Bobby Womack, a prolific gospel-soul singer who also wrote songs recorded by the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, George Benson and others, died Friday. He was 70.
A representative from his label, XL Recordings, confirmed the death of the longtime Los Angeles resident, but provided no other details.
The streetwise vocalist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 was mentored by Sam Cooke and played alongside Elvis Presley, Sly Stone and Damon Albarn throughout his storied career. “It’s All Over Now,” a bitter kiss-off Womack wrote and sang in a passionately gravelly voice on a recording by his group the Valentinos, became a No. 1 hit for the Rolling Stones in 1964.
Womack had long been struggling with numerous health issues. Last year, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and he had been open about his battles with addiction. He survived prostate cancer, was operated on for colon cancer (the diagnosis proved to be negative) and had a death scare with pneumonia.
“Everybody’s got personal problems,” Womack said in a 2012 interview with The Times, joking that it was a miracle that he was alive. “That’s life. If you’re strong enough and want to pull out, you can only pull out for the better.”
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Born Robert Dwayne Womack on March 4, 1944, in Cleveland, Womack began his career singing with his four brothers — Curtis, Harry, Cecil and Friendly Jr. — on the gospel circuit in the mid- to late 1950s, initially known as the Womack Brothers. Womack was 10 years old when he started making records with his family.
The act was eventually noticed by Cooke. The rhythm and blues legend behind the topical “A Change Is Gonna Come” signed the Womack siblings to his label, SAR Records, in 1960, and changed the act’s name to the Valentinos. Womack’s career as an in-demand session musician began when he was drafted to play guitar in Cooke’s band, but his career was also marked by turbulence.
I always loved Bobby Womack and his version of “California Dreamin’ is absolutely one of the best. Godspeed Bobby…
at 9:31 PM June 27, 2014
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Shortly after Cooke was shot and killed in Los Angeles in 1964, Womack married his widow, Barbara, considered a scandal by some in the music business. (They divorced in 1970.) But his credits and influence also started spanning soul and pop, and Womack, who increasingly brought a funky step to his guitar work, worked alongside Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Ray Charles and others.
In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Womack hit a groove as a songwriter and collaborator, having credits on Wilson Pickett’s swoony “I’m in Love” and light-stepping prowler “I’m a Midnight Mover,” as well as Joplin’s pleading anthem “Trust Me.”
About the time of the latter’s release in 1971, Womack’s solo career was churning out consistent hits, including the knowing sing-speak feel of “Woman’s Gotta Have It” and the down and out social commentary of “Harry Hippy.” The drug-soaked urbanism of “Across 110th Street” scored a crime film of the same name and was later used prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown.”
Disco took over the charts and drugs slowed his career, but Womack continued to churn out respectable R&B works into the early 1980s. In 1981, “The Poet” became one of his most beloved works, spawning the biting high-charting single “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.”
Shortly thereafter, Womack essentially disappeared from view as health problems and addiction derailed his career. His resurrection began in 2010, when Damon Albarn, frontman of Brit-pop hit makers Blur, wanted Womack to lend his vocals to his genre-shifting, electronics-heavy project Gorillaz. Womack was skeptical, thinking Albarn wanted to hear the raspy swing Womack brought to 1970s classics such as “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha.”
Womack recalled in 2012: “I said, ‘What if I come in a wheelchair? Will you be disappointed?’ He said those were excuses. They weren’t excuses. I just thought he was giving me a lot of credit for something I had done 35 years ago.”
The sessions were a success and inspired Womack to head back into the studio with Albarn for 2012’s “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” what would be billed as his first album of original material in nearly two decades.
In an interview about the time of the album’s release, Womack cited his lost friends, from Cooke to Luther Vandross, as motivation to return to work.
“I’m standing up for all the artists I mentioned,” he said. “I feel proud to represent them. I can say, ‘This is what soul music is about.’ If it doesn’t reach the soul, there’s no music. Music has to reach the soul. Soul music will last forever.”
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