Rock and Roll Hall of Fame soul singer Bobby Womack, whose music was covered by, among others, the Rolling Stones, died Friday at age 70.
A representative for Womack’s label XL Recordings confirmed the news of his passing this morning to The Hollywood Reporter. He was suffering from colon cancer and diabetes at the time of his death. An obituary first appeared on Rolling Stone.com.
Born and raised in Cleveland, the son of two musicians, and the third of five brothers,Womack began his career as a member of Curtis Womack and the Womack Brothers, who were signed to SAR Records by Sam Cooke. The group released a handful of gospel singles, including “Buffalo Bill,” when Bobby was just 10 years old, before changing their name to the Valentinos and pursuing a more pop-influenced, secular sound. In 1964, one month after releasing their hit “It’s All Over Now,” the Rolling Stones released their version, which went to the top of the UK singles charts. The group’s career stalled when Sam Cooke was shot and killed in a Los Angeles motel in December, 1964. Just three months later, Womack created a scandal by marrying Cooke’s widow Barbara Campbell.
Womack wrote and originally recorded New Birth’s “I Can Understand It,” among other songs. As a singer he is most notable for the hits “Lookin’ for a Love,” “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha”, “Woman’s Gotta Have It”, “Harry Hippie” and “Across 110th Street.”
After leaving the Valentinos in 1965, Womack became a session musician at producer Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis, playing on recordings by Joe Tex, Aretha Franklin and the Box Tops, before his work as a songwriter caught the ear of Wilson Pickett, who recorded his “I’m a Midnight Mover” and “I’m in Love.
In 1968, Womack signed with Minit Records and released his debut album, “Fly Me to the Moon,” in 1968, scoring a major hit with a cover of “California Dreamin’.” In 1969, he forged a partnership with Gabor Szabo, which produced the instrumental hit “Breezin'” for George Benson. He also worked on Sly and the Family Stone’s “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” album and penned the ballad “Trust Me” for Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” album. A string of successful albums included 1972’s “Understanding” and “Across 110th Street,” the latter the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film of the same name, and later used in the opening and closing sequences of Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film, “Jackie Brown.” Those were followed by 1973’s “Facts of Life,” with the Top 40 hit, “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out,” an older song Sam Cooke had done years before, and 1974’s “Lookin for a Love Again,” which featured a remake of his first hit single, “Lookin’ for a Love.” In 1975, he collaborated with Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood on the guitarist’s second solo album, “Now Look.”
Womack’s career revived in 1981 when he signed with Beverly Glen Records and had his first Top 10 R&B single with “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.” His accompanying album,” The Poet,” went to No. 1 on the R&B charts, bringing him increased acclaim in the U.S. and Europe. he had two more R&B Top 10 singles, including the Patti LaBelle duet, “Love Has Finally Come at Last” and “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much.” Throughout most of the ‘80s, he struggled with drug addiction, eventually checking himself into a rehabilitation center.
In 1989, Womack sang on Todd Rundgren’s “For the Want of a Nail” on his album Nearly Human and in 1998, performed George Gershwin’s “Summertime” with The Roots for the Red Hot Organization’s Red Hot + Rhapsody benefit album.
Womack contributed lyrics and sang on “Stylo” alongside Mos Def on the first single from the third Gorillaz album, “Plastic Beach,” where he met Damon Albairn in 2010.
In 2012, Womack began a career renaissance with the release of “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” his first album in more than 10 years. Produced by Albarn and XL’s Richard Russell, the album received critical accolades. Upon his death, Womack was in the process of recording his next album for XL, tentatively titled “The Best Is Yet to Come” featuring Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart and Snoop Dogg. His final performance was at Bonnaroo on Saturday, June 14.
Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
“I can think of no other living artist I’ve had the experience of seeing perform or meeting whose music has meant more to me and give me more comfort,” wrote long-time music exec David Gorman on his Facebook page. “I’m thankful the last time I saw Bobby play was one of the best. Losing him hurts bad.”
- This story first appeared on THR.com