitar to the songs "Where Did We Go Wrong" (duet with Regina Belle), "I'm Through Trying To Prove My Love To You", "Mr D.J." and "Back Into The Night".
In 1989, Bobby 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 Gershwin, which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease.
In 2010, Bobby 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". 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.
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