Guitarist, soul singer, and songwriter Bobby Womack passed away June 27. He was 70 and had suffered from diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Womack’s career spanned more than 50 years. His soulful essence and music had a far-reaching influence on contemporary music around the world. His expansive catalog crossed musical boundaries, ethnic groups, and left an indelible fingerprint on rock and roll, gospel, soul, jazz, country, and R&B.
Gifted with one of the most enviable singing voices in rock or soul, Womack had the down-home grit of Otis Redding and the mellifluous fineness of Sam Cooke. He could gently caress with a beautiful melody, or scream like it was the hottest day in a black church. His career began in the early 1950s as a member of The Womack Brothers and he eventually became a protégé of Sam Cooke, who gave him his first record deal with The Valentinos.
He toured the chitlin’ circuit with Jimi Hendrix on R&B package tours, and played guitar on several Aretha Franklin albums. He scored his first hits with a cover of The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin’” in 1968, and “Lookin’ For A Love,” which was later covered by The J. Geils Band. The Rolling Stones covered his “It’s All Over Now,” and he wrote “Trust Me” for Janis Joplin for her album, Pearl. He went on to write “I’m a Midnight Mover” and “I’m In Love” for Wilson Pickett, scoring even more hits.
As an in-demand session guitarist, Womack played funk rhythms and sultry melodies on albums by Joe Tex, King Curtis, Ray Charles, and wrote “Breezin’” which became a huge hit for George Benson. “Woman’s Gotta Have It” became Womack’s first single to hit #1 on the R&B charts.
Womack could be found anywhere there was soul-stirring funkiness. He contributed to the famous There’s A Riot Goin’ On album by Sly & The Family Stone, and in ’72 wrote the score for the film Across 110th Street, which is widely considered one of the best movie soundtracks of all time.
Womack’s career began to slow due to drug abuse and the death of his brother, Harry, in 1974. In ’81, his career was revitalized with “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” which peaked at #3 on the R&B singles charts. The album The Poet where the song can be found marked the pinnacle of his career, reaching #1 on the R&B charts.
In the ’80s, Womack fought drug addiction, and by the mid ’90s had beaten it. Through the remainder of his life, he continued to be prolific while battling diabetes, pneumonia, Alzheimer’s, and colon cancer.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, and in 2012 released The Bravest Man In The Universe. Just prior to his passing, Womack was working on the album The Best Is Yet To Come, with Snoop Dogg, Rod Stewart, and Stevie Wonder.
Womack is survived by Regina Banks and four children.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s October 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.