Bobby Womack was an American singer, songwriter and record producer. Starting in the early 1960s as the lead singer of his family musical group the Valentino’s and as Sam Cooke’s backing guitarist, Womack’s career spanned more than 60 years and multiple styles, including R&B, soul, rock and roll, doo-wop, gospel, and country.
Robert Dwayne Womack was born on March 4th, 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was born to Naomi Womack and Friendly Womack, and was the third of five brothers. Bobby was raised in a Baptist household, where his mother played the organ for the church choir and his father was a steelworker, part-time minister, and musician playing the guitar. When he was eight years old, he broke his father’s guitar string, and tried to replace it with a shoelace. His father made a deal with him, if he play the guitar for him in lieu of a whipping. Later on, his father bought guitars for all five of his sons. Bobby was left-handed, so he flipped his guitar upside-down to play.
The Making of The Womack Brothers & The Valentinos
During the mid-1950s, 10-year old Bobby started touring with his brothers. His father decided to start the their midwest gospel group called The Womack Brothers. His father played the guitar and mother played the organ. Soon after, the group dropped their first single, ” Buffalo Bill”. At the same time The Womack Brothers were also spotted by Sam Cooke, who was shortly to abandon gospel for the more lucrative pastures of secular Rhythm and Blues. At age 16, Bobby later dropped out of high school. In 1962, Sam sent for the Womacks from Los Angeles and, encouraging them to follow his example, signed them to his SAR label, renaming them The Valentinos. Cooke produced their first hit, ” Lookin for a Love”, which was a pop version of a gospel song. Lookin’ For A Love (1963), sold a million copies, and provided an early lesson in music business practice. “We didn’t know that we were supposed to get paid,” Womack would later recall. “We was just honored to be with Sam Cooke’s company, an’ we didn’t get no royalties. He said, ‘Well, that car you bought was your royalties. You stayed in a hotel; you know what that cost me? We took care of you guys, paid for the session. You may be gettin’ screwed, but I’ll screw you with grease. James Brown, he’d screw you with sand.’Womack was a member of Cooke’s band, touring and recording with him form 1961. Sadly, soon after Sam Cooke’s murder, the brothers disbanded and between 1965 and 1968, he toured and recorded with Ray Charles.
Womack moved to Memphis in 1965, where he worked at American Studios. Bobby played the guitar on a few of Aretha Franklin’s albums. Bobby’s work of being a songwriter brought attention from music executive Wilson Pickett and insisted on recording some of his songs. In 1968, Bobby signed with Minit Records and recorded his first album ” Fly Me to the Moon”, where he had his first major hit. Bobby was able to work with rock musicians Sly and the Family Stone and Janis Joplin. After two albums, Bobby switched labels and signed with United Artists, where his attire and musical direction changed. His single ” That’s the Way I Feel About Cha”, peaked number two R&B and twenty-seven on Billboard of 100 in spring of 1972.
During 1982, Bobby produced two more albums. The first was Understanding, and Bobby’s old group, the Valentinos, produced ” Woman’s Gotta Have It” and ” Harry Hippie”. Both songs each received recognition for being number one on the R&B charts and certified gold. In 1974, Womack release his most successful single his remake of his first single ” Lookin for a Love”. Womack continued to record albums with United Artists through 1975 and 1976. In 1981, he signed to Beverly Glen Records and had his first R&B top 10 single in five years.
In March 1965, three months after Sam Cooke’s death, Womack married Cooke’s widow, Barbara Campbell. Some thought of the marriage as disrespectful because of Cooke’s death happening three months before. His brothers, and audiences turned against him. In 1970, the two divorced after Campbell found Womack was having an affair with his 18-year old stepdaughter, daughter of Sam Cooke. His son, who he had with Barbara, committed suicide in 1986, at age 21. Around the same time, his brother Harry, was stabbed to death by is jealous girlfriend. Womack second marriage, he had two sons and a daughter. In 1978, his first son died at four months, and Womack then turned to cocaine again. His cocaine use turned to addiction by the late 1970s, and blamed his habit for his sons death. During the 80s, his addiction got worse, and became an obstacle within his music. His career slowed down partially due to drugs, and went to a rehabilitation center to get over his addiction, which he conquered. Womack is a prostate cancer survival. He later developed diabetes, and revealed he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He underwent surgery for the tumors, and later on was signaling early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was diagnosed. June 27, 2014. Bobby Womack passed away at his home in Tarzana, California at the age of 70.
Throughout his long career, many of Womack’s songs have been covered by other artists. Known artists like Jodeci, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Jaheim, and others have sampled his songs and admired his tunes. Womack was the product of musical world, for which success meant that you could be heard on a jukebox in a bar in any corner of any city in America. “That he never forgot that world is what made him such a beloved artist”.
Womack, Bobby. ” Midnight Mover: The True Story of the Greatest Soul Singer in the World.” 2006, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.auctr.edu:2050/lib/atlunivctr/detail.action?docID=3015253
Eells, Josh. “Bobby Womack 1944-2014.” “Rolling Stone, Issue 1214, p18-18. 1p. http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.auctr.edu:2051/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=b3fcdea8-f01a-4cb4-969b-d16b0c857ade%40sessionmgr103&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=99195679&db=ulh
Huey, Steve. “Bobby Womack | Biography & History.” AllMusic. Accessed . https://www.allmusic.com/artist/bobby-womack-mn0000064509/biography.
Edwards, Gavin. “Bobby Womack (1944-2014).” Rolling Stone. June 28, 2014. Accessed. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bobby-womack-1944-2014-20140628.
“Bobby Womack – obituary.” The Telegraph. June 29, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/music-obituaries/10933899/Bobby-Womack-obituary.html.
“GPWW Presents Bobby Womack.” Gilles Peterson, www.gillespetersonworldwide.com/gpww-presents-bobby-womack/.