Womack was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1944, the son of a guitar-playing minister, his introduction to music came at an early age. The story goes that the young Bobby used to play his father’s guitar when he was out of the house, an act that Womack senior had strictly forbidden. Upon breaking one of the guitar’s strings, Bobby replaced it with a shoelace, attempting to restore the instrument. Upon discovering the broken instrument and consequently his son’s talents, Bobby’s preacher father bought his son a guitar and instruments for his other sons, an act that led to the family touring the American Gospel circuit as the Womack Brothers, later changing their name to The Valentinos. The group sprung to success, writing and recording songs such as “It’s All Over Now”, a cover of which went on to become The Rolling Stone’s first number one hit.
Following the murder of manager, Sam Cooke, The Valentinos disbanded, with Bobby going on to work for legendary record producer, Chips Momam where Womack displayed his skills on several Aretha Franklin albums. However it was not until the early 70s that Womack experienced true success as an artist, with the soundtrack for the film, Across 110th Street, the title track of which went on to become one of his biggest hits. It was in the 70s and early 80s where Womack’s commercial success peaked with “The Poet” reaching number one in the RnB charts. Throughout this time Womack expanded his extensive collaborations list working with and writing for the likes of Sly and the Family Stone and Janis Joplin.
In later years Womack became plagued with drug addiction and a number of major health issues, however this did little to hinder the man’s creative output. Indeed, in the years leading up to his death, Womack proved himself to be a continuously innovative driving force in new music. Case in point is his collaboration with Gorillaz on “Stylo” from 2010’s “Plastic Beach”. A man with no fear in transcending genres and styles, Womack brought his soulful tones to an array of collaborations. Indeed, the Damon Albarn-produced posthumous album, “The Best is Yet to Come” (due later this year) saw the late singer working alongside the likes of Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg.
A genius of songwriting, Womack’s influence spread far and wide throughout pop culture. His rich, gravelly baritone and his signature guitar style extended across genres and collaborations, firmly planting Womack’s spot in music history and a scene from which he will be dearly missed.
Words: Charlie Jaco