I woke up this morning and found out that legendary Soul singer Bobby Womack had died aged 70. I knew Womack had several health issues over recent years (colon cancer, alzheimer’s and diabetes) but the news still came as a bit of a shock. The main reason for that was the sudden resurgence that his career had over the past 4 years or so.
Like most people, I knew of Bobby Womack from his excellent song “Across 110th Street”. Combining some brilliant string arrangements, sublime soul guitar riffs and oddly hard hitting lyrics about the troubles that could be found in ghetto life, it’s a song worthy of the praise it receives. Above all of that was Womack’s voice, especially the crooning “woo” that he does at the start of the song. The song was actually a part of Womack’s score for a Blaxploitation film the song takes it name from and has also become a popular choice for other films looking to capture the spirit of Blaxploitation.
Along with 110th Street, he’s also known for probably having one of the best covers of Mama’s and Papa’s classic “California Dreamin”. Coincidently, I think the first time I came across it was when I watched the utterly bleak “Fish Tank” a few years ago. He performed an incredibly sparse version on Jools Holland a few years ago that’s worthy of your attention.
His return to music over the past 4 years was remarkable. He had grown older and his voice was a little gruffer, but he hadn’t lost his soul spirit and ferocity. He provided vocals on the Gorillaz songs “Stylo” and “Cloud of Unknowing” from their guest heavy album “Plastic Beach”. His live performances with the band on the tour were some of the highlights as he put so much passion behind his parts. The fact he was such an established and well regarded musician singing his heart out put some of the other guests to shame.
He signed with XL Records and released “The Bravest Man in the Universe” in 2012, his first album of new material in 18 years. The album features Womack’s gruff and world weary voice combined with more contemporary instrumentals and production, much akin to the Gil Scott-Heron album “I’m New Here”. Unlike many of his contemporaries of his time, Bobby Womack strove to remain relevant and didn’t become a pastiche of Soul music, doing the occasional greatest hits tour. He moved with the times and had interesting new music to offer to the masses.
1944 – 2014