He dubbed his previous studio release The Bravest Man in the Universe,and while that title may not be 100 percent accurate, there was no denying that Bobby Womack was one of music’s bravest survivors.
From a man who endured controversy, disease, death and drug abuse over his 70 years came a catalogue of songs that merged the worlds of rough and soft in ways never heard before. Though gospel-oriented in nature, Womack’s voice would paint gritty scenes about pimps, junkies and the downtrodden (“Across 110th Street,” “Harry Hippie”) with the same emotional conviction as his more sensual numbers, including “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha,” “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” and “Woman’s Gotta Have It.”
Despite having only one Top Ten solo pop hit to his name (1974’s “Lookin’ For a Love”), Womack’s music was eternal, as he musically recalled the late soul genius Sam Cooke, fronted his literal band of brothers (the Valentinos), and sent a fresh-faced British band called the Rolling Stones to the top of the charts with his own composition, “It’s All Over Now.”
Womack even possessed the knack for making cover songs his own. One listen to his takes on “California Dreamin’,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “Fire and Rain,” and you knew this man was an originator, not an imitator.
His bug-eyed glasses and raspy vocal sound emanated intimidation but there was a pure vulnerability to Womack, complemented by his sweet guitar stylings. For this artist never just “sang.” Rather he spoke, screamed, testified and purged his way through tracks, always striving for personal and lyrical catharsis. And while his efforts were ultimately awarded late in life with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his legend is destined to keep on wailing through the ages.
– Ira Kantor