Talk about your genius halfrhymes! Although he’s best known as the raspy voice and gritty songwriter behind “Across 110th Street,” the title track to a fairly forgettable blaxploitation film of the same name, whose fame was revived by Quentin Tarantino in his 1997 film Jackie Brown, Bobby Womack who died on Friday at the age of 70, will go down as one of the finest, if undervalued soul singers of his or any other generation. Womack who’d survived a number of health problems including colon cancer, admitted last year that he had early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Originally in a band with his four brothers that was eventually called The Valentinos and was signed to Sam Cooke’s SARS label, the Cleveland native’s life changed forever in 1964 when The Rolling Stones covered his song “It’s All Over Now,” and Womack married Sam Cooke’s widow Barbara just four short months after Cooke’s still suspicious murder in Los Angeles. His brush with the Stones initially infuriated him, that is until the royalty checks began to come in. “It’s All Over Now,” which continued to be covered by other artists throughout Womack's lifetime made him financially secure. His marriage, however, brought down a storm of criticism on him from which Womack said he’d only recently recovered. As a sideman who played on Sly Stone’s There’s Riot Going On” (1971) and Aretha Franklin’s Aretha Now (1968) among many others, the singer/guitar player’s career peaked in 1972 with the release of Communication (1971) and Understanding (1972). He continued to release solo records throughout the next several decades, but he mostly made his living as a writer with his tunes being covered by artists as diverse as Ry Cooder, Faces, Wilson Pickett, Molly Hatchet, and Waylon Jennings.
In 2012 he recorded and released The Bravest Man in the Universe, his first new record in a decade. Produced by Damon Albarn (Gorillaz), it brought him a new generation of fans. At the time of his death, Womack was working on a new record, The Best is Yet to Come with contributions by old friends Stevie Wonder and Rod Stewart.
While his early Seventies records won him the most fame, it’s his 1968 debut, Fly Me To The Moon, on United Artists/Minit that’s has always been my favorite Womack on record. Recorded in Memphis at American Studios where Elvis later recorded the From Elvis in Memphis record, it was produced by the Chips Moman and the usual American crew of studio pros that Womack had been a part of which included Reggie Young on guitar, Bobby Emmonds on organ and Gene Chrisman on drums. Womack wrote seven of the ten tracks and while it does not include a cover of the Bart Howard song made famous by Sinatra, it does have one of the finest covers of John Phillips’ “California Dreamin’” ever and a short soul workout, “Lillie Mae” which is the equal of anything James Brown ever recorded. And oh that crazy cover art!