BOBBY WOMACK / “Bobby Womack Mixtape”
My man Bobby Womack. I was going to write a big write-up on Bobby. Wanted people to know about him, especially given that he is a complex man who has what amounts to three different music careers. I knew it would take a bit of work and a bunch of time but I was down for it—or at least I thought I was ready to be write on. I was going to start off with the start, Bobby born into a gospel family headed by Friendly Womack, the patriarch. Home was Cleveland, Ohio and Bobby arrived on March 4, 1944. (I was going to put little twists all through the piece to try to kind of mirror Bobby Womack’s personality—he was a hustler from the heart, honest as a brick in some ways, and in other ways about as firm as water, which is to say his gift of gab equipped him to be a bullshit artist when he wasn’t being sincere. It was going to take a minute, but I figured, hey this is my blog, so if I want to write a piece as complex as the man I was writing about, I could do it and nobody could stop me. I knew if Bobby was me and was writing about somebody, he wouldn’t hesitate to get all up in it.) And then I was going to write about how Friendly’s five sons all got together as a church group and during that period came under the spell of Sam Cooke, who was himself the brightest young light on the gospel circuit. Was going to try to lay it out proper like, so folk could understand that Sam was more than just a model and mentor. For Bobby Womack, Sam Cooke was a reason to exist or at least the reason Bobby became a professional musician. And then there was that funny ass, cross-country trip when the Womack brothers took Route 66 in a Cadillac that wasn’t quite road-ready. They were heading west because they wanted to sing and Sam had sent them some money to come out to California and record with SAR, Sam’s new record company. They, of course, thought they would be cutting gospel records and making it big that way. The road trip and Sam providing some money would have been the context for the split. Father against sons. Especially when Friendly found out that Sam was encouraging his sons to sing in satan’s choir. Literally. Or at least that’s the way Friendly saw it. Sam Cooke, the supreme apostate. Now he was corrupting Friendly’s own flesh and blood. A lot of church folk hated Sam and prophesized that Sam would come to no good, that the devil would destroy Sam if Sam didn’t repent and return to the church. If you wanted to sing for the devil, you couldn’t live in the Lord’s house. Sam and the devil, or daddy and the Lord. Choose. The sons left. I was even going to drop in a couple of funny quotes about that fated odyssey to Cali. Bobby is a colorful and wickedly funny raconteur: my biggest problem was going to be restraining myself from using pages of Womack stories. Just talking about the Cadillac was a gas. And mixing it with the hard news of the fall out with his father was so revealing of Bobby's personality.
"That was the first time I ever saw my daddy cry," Bobby says now, with audible sadness. Apprised of the situation, Cooke wired the boys money to come to Los Angeles. "He said, 'Get on Route 66 and stay on it all the way.' I talked my oldest brother into buying a Cadillac, because that's what I saw all the pimps in the neighborhood driving. Of course, we get on the freeway and it starts to rain, the windshield wipers won't turn on, and the car's running out of gas every 15 seconds because the tank's got a hole in it . . . We wound up in the hospital for a week, because we were overcome by gas fumes. And then the headlights came off! "Two weeks later, we show up in L.A., pushin' the car down Hollywood Boulevard, all of us with our doo-rags on. We called Sam, and he said, 'Man, where the hell are y'all?' "'We on Sunset. The car ain't got no more gas.'" —Bobby WomackOnce out in California the Womack siblings (Cecil, Curtis, Harris, Bobby and Friendly Jr.) became The Valentinos. They cut a handful of singles. Two of them made a little noise. Well, actually, they made a lot of noise. In 1962 “Looking For A Love” made the Billboard charts: Pop #72 and R&B #8. Needless to say (but I was going to say it anyway): the first taste of success is narcotic and it doesn’t take long to get hooked. And then in 1964 The Valentinos had another hit with "It’s All Over Now,” which only rose to Pop #94 but it was picked up by The Rolling Stones and became a #1 hit for them. Here is where I was going to take a break, get something to eat, walk around for a minute, gather up all the notes and references because this next part was going to be convoluted. Sam Cooke is murdered in 1964 and six months after Sam’s death, Bobby marries Sam’s widow. The church community was, to no one’s surprise, shocked and aghast. In the community at large, Sam was widely loved, even revered by many. Leaving the church was one thing but marrying Sam’s wife so soon after Sam was murdered, shit, that was heresy of the highest order. Even the record industry, which has never been noted as any paragon of morality, but even disc jockeys and record execs, booking agents and record producers, even takers of payola and architects of shady contracts, even they turned their backs on Bobby. And here I was going to try and figure a way to make it plain that as street wise as Bobby was, he naively didn’t think he was doing anything wrong—after all he loved Sam, and hell, that’s what he was supposed to do, you know like in traditional cultures where the brother looks out for the widow. And oh yeah, once I got that part half-way figured out, I would then have to figure out how to break down that some years later, Bobby’s brother, Cecil, would marry Linda, who was Sam Cooke’s daughter by Barbara, the woman Bobby had married. Plus, I would have to throw in the double twist that Cecil had previously been married to Mary Wells of Motown fame. (By then it would probably have been time for another break.) The various hook-ups is not what really concerned me, I just needed to explain how it was that Bobby became a guitarist for hire and worked on a bunch of sessions with a wide range of people. How wide: well, once again I would have to figure out how to pick four or five that would give a solid picture while making the context clear that Bobby was effectively blackballed as a recording artist and solo performer. Of course the Valentinos broke up. Except, there was another wrinkle. In the early eighties Cecil and Linda began making noise as a duo, they called themselves Womack & Womack and had two hits “Love TKO” and “Baby I’m Scared Of You.” And the reason I would put that in is because Leela James, who is featured in the Contemporary category, covers “Scared Of You.” Which is when I would look up and say to myself: fool, you fucking up big time trying to put all this trivia in a simple summary of Bobby Womack’s career. Here it is over 1200 words and you ain’t even got to none of Bobby’s hits. Which is when I would say, forget it. Just give the man’s birth date and say where he was born. Run down why you like him… but then is when I would probably really start second and third guessing myself. In the back of my mind I know that at that point I would want to take the time to go search through the boxes and find that Bobby Womack compilation for which I wrote the liner notes and quote from those notes. I remember they were really, really good, talking about confronting life’s conundrums and how Bobby wrote on the real side of emotional conflicts. No. Stop. It’s not going to work. Won’t nobody believe that Soul music is really all that complex. It’s supposed to be from the heart and the gut, all that psychology and shit don’t belong in no article about a pop artist. Nobody is going to read all that b.s. Even though by then I had not yet mentioned that Bobby Womack played guitar on recording sessions for Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, Sly Stone and… don’t get started again. Wrap it up. Let it go… So, I probably would persist and try to slip in the first career as a performer, the second career as a guitarist and the third career as a songwriter. On the basis of this mixtape, I would argue that Bobby's greatest impact has been as a songwriter, but then there weren't that many Soul singers who had success doing covers of songs that had already been made popular, especially when you consider that most of the songs Bobby updated were pop and standards rather than blues or Soul songs. Plus, I would want to figure out how to insert observations about the trials and tribulations of dealing with the hazards of being a musician, namely dope and alcohol. Bobby makes a tres, tres interesting case study precisely because he is so open about his personal struggles with substance abuse and unlike many who admit it, he is not shy about looking at how his whole adult life was influenced... like listen to that preaching cut where he is talking about coming home and finding Jody getting down with Bobby's lady, and this Jody is Bobby's friend and he describes the couple caught in coitus and he just listens without interrupting... now I ain't saying it factually went down like that but it is an interesting perspective he offers and... [my left hand grips my right wrist and pulls back from the keyboard—sometimes you just got to cold turkey]. And so, I would end up thinking about writing a major piece and instead of writing it, I would just encourage people to listen to the music. Tell folk something hip like the richness of Bobby Womack’s long string of seventies music is based on the ups and downs of life, real ups, real high ups and real downs, way downs, way, way downs like Bobby's brother getting murdered in Bobby’s apartment or Bobby’s infant son dying or… Stop Kalamu. Daylight is catching you… let it go. Let it go. People don’t need to know what all is behind the music in order to appreciate the music. All that got to do is listen… One day, I’m going to write it all down though, but today is not that day. —Kalamu ya Salaam Bobby Womack Mixtape Playlist Bobby has so much material that’s good. Really, really good. But the songs are scattered over three major compilations, plus there are two essential albums: Communication and Understanding. I believe Bobby Womack is the most under-appreciated giant of Seventies Soul music. Some day I'm going to get it together and write a proper piece on Bobby Womack: the preacher, the philosopher, the poet of Soul music. 01 “Monologue/They Long To Be Close To You” - Communication 02 “That's The Way I Feel About Cha” - Communication 03 “Fire And Rain” - Communication 04 “Everything Is Beautiful” - Communication 05 “Yield Not To Temptation” - Communication 06 “I Can Understand It” - Understanding 07 “Woman's Gotta Have It” - Understanding 08 “And I Love Her” - Understanding 09 “Sweet Caroline” - Understanding 10 “Harry Hippie” - Understanding 11 “Across 110th Street” - The Soul of Bobby Womack: Stop on By 12 “If You Want My Love” - The Soul of Bobby Womack: Stop on By 13 “Lookin' For A Love” - The Soul of Bobby Womack: Stop on By 14 “You're Welcome, Stop On By” - The Soul of Bobby Womack: Stop on By 15 “If You Think You're Lonely Now” - The Essential Bobby Womack: The Last Great Soul Man 16 “Daylight” - The Soul of Bobby Womack: Stop on By 17 “The Preacher/More Than I Can” - Anthology 18 “He’ll Be There When The Sun Goes Down” - The Soul of Bobby Womack: Stop on By 19 “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” - The Essential Bobby Womack: The Last Great Soul Man 20 “Someday We'll All Be Free” - The Essential Bobby Womack: The Last Great Soul Man
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