Womack, Bobby

views updated Jun 11 2018

Bobby Womack

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography


Bobby Womack is one of the most respected artists in black music, with a long and distinguished career in rhythm & blues and soul. Like many other black singer/songwriters, Womack began performing gospel music in church settings as a youngster and then moved into the secular field as a composer, guitarist, and singer. Although so-called mainstream success has always eluded him, Womack is immensely popular among black American listeners and a veritable superstar in Europe, where his albums often sell in the millions. In the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, Irwin Stambler notes that, through his many stylistic incarnations, Womack has provided a body of work ranking among the finest in modern pop music.

Bobby Womack was born in Cleveland, Ohio, one of five sons of a steelworker. He and his brothersCecil, Curtis, Friendly, and Harrisbegan singing gospel as the Womack Brothers while Bobby was still a youngster. The group travelled throughout the Midwest and performed in shows with other gospel ensembles. Looking back on those days in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Womack said: We were so sincere we thought singing anything else was the way to hell. Despite his deep faith, Womack felt something else stirring in the mid- to late-1950sthe nascent soul music movement that provided money and fame far beyond the bounds of the gospel circuit.

Womack became fast friends with another gospel singer, Sam Cooke, who had decided to move into secular music. Cooke offered Womack a job as backup guitarist in his first rhythm & blues band, and in 1960 Womack accepted, dropping out of school. Womack told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his father warned him he would face eternal damnation if he joined Cooke. Sam got me thinking, he said. I remember telling my father, [God] blessed you with this voice and look at you$100 a week in the steel mill. So I started to think, I hope the Lord understands that I can sing a different kind of music and do good deeds as well.

The move proved fruitful for both Cooke and Womack. By 1962 Cooke had convinced the other Womacks to go secular as well, and the brothers formed a group called the Valentinos. Within two years the Valentinos were filling halls on the R&B circuit, led by Bobbys smooth vocals and steadily sharpening songwriting talents. Their biggest hit came in 1964, when Bobbys Its All Over Now sold four hundred thousand copies. The song was also picked up by a white groupnone other than the Rolling Stones, who made it their second American hit. Another Womack song, Looking for a Love, later became a major hit for the J. Geils Band.

Womack has always been ambivalent about the fact that white artists have been able to make bigger hits of

For the Record

Born March 4, 1944, in Cleveland, Ohio; son of a steel-worker; children: Vincent.

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, 1955. With brothers Cecil, Curtis, Friendly, and Harris formed gospel group the Womack Brothers; changed group name to the Valentinos, 1960. Solo performer, 1964; has cut albums with R&B, Minit, United Artists, CBS, and MCA, among others. Major R&B singles hits include Looking for Love, 1962, Fly Me to the Moon, 1967, Check It Out, 1975, If You Think Youre Lonely, 1982, and I Wish He Didnt Trust Me So Much, 1985.

Awards: Named the best male vocalist, best songwriter, and best live performer by Britains Blues & Soul, 1984.

Addresses: Record company Epic, 51 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019.

his music than he could himself. I like the fact that people sang my songs, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, because there was a blockage for me because I was black. So I appreciated the fact that they could take the message a lot further than me. But then, after 30 years, youve got to ask yourself: Can I say something myself now?

In effect, Womack has been asking himself that question all along. He went solo shortly after Sam Cookes violent death in 1964 and steadily worked his way to prominence in the soul field. Womack has earned Top 40 hits in three decades while providing material and backup work to artists as varied as Aretha Franklin, Joe Tex, Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, and jazzman Gabor Szabo. He has also maintained close ties with the Rolling Stones, contributing instrumentais and even vocals to more than one Stones album.

Womacks solo career has had peaks and valleys, the lowest ebbs coming when he has tried to write and sing for the middle-of-the-road audience. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he had an array of soul hits with United Artists, including A Womans Got To Have It, Daylight, Check It Out, and a remake of Looking for a Love. In 1976, however, he moved to Columbia Records, where a crossover consciousness and an overloaded roster of stars virtually buried him. In The Death of Rhythm & Blues, Nelson George writes: With his gutsy voice echoing Cookes gospel recordings, Womack should have remained a vital force in R&B throughout the decade. Instead, his career was lost in the flood of black CBS releases. By 1978 Womack was gone from CBS and, after a failing album at Arista, ended the seventies a nonentity in R&B.

Womack rebounded quickly as the 1980s began, producing one of his best-known albums, The Poet. That work rose into the Top 10 on Billboards soul chart and even made it into the Top 30 on the pop chart. A single, If You Think Youre Lonely, peaked in the Top 20 on the soul chart in early 1982. After a painful hiatus caused by the shooting death of his brother, Womack returned to work in 1984, releasing The Poet II the same year. That album sold even better than its predecessor, especially in Europe, bringing Womack his first platinum recording. The artist had two Top 10 singles from The Poet II, Let Me Kiss It Where It Hurts, and I Wish He Didnt Trust Me So Much.

In the early 1990s, Bobby Womack is assured of a devoted audience both in America and abroad. His 1986 duet with Mick Jagger, Harlem Shuffle, introduced him to MTV viewers, while his albums Womagic and The Last Soul Man endeared him to his many black fans. Womacks continuing success is no mysteryas Philadelphia Inquirer contributor John Milward puts it, the artist knows what it takes to write a sexy song. Womack also knows what it takes to infuse a song with emotion. People will buy the news if its got a melody, he said. The news is cold and hard. But put a melody onto it, and people take it with a smile.

Womacks releases So Many Rivers (1985) and Save the Children (1990) are works with a social theme that confront the singers own problems with drug abuse as well as his concerns for his friends and his son. In my music, I have tried to tell the truth, Womack told Blues & Soul. Ive never been afraid to do so because the truth never dies. It lives on beyond the person. Look, Im not ashamed to tell you that I was hooked on drugs. Everybody around me always used to tell me not to talk about it but its the truth. Man, Ill tell youIm just glad to even be here today to talk to you about it. It could easily have been me up there on the night shift with Marvin Gaye.

Milward calls Womack a soul survivor who can give you a firsthand account of the connection between the sanctuary and the street. Milward adds that the performer operates on the notion that the best songs are rooted in common experience. Womack learned from a master [Sam Cooke], and years later continues to keep that faith. He knows that whether its in church or in the recording studio, the most profound music comes from a singular place: the soul. Womack has come to terms with his roots and is proud to be simply a soul man, making music for his people. He told Blues & Soul: You know, a big problem today is that blacks no longer want to be soul singers anymore. Have you noticed how they all want to be crossover artists these days? Me? Im not ashamed. People like Otis [Redding], Sam [Cooke], and James Brown have laid down a tradition and Im proud to say that I want to continue in that tradition. I want to be one of the true survivors.

Selected discography

Fly Me to the Moon, Minit, 1968.

California Dreaming, Minit, 1968.

How I Miss You, Baby, Minit, 1969.

More than I can stand, Minit, 1970.

Thats The Way I Feel about You, United Artists, 1971.

Communication, United Artists, 1971.

Understanding, United Artists, 1972.

A womens Got to Have it, United Artists, 1971.

Sweet cation, United Artists, 1971.

Harry Hippie, United Artists, 1972.

Have of It, United Artists, 1972.

Across 110th Street (film soundtrack), United Artists, 19732.

Nobody Wants You When Youre Down and Out, United Artists, 1973.

Lookinfor a love, United Artists, 1974.

Bobby Womacks Greatest Hits, United Artists, 1974.

Youre Welcome, Stop on By, United Artists, 1974.

Check L ove, United Artists, 1975.

BW Hits, United Artists, 1976.

safty zone, United Artists, 1976.

Home Is Where the Heart Is, CBS, 1976.

Pieces.CBS, 1977.

Roads of Life, Arista, 1979.

The Poet, Beverly Glen, 1981.

The Poet II, MCA, 1984.

Bobby Womack and the Valentinos, Beverly Glen, 1984.

So Many Rivers, MCA, 1985.

PoetII, MCA, 1986.

Soul Survivor, EMI America, 1987.

The Last Soul Man, MCA, 1988.

Greatest Hits of Bobby Womack, Liberty, 1989.

Save the Children, Epic, 1990.

Also recorded Facts of Live and I Dont Know What the World Is Coming To with United Artists.



George, Nelson, The Death of Rhythm & Blues; Pantheon, 1988.

Given, Dave, Dave Given Rock n Roll Stars Handbook, Expositi sts, 1980.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Black Music, Harmony, 1985.

Nite, Norm N., Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n Roll, Volume II, Crowell, 1978.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martins, 1989.


Blues & Soul, October 1985.

Philadelphia Inquirer, January 25, 1990.

Anne Janette Johnson

Womack, Bobby

views updated May 23 2018

Bobby Womack


Vocalist, songwriter

With a career stretching back to the early 1960s and forward into the 2000s, vocalist Bobby Womack has been a mainstay of the classic soul sound, a performer whose distinctively gritty style and instinct for strong material have never deserted him through numerous ups and downs in his personal life and professional career. The composer and creator of several classic rock hits, Womack has received critical recognition of his talents but never the superstar status those talents would merit. "His is one of the great voices," noted Phil Johnson of London's Independent newspaper. "It influenced the young Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones—whose first Number One record Womack wrote—and also Rod Stewart, who made a rather better attempt at copying it."

Five Blind Boys Visited Home

Bobby Dwayne Womack was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 4, 1944, the one son of steelworker and part-time gospel singer Friendly Womack. The elder Womack organized Bobby and his brothers, Cecil, Curtis, Harris, and Friendly Jr., into a quintet called the Womack Brothers. Despite the extreme youth of some of its members, the group quickly gained a reputation beyond Cleveland, touring as an opening act with such performers as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, who often dropped by the Womack household for some home cooking from Womack's mother, Naomi, when they were in Cleveland. In 1953 the group opened for the leading gospel group of the day, the Soul Stirrers, and a few years later Roscoe Robinson of the Blind Boys suggested to the lead singer of that group, Sam Cooke, that he sign the brothers to his new label, SAR.

At the time the Womack Brothers believed that performers who sang secular music were going to hell, and they told Cooke so. Cooke, who was planning his successful move in a secular direction, suggested a compromise, as Womack recalled to Charlie Melvin of England's Birmingham Post: "I'll tell you what, if you cut a gospel record and it don't hit, would y'all cut me a pop song?" A few Womack Brothers gospel releases met with little success, and the brothers kept up their end of the bargain and renamed themselves the Valentinos. Friendly Womack Sr. exiled them from the house after this decision, and Bobby Womack remained estranged from his father until just before Friendly Womack's death in 1981.

In 1960 Cooke wired the group $3,000 to buy a new car and drive to Los Angeles, but, Womack recalled to John Soeder of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I noticed that all of the pimps and gangsters and hustlers drove Cadillacs. So instead of getting a new car like Sam told us, I bought a used Cadillac." The decision was a bad one. "It took us three weeks to get to California. The tires blew out, the engine went out, the gas tank had a hole in it, and the windshield wipers, the first time we put them on, they went clean across, looky yonder. We never saw 'em again." The brothers drove while leaning out the window to avoid the exhaust fumes that accumulated in the passenger compartment.

Rolling Stones Recorded Song

When Womack arrived in Los Angeles, however, he was hired by Cooke as a guitarist, and the Valentinos began drawing good nightclub crowds. They recorded several moderately successful singles, two of which, "It's All Over Now" and "Lookin' for a Love," later became major rock hits for the Rolling Stones and the J. Geils Band, respectively. At first, Womack recalled to Melvin, he resisted the idea of giving "It's All Over Now" to the Rolling Stones, telling Cooke, "Man, I could care less. Let them get their own song, this is our record." He changed his mind when the Rolling Stones' version went to Number One in the United Kingdom and Cooke began bringing him royalty checks. Whatever problems he faced later in his career, financial instability was rarely among them (although he did hit a low point in the early 1990s). "It's All Over Now" made Womack a rich man.

That was fortunate, because Womack's expanding career soon took a nosedive. He married Barbara Cooke, Sam Cooke's widow, after Cooke's death in a 1964 shooting incident, and audiences assumed he was trying to take advantage of Cooke's death. Womack maintained that he was trying to support a troubled woman who had been close to his mentor (the marriage ended in divorce in 1970), but buyers ignored some fine recordings he and the Valentinos made for Chicago's Chess label and its Checker subsidiary. Womack headed south and found work as a studio guitarist in Memphis, Tennessee, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with soul producer Chips Moman. He backed such artists as Aretha Franklin and Joe Tex as a guitarist, and he also flourished as a songwriter; 17 of his compositions, including "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)," were recorded by Memphis soul vocalist Wilson Pickett.

These successes rehabilitated Womack's image, and he decided to relaunch his solo career. In 1968 he had a minor hit on the Minit label with the Moman-produced "What Is This," but most of his strongest original material had been given to Pickett. As a result, Womack turned to a procedure that became one of his trademarks—thoroughly reimagined cover versions of rock and pop songs. His recording of the Mamas and the Papas hit "California Dreamin'" cracked Billboard magazine's black singles top 20 (and was revived for a Saab auto commercial in Britain in 2004), and several more successful singles followed as Womack formed a songwriting partnership with Moman's studio assistant Darryl Carter.

As Minit and then its parent Liberty were absorbed into the large United Artists label, Womack's career achieved a higher profile. The albums he recorded for United Artists in the early and middle 1970s are considered classics of soul music. Communication (1971) spawned the hit "That's the Way I Feel About 'Cha," and the black music chart-topping "Woman's Gotta Have It" came from Understanding (1972). "Harry Hippie" (1972) was a tribute to Womack's brother Harris, who had been murdered by a jealous girlfriend. In 1974 Womack enjoyed his biggest hit with a remake of "Lookin' for a Love," originally modeled on the country gospel song "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray." The song topped black music charts and reached the pop top ten.

Troubled by Substance Abuse

Womack grieved for his lost brother, yet his grief was compounded by the loss of two of his sons: his four-month-old son Truth died in his crib in 1978 and later another son committed suicide. Womack fought against his own depression. He struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, and after the failure of his country album BW Goes C&W in 1976, his productivity and his commercial fortunes declined. Womack continued to work, however. He recorded several albums for the Columbia and Arista labels in the late 1970s, with limited success. In 1980 he contributed vocals to "Inherit the Wind," a release by Wilton Felder of the jazz group the Crusaders.

At a Glance …

Born on March 4, 1944, in Cleveland, OH; son of Friendly Womack (a steelworker and gospel singer) and Naomi Womack; married Barbara Cooke, 1964 (divorced 1970); married and divorced a second time; children: Truth, Vincent. Education: Attended East Tech High School, Cleveland, OH.


Womack Brothers, gospel group member (with siblings), early 1950s; Valentinos (new name for Womack Brothers when group turned to secular music), late 1950s-60s; Memphis, TN, and Muscle Shoals, AL, songwriter and session guitarist, mid-1960s; solo artist, 1968-; United Artists, label artist, 1971-75; Columbia, label artist, 1976-78; Arista, label artist, 1979-80; Beverly Glen, label artist, 1981-84; MCA, label artist, 1985-?.


Agent—Universal Attractions, 145 West 57th Street 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

Despite a reputation as a party animal who could be difficult to work with, Womack was recognized for his talents by industry insiders even during the low points in his career. In 1981 he signed with the independent Beverly Glen label in Los Angeles and released one of his most critically acclaimed albums, The Poet. He followed it up with The Poet II despite wrangling with Beverly Glen over payments, and the two albums became major successes in the United Kingdom and made Womack a star there. Womack signed with MCA in 1985 and released several successful singles, including "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much" and "Let Me Kiss It Where It Hurts." He joined the Rolling Stones in 1986 to sing a duet with Mick Jagger on "Harlem Shuffle."

Although African-American music had been affected by synthesizer-pop trends in the 1980s, Womack unapologetically stuck with classic soul styles through a series of albums on the MCA label. His voice, noted Phil Johnson, had distinctive "pitted, sandpaper textures," and his singing, interspersed with spoken interjections, drew heavily on his gospel roots. Womack's periodic tours remained strong draws in both America and the United Kingdom, and he continued to release new recordings occasionally; 1994's Resurrection, recorded for the Slide label headed by Rolling Stones member Ron Wood, referred to some of the singer's personal tragedies. He returned with the gospel collection Back to My Roots in 1999 and Left Handed, Upside Down in 2001. Although hip-hop starts frequently sampled the soul music of Womack's era, Womack resisted many of their attempts to use his own music. "Me being from the old school, I would not say ‘bitch’ on a record," he pointed out to Johnson. "I couldn't face my mother if I did." Still performing in the mid-2000s, Womack had seen much of his earlier work reissued in CD compilations.

Selected discography


Fly Me to the Moon, Minit, 1968.

How I Miss You, Baby, Minit, 1969.

More Than I Can Stand, Minit, 1970.

That's The Way I Feel about You, United Artists, 1971.

Communication, United Artists, 1971.

Understanding, United Artists, 1972.

A Woman's Got To Have It, United Artists, 1972.

Sweet Caroline, United Artists, 1972.

Harry Hippie, United Artists, 1972.

Facts of Life, United Artists, 1973.

Across 110th Street (film soundtrack), United Artists, 1973.

Nobody Wants You When You're Down and Out, United Artists, 1973.

Lookin' for a Love, United Artists, 1974.

Bobby Womack's Greatest Hits, United Artists, 1974.

You're Welcome, Stop on By, United Artists, 1974.

Check It Out, United Artists, 1975.

BW Goes C & W, United Artists, 1976.

Safety Zone, United Artists, 1976.

Home Is Where the Heart Is, CBS, 1976.

Pieces, CBS, 1977.

Roads of Life, Arista, 1979.

The Poet, Beverly Glen, 1981.

The Poet II, MCA, 1984.

Bobby Womack and the Valentinos, Beverly Glen, 1984.

So Many Rivers, MCA, 1985.

Womagic, MCA, 1986.

Soul Survivor, EMI America, 1987.

The Last Soul Man, MCA, 1988.

Greatest Hits of Bobby Womack, Liberty, 1989.

Save the Children, Epic, 1990.

Resurrection, Slide, 1994.

Only Survivor: The MCA Years, MCA, 1996.

Back to My Roots, 1999.

The Best of "The Poet" Trilogy, Empire Music, 2001.

Left Handed, Upside Down, 2001.

Ultimate Collection, Charly, 2001.

Best of Bobby Womack, Collectables, 2003.

Lookin' for a Love: The Best of Bobby Womack 1968-1976, EMI, 2003.

The Preacher, 2004.

The Definitive Collection, Mastercuts, 2006.



Contemporary Musicians, volume 5, Gale, 1991.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.


Birmingham Post (Birmingham, England), May 27, 2004, p. 14.

Boston Herald, September 20, 2001, p. 64.

Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 6, 2004, p. 10.

Jet, September 12, 1994, p. 17; November 28, 1994, p. 23.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), August 23, 1999, p. E1.


"Bobby Womack," All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com (March 17, 2007).

                                                                —James M. Manheim

Womack, Bobby

views updated May 14 2018

Womack, Bobby

Womack, Bobby, underground soul icon; b. Cleveland, Ohio, March 4, 1944. An extremely talented guitarist, when the fortunes of his solo career hit slow points, he reverted to studio and side work. However, as a solo artist, Womack shone. He probably would have been far more successful if his first marriage had been a bit quieter.

He began working professionally with his brothers in a family gospel group, The Womacks. On the gospel circuit, they became friendly with Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers. When Cooke went secular, he brought in Womack as his guitarist. He also signed The Womack Brothers to his SAR label. Working gospel, they kept the family name. They took the pop music guise The Valentinos and created a fine body of work highlighted by “It’s All Over Now” and “Looking for a Love,” which went Top Ten R&B in 1962. The Rolling Stones took the former song to #26, their second American hit in 1964. The latter was The J. Geils Band’s first hit, rising to #39 in 1972.

Cooke died and The Valentinos broke up around the same time in 1964. Womack became a first-call soul session man, recording with Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, and Ray Charles. However, two months after Cooke died, Womack married his widow. The upshot in the soul community had a chilling effect on his career, keeping him from recording solo for a number of years. He did write and perform on many sessions. His “I’m a Midnight Mover” rose to #24 pop and “I’m in Love” was a substantial R&B hit for Wilson Pickett. He also wrote and played on “Trust Me” for Janis Joplin.

He started to record solo in the late 1960s with minor R&B success. He finally broke through as a solo artist in 1971 with “That’s the Way I Feel about Cha.” The song hit #27 pop and #2 R&B. A year later, “Woman’s Got to Have It” topped the R&B charts and “Harry Hippie” rose to #31 pop, #8 R&B and went gold. “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out” hit #29 pop and #2 R&B in 1973. In 1974, in the wake of the J. Geils Band cover, he remade “Looking for a Love” and topped the R&B charts, taking it to #10 pop and going gold. Over the next couple of years, he had such Top Ten R&B hits as “You’re Welcome, Stop on By,” “Check It Out,” and “Daylight.”

The late 1970s saw him falling by the musical wayside, with albums on Columbia and Arista that didn’t sell. This was partly because his output lacked the spark of others who followed in his musical footsteps, such as Sly and the Family Stone, and partly because of Womack’s drug abuse. He did contribute key parts in the studio, like the wha-wha guitar and popping bass on Sly’s “Family Affair.” He also wrote the score to the film Across 110th St. and George Benson’s hit “Breezin’.”

In 1981 a small, well-funded label called Beverly Glen (cf. Anita Baker) signed a newly clean and sober Womack. The new album, The Poet, topped the R&B charts led by the #3 R&B hit, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.” The follow-up, The Poet II, included three duets with Patti LaBelle. Two of them, “Love Has Finally Come at Last” and “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much,” became top 5 R&B hits.

During the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, Womack made several high profile cameo appearances, singing with Todd Rundgren, The Rolling Stones, and Artists United Against Apartheid, as well as doing some work with the reunited Womack Brothers. Shortly after that reunion, one of his brothers was killed and his son committed suicide. His second marriage ended in divorce (as his first one did in 1970).

He finally returned as a solo artist with Resurrection on Rolling Stone Ron Wood’s custom label Slide. Although it featured heavy friends like Wood, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, and Stevie Wonder, the album was poorly distributed and promoted and quickly fell of the radar. His output for the rest of the 1990s was been sporadic, with more reissue material than any new music. His 1999 album Traditions found him making his first stab at a holiday album with middling success.


The Womack Live (1967); Fly Me to the Moon (1969); My Prescription (1970); Communication (1971); Understanding (1972); Across 110th Street (1972); The Facts of Life (1973); Lookin’ for a Love Again (1974); B W Goes C&W (1974); I Don’t Know What the World Is Coming To (1975); Safety Zone (1975); / Can Understand It (1975); Home Is Where the Heart Is (1976); Pieces (1977); Save the Children (1979); Roads of Life (1979); The Poet (1981); The Poet II (1984); Bobby Womack & the Valentinos (1984); So Many Rivers (1985); Someday Well All Be Free (1985); Womagic (1986); Last Soul Man (1987); / Still Love You (1993); / Wanna Make Love to You (1993); Soul Seduction Supreme (1994); Soul Sensation Live (1998); Back to My Roots (1999); Traditions (1999).

—Brock Helander