Saturday, June 28, 2014

Farewell to Bobby Womack, the Last Soul Man

The last time I saw Bobby Womack a couple of years ago at the Jazz Cafe (pictured above with Altrina Grayson), his voice was strong and his career was enjoying a new lease of life as a result of the success of his work with the Gorillaz and his album The Bravest Man In The Universe, produced by Damon Albam and Richard Russell. But he was very frail. He had to be helped to the stage and sat on a stool looking anything but a well man, hardly surprising given his health issues, including diabetes, prostate cancer, heart trouble and colon cancer. But the fact was he was there, singing as well as ever, still looking forward to recording and playing as many venues as possible.
His death at the age of 70, therefore, is not a shock, but it's no less sad, because Bobby was a true soul great. His 1987 LP The Last Soul Man, proved not to be an accurate prediction, as there are still a few of the great soul singers of the 1960s alive, but Bobby was almost the last and certainly one of the greatest. His career began as a member of the Womack Brothers gospel group who, under the guidance of Sam Cooke, became the Valentinos, and recorded Looking For A Love and the original version of It's All Over Now. Bobby became a subject of controversy for Sam Cooke fans, me included, when at the age of 21 he married Sam's 29 year old widow Barbara just three months after his death.
Bobby's solo career took off in 1968 when he signed with Minit Records and recorded a couple of
LPs, Fly Me To The Moon and My Prescription, and enjoyed a hit with a cover of California Dreamin'. From there he moved to United Artists where he recorded Communication and had a substantial hit with That's The Way I Feel About Cha. More success folllowed with his Understanding LP, which included I Can Understand It and Harry Hippie. Then came Across 110th Street, Facts Of Life, Looking For A Love Again, I Don't Know What the World Is Coming To and BW Goes C&W - all featuring Bobby's throaty voice which could turn run of the mill songs into something special. Despite drug problems he continued to have success on various labels, including Columbia, Beverley Glen and MCA, with Home Is Where The Heart Is, The Poet, The Poet 2, Womagic, The Last Soul Man and Save The Children. In the 1990s his career slowed down, partly due to his drug addiction, but he continued to perform and I remember seeing him several times in London and New
Orleans during that period. Then came his new success in 2010 and suddenly Bobby was a star with a younger audience, leading him to appear at festivals and venues that would never have featured him in the past.
Through all that Bobby's voice remained just the same and his stage appearances were never less than magnetic, even when you feared for his health in his later days. The Last Soul Man has passed on. The Poet is no more. It really is All Over Now. But at least we have his records, a few of which are pictured below.


At 12:45 am , Blogger john marriott said...

Nice obit Nick. Re his live performances - tried to see him every time he was over but my absolute favourite(and in my top ten all time fave live performances of anybody) was his first time at Manchester Apollo in '82. Absolutely breathtaking show.

At 1:27 pm , Blogger Dave Thomas said...

Was there myself John. A great show


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