Cleveland's Bobby Womack Dead at 70

News Desk | 7/2/2014, 10:02 a.m.
His biggest hits of the Eighties, “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much” and “(No Matter How High I ...
Bobby Womack, a Cleveland native dies at 70 Photo by MYCHAL LILLY

Cleveland lost another star last week when Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bobby Womack died, Friday, June 27.

Bobby Womack, a Cleveland native, was born March 4, 1944 and raised near East 85th Street and Quincy Avenue. Womack, 70, died in California. In recent years he had battled several ailments like, diabetes prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 2009, Womack last performed in Cleveland in October 2013.

Bobby Womack was a stalwart soul and gospel figurehead whose resume included significant contributions across the decades as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. The son of a steelworker, Womack and his siblings formed a gospel group at a young age. While touring with the Soul Stirrers, the Womack Brothers met that group’s lead singer, Sam Cooke.

After Cooke’s move from gospel to soul, he contacted the Womacks and asked them to move to California. Bobby Womack was only 16 years old at the time, so he dropped out of school. Under Cooke’s tutelage, they crossed the bridge from sacred to secular music, recording for his Sar label as the Valentinos and the Lovers.

The Womack Brothers – Bobby and his siblings Cecil, Curtis, Harris and Friendly, Jr. - cut two R&B classics as the Valentinos: “Looking for a Love” (later covered by the J. Geils Band) and “It’s All Over Now.” The Rolling Stones’ cover of the latter song beat the Valentinos’ own version onto the charts, giving the Stones their second Top 40 hit in the States.

Bobby Womack also played guitar in Cooke’s band. In the wake of Cooke’s shooting death under mysterious circumstances, the Valentinos broke up and Womack turned to songwriting, guitar playing and a solo career.

He has written songs recorded by Wilson Pickett (“I’m a Midnight Mover”), George Benson (“Breezin’”), Janis Joplin (“Trust Me”) and others. Pickett alone recorded 17 of Womack’s compositions. A solid guitarist who worked on the Memphis session scene for a period in the Sixties, Womack played on sessions for Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Joe Tex, King Curtis, Dusty Springfield and other soul and R&B artists.

He cut an album with jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo, too.

Recording under his own name, Womack scored a string of minor hits toward the end of the Sixties. These included remakes of the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” and Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” as well as originals like “How I Miss You Baby.” Womack made his greatest mark in the seventies and eighties, discovering and refining a unique identity as a soul man with a message. Earning the nicknames “The Preacher” and “The Poet,” Womack often prefaced his songs with monologues on the subjects of love and communication. Understanding firsthand like few others that soul’s roots lay in the church, he didn’t just sing, he testified.

From 1970 to 1990, Womack was popular and prolific, charting 36 singles. These include such major R&B hits as “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha” (Number Two), “Woman’s Gotta Have It” (Number One) and “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” (Number Three). Womack topped the R&B chart with his 1974 re-recording of “Lookin’ for a Love,” while his contemporary update of a blues classic, “Nobody Wants to Know You When You’re Down and Out,” made it to Number Two. He was a hit making machine in the mid-seventies, perennially present in the Top 10 with such numbers as 1974’s “You’re Welcome, Stop On By,” 1975’s “Check It Out” and 1976’s “Daylight.”