Bobby Womack has died. He was 70. I was pretty sure he was so close to dead when, roughly a year ago, I saw him stumble and bumble his way through a concert in Sydney, Australia. He had not turned up the night before, two nights reduced to one. And he struggled. Almost immediately. And then thoroughly. It wasn’t pretty to watch. It was sad.
But I’ll chose to think of discovering his album, The Poet; to learning about him through covers by The Rolling Stones, and then finding out that he had worked with the great Sam Cooke, had been a part of a Womack family band, The Valentinos, was a guitarist and songwriter – and then there were the songs he nailed. The now-everywhere Across 110th Street, the amazing ballad If You Think You’re Lonely Now – The Poet and The Poet II; those albums were the gateway to a whole lot of great music for me.
And before that there was the Across 110th Street soundtrack, his song All Over Now, his cover of California Dreaming, his playing with The Box Tops and Aretha. And so many others.
It was awful reading these pathetic rave-reviews for his “comeback” album, The Bravest Man In The Universe, a mess that couldn’t come close to the comeback album from Gil Scott-Heron. It was even worse seeing him perform and having to read these reviews from people just lucky to be there, so glad that they “got to see him”.
I had to write honestly about seeing Bobby Womack. I didn’t feel good. I felt sorry for him. I wanted it to end. I felt uncomfortable. I worried. I almost felt sick. I couldn’t say I was pleased to have seen him.
A day after the show an insider told me that Bobby’s wife was running things. She was dressed up and in charge. She clapped her hands and people did what they were told. Including Bobby. Well, as soon as he was handed all of his various medications. It sounded like she had him out working until he would drop. New handbags couldn’t just buy themselves.
So, for a year now, I’ve wondered when I’d read the news that Womack, stricken with cancer, a drug casualty that somehow crawled on, and all with the weight of so many traumas and dramas that could have crippled him at any stage over the decades, would finally get to sign off. And today I read that news. I feel happy that he can perhaps now be at peace.
He gave the world some of its best music.
And the whip won’t crack now, urging him into the red leathers to croak out all that he cannot.