Singer Bobby Womack performs with Gorillaz on the final day of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., Sunday, April 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
TV One’s Unsung episode on singer/songwriter Bobby Womack brought the spotlight to a career that spans over 50 years. Once known as the man who married the late Sam Cooke’s widow, Womack at one point in his quest declared, “I don’t care how many times you call me ‘the-boy-that-married-Sam-Cooke’s-wife’, one day you’re gonna call me by my name.” So after a period of scrutiny and cold rejection by the public and media (he was beat up by the Cooke brothers; almost killed), the music industry finally began to see the artistic value in him when he penned such hits as “Midnight Mover,” and “I’m In Love” for the late Wilson Pickett, and recording a cover of “California Dreamin’” (in 1964 he had also written a song called “It’s All Over Now” that was covered by The Rolling Stones, and for which his first royalty check was thirty-thousand dollars). He was a “money-maker.”
Womack who began singing gospel with his brothers – known as The Womacks – in their hometown Cleveland, Ohio, crossed paths with the famous and popular Sam Cooke who signed them to his record label. They changed their name to The Valentinos and their first release in 1962 “Lookin’ For A Love” ushered them firmly into the secular music culture.
A left-handed guitarist, Womack has had recording sessions with the best. As a performer, radio personality David Washington said, “He knows how to deliver a song.” The idea for the song “That’s The Way I Feel About You” came from a conversation Womack was having with a Skycap. He said he wrote the song when he got on the airplane. In 1972 he scored the soundtrack for the movie Across 110th Street which landed in the Pop top 20 chart. That same year he was approached by a Country & Western songwriter Jim Ford with the song “Harry Hippie.” Womack made it Rhythm & Blues. The episode reveals that the song was not about Womack’s brother Harry who in 1974 was stabbed to death by his girlfriend. That event caused Womack to attempt to jump out of a 15th floor window.
There is mention of drug abuse that started when Womack was being black-balled. He said, “After that I didn’t care what people thought.” He tells the story of how his son Truth rolled off the bed and was wedged between the bed and the wall where he suffocated and died. He said he tried to revive the baby, then said, “I was stupid enough to go in there and take a toot and leave the baby.”
By the late 1970’s Womack had been dropped by three labels. In 1981 he hooked up with Beverly Glen Music where he recorded “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.” He said that title came from a friend who exclaimed, “If you think you’re lonely now, wait until tonight” then slammed the phone down on his woman. Womack asked, “What did you just say?” The rest is history!
Now suffering from diabetes, Womack who is referred to as the last soul man is enjoying a new chapter in his career recording and performing with The Gorillaz [Quote from Rolling Stone Magazine: “They called me from London and said, ‘Man, we want to do something with you,’ ” recent Hall of Fame inductee Womack tells Rolling Stone. The unfinished track arrived at his California home just a few days ago. “In the days when I would get loaded, I would have thought this was great,” says Womack. “Now that I’m straight, I think I’m too square to know where they’re at. I kept listening and thought, ‘Damn, why do they want me?’ It’s all new to me. The only thing that convinced me was my daughter said, ‘Dad, you got to do this. They’re awesome.’ I said, ‘You’re hip to them?’]
The episode features many family members and friends including Sam Cooke’s brother L.C. Cooke, and singer/songwriter Bill Withers who said, “Bobby is unsung in so far as an awareness of the breadth of what he’s done and all the people that he’s done it with and for.”
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand”. Visit the author at www.larrybuford.com