Was a soul songwriter, producer and performer par excellence, working with numerous greats and authoring several now-classic LPs. A survivor, and proud of it.
By Fred Mills
His nickname was “The Preacher” and he surely was one of the finest and most gifted musical reverends the world has even known: Bobby Womack, who passed away yesterday (June 27) at the age of 70. His label, XL Recordings, said that no cause of death has been announced yet, according to the New York Times.
Womack released solo album and wrote songs that were recorded by everyone from Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke to Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones. More recently, he mounted a late career comeback of sorts with the Damon Albarn/Richard Russell-helmed The Bravest Man in the Universe album.
Earlier this year, BLURT contributor Hal Bienstock interviewed Womack, who remarked on the unusual collaboration, saying, “When Damon called me and said, ‘Let’s do something in the studio,’ I said, ‘Man, I haven’t recorded in a while. You might not like me. You’re judging me on what I did 20 years ago. A lot of things happened since then.’ He said, ‘You ain’t changed. It’s still there. You were ahead of your time.’”
The son of a Cleveland minister, Womack got his start in a gospel group with his brothers, later forming the Valentinos and notching a hit with “It’s All Over Now.” His solo career would be an up and down affair, but some of his albums have gone on to be regarded as lynchpins of any serious soul collection: 1971’s Communication, 1972’s Understanding and 1981’s two-part epic The Poet. His song “Across 110th Street,” the theme tune to the Blaxploitation film of the same name, is considered one of the greats soul/funk/rock numbers of all time.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. Speaking to BLURT in 2014, Womack noted how years ago he derailed his own career for a long period due to drugs and finally realized he had to walk away and get himself back together.
“When I looked and saw how many artists I grew up with, drugs have killed a lot of talented people,” said Womack. “Talented people always have to go one step beyond to check it out and see what it is. Then they’re hooked. When I see how it has destroyed people, I said, ‘I’m getting away from the business. I want to sing for the feeling of singing, not hyped on something.’ That was a big challenge for me to reach that goal. I’m proud of my life, the way I survived, the way I lived it.”