RIP Bobby Womack
Bobby Womack, who passed away on June 27 at the age of 70, was a true soul original. Let's set aside his unruly personal life, the details of which you can discover through any web search. He will be best remembered for being an artist who, at his peak in the 1970s, seemed to encompass the entirety of American music with each recording. There were many black artists capable of such breadth during that golden age, and though Womack didn't achieve the crossover success of Bill Withers or Aretha Franklin, he carved his imprint. Like Isaac Hayes, he could reinterpret a standard pop tune like, say, "Nobody Wants You When You're Down & Out" into a gritty soul aria unmistakably his own.
Womack's journey was just as iconoclastic as his music. He began his career in the early '60s as a gospel-turned-pop singer mentored by Sam Cooke. One of Womack's early singles with his brothers in the Valentinos, "It's All Over Now," was covered by The Rolling Stones. In the '70s, he contributed guitar work to Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On while issuing a series of gold solo albums. Subsequently written off by much of the world as a relic of '70s soul, he re-emerged triumphant in 1981 with The Poet, arguably one of the best soul albums of that decade. And only four years ago, he made another startling comeback, first as a voice on Gorillaz's hit single "Stylo," and then with 2012's excellent The Bravest Man in the Universe, an album on which his weathered voice seemed to convey eons of hard living and wisdom earned. His final single, "Love Is Gonna Lift You Up," was an unintentional coda to a marvelous catalog of soul classics. Before he died, he was working in the studio on a follow-up to The Bravest Man in the Universe.
Of all the nicknames that have attached with Womack, "the poet" may fit best. Bobby Womack was certainly a "midnight mover" and a great soul shouter. But he was much better as a songwriter and truth-teller, one that didn't speak in flowery verse, but in direct yet evocative words communicated with an abundance of heart and feeling. He was the people's bard.