Once a back up guitarist for the legendary Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack began his career back in the 1960's, singing in the family R&B band, The Valentinos. Based in Cleveland where Womack was born, the line-up included Bobby's four brothers, Cecil (of Womack and Womack fame), Harry, Friendly and Curtis, all of whom were songwriters. Notably, Bobby Womack wote the Rolling Stones hit It's All Over Now,which topped the UK singles charts.
It was Cooke who 'discovered' the band and offered them a contract with his SAR Records label, much to the chagrin of the boy's father, Friendly Womack Senior, who considered Cooke's brand of music sinful. At that time in the US there were two kinds of black singers - gospel and mainstream secular and to cross over to the latter was seen by some as selling out to the devil. Although Curtis was the lead singer, Sam had singled Bobby out for attention, remarking that he "sang with authority, and commanded attention on stage".
Chess and Jubilee Records
The Valentinos had some success, appearing in the national R&B charts but when Sam Cooke was shot in 1964 they switched over to Chess Records for eighteen months before disbanding for a time. They reformed in 1966, this time with Jubilee Records and continued recording into the 1970's.
Over the span of their career, The Valentinos had chart success with several songs, including: Do It Right,Everybody Wants To Fall In Love and I've Found A True Love.
Sadly, Harry Womack died suddenly in 1974 during an altercation with his girlfriend.
Throughout his career Bobby Womack had work on the side as a session musician with American Studios in Memphis and in 1968 signed with Minut Records to record some hit singles, including What is This?, It's Gonna Rain andMore Than I can Stand. Steadily he was making a name for himself both as a top session guitarist and songwriter.
In 1971 Womack signed up with United Artists and recorded a hit single off the album Communications with the moody and emotive, That's the Way I Feel about 'Cha.This was followed up with another album Understanding and an ode to his brother, Harry Hippy, which sold a million copies and earned him a gold disc.
That's the Way I Feel about 'Cha...
Bobby Womack stirred the industry pot when he married Sam Cooke's widow, Barbara Campbell, just three months after his death. The marriage created a rumble of disapprobation from Cooke fans and it did affect his career for a time. According to Womack he feared she 'might do something crazy' if left alone. Reflecting on the event, Womack said :
When it came down to me marrying his wife, I never knew his wife. She was just so hurt and outdone that he had went out that way. She was ready to tackle the first thing that was the closest thing to him, that he liked. And that was me. And I was ready to be there because I knew she needed guidance. I knew if I put myself in there, a lot of people were gonna hate me. But if I don’t marry this woman, this woman's gonna do something crazy, and she may not be able to get out of it.
The couple divorced in 1970 and in 1976 Womack married Regina Banks. Interestingly, Bobby's younger brother Cecil married Linda, the daughter of Barbara Campbell and Sam Cooke. The lives of the Cooke's and Womack's seem inextricably bound together somehow.
Born in Cleveland Ohio, Bobby Dwayne Womack was the son of a steelworker and was just sixteen when he was first taken under Sam Cooke's tutelage. The move from gospel to soul must have been a big one, considering how his father felt about it. Yet over the decades, the young r7B singer/songwriter/guitarist forged a highly successful solo career, along with his other joint ventures. Bobby Womack is now a legend of rock 'n roll and deservedly so, as he remains a hugely influential figure in black music.
Although he'd never really disappeared, Bobby Womack's music was rediscovered through Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film Jackie Brown, which was in part an ode to seventies R&B. Womack never left the industry though and has worked on numerous projects since the 1970's and in the 1980's gained a new, European fanbase with the release of The Poet and The Poet II, as well as another R&B hit in 1985, with the single, "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much".
Among other things, Womack sang on the third Gorillaz album Plastic Beach in 2010 and in 2009 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.