Playlist: Bobby Womack, Soul Man

Bobby Womack

Ahead of his live performance at Liverpool Philharmonic this Sunday, we look at soul legend Bobby Womack’s greatest hits…

Bobby Womack is, by any account, an industry legend. With collaborators including Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, The Roots, Mos Def, Todd Rundgren, and most recently Damon Albarn, Womack’s long and varied career as a hit-maker spans 1960s soul, 1980s R&B and a latter day revival.

His back catalogue has been covered by Mary J.Blige, Kelly Rowland, Jimmy Riley and James Taylor, and used for cult film soundtracks — you’ll recognise Across 110th Street from Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, and his cover of California Dreamin’ recently turned up on 2009 British film Fish Tank.

Perhaps best known for It’s All Over Now, written (with Shirley Womack) for gospel-influenced chart-toppers The Valentinos (aka Bobby and his brother Cecil), it was covered by The Rolling Stones after being played to the band during their first North American tour, by New York radio DJ ‘Murray the K’, who produced a series of interviews with the band on his WINS Swinging Soiree hit radio show (following similar success with the Beatles that year). The Stones “raved on it” and said “it was their kind of song”; in July 1964 history was made when it became their first number one hit.

Raised Baptist, music was a family business; a young Womack toured the gospel circuit in the 50s and 60s, singing and playing guitar. After the Valentinos, he pursued a solo career, playing on several of Aretha Franklin’s albums including Lady Soul. Collaborations with Sly and the Family Stone and Janis Joplin followed; providing vocals and guitar to There’s a Riot Goin’ On, and writing Trust Me for Joplin’s album Pearl. Womack was one of the last people to speak to Joplin before her death in 1970.

For all the highs, however, Womack has suffered various set-backs; behind the scenes, he has had to deal with scandal — Sam Cooke’s protege, Womack married his widow just three months after his mentor was shot dead — including an addiction to crack and alcohol. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year.

His lows make his 2012 award-winning album all the more extraordinary. We’ve included four tracks from The Bravest Man In The Universe in our playlist; created with producers Albarn and Richard Russell, and featuring Lana Del Ray and Gil Scott-Heron, the album is an ode to old age, experience and redemption, highlighting Womack’s gospel roots with sparse electronic arrangements. His incredibly rich voice is full of cracks and pathos; aged, yes, yet largely unchanged from the hits Lookin’ For a Love, That’s The Way I Feel About Cha, Woman’s Gotta Have It, Harry Hippie, Across 110th Street and If You Think You’re Lonely Now.

Womack first worked with Albarn on Stylo (also featuring Mos Def), from the Gorrilaz 2010 album, Plastic Beach, and then again on 2011′s The Fall with Bobby in Phoenix. The singer hadn’t made a record of his own in more than a decade; the last album, Resurrection, was released in 1994 after a break from his solo career to sober up. “I was ostracised from the music community when I was 21 (on marrying Barbara Cooke). I feel like after 45 years Damon has welcomed me back in.”

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, respect for Womack’s new work has won him new fans, leading to performances with Pitchfork, Later… With Jools Holland, BBC6 Music, Glastonbury, and Le Grand Journal, winning Best Album at the Q Awards, and enthusiastically taking on an international tour.

Bobby Womack, Soul Man: Long may he reign.

Bobby Womack plays the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Sunday 26 January, 7.30pm

Posted on 20/01/2014 by thedoublenegative