Bobby Womack: Soul Survivor

Sometimes you can be too real and people walk all over you... a lot of us get caught up in neighbor situations, you know, and I'm no different, I can't point no finger at him [Sly Stone], but he got into the drugs. The free spirit can carry you places and sometimes it don't bring you back. You know, and that temptation, that's a strong thing.

-Bobby Womack on
the power of drugs


Bobby Womack
Finding himself on a black list, no one would touch anything Womack wrote. Struggling to survive, he once again became a backing guitarist working with a slew of stars. Amongst the many high-profile recordings done in this period the most monumental was Womack's dark, psychedelic guitar work on Sly Stones' 1971 classic There's A Riot Goin' On.

"That was a thrill within itself. It's amazing because he's [Sly Stone] a Pisces, and I'm a Pisces. And I know one thing about him, he is a very sensitive guy and you have to protect that," offers Womack. "But sometimes you can be too real and people walk all over you. He let a lot of things happen that he had no control of. I mean, he did have control but a lot of us get caught up in neighbor situations, you know, and I'm no different, I can't point no finger at him, but he got into the drugs. The free spirit can carry you places and sometimes it don't bring you back. You know? And that temptation, that's a strong thing."

While Sly Stone was slipping deeper into addiction and self-destruction, the tides had turned for Womack and he was coming back around. In addition to his work with Sly he scored his first hit single as a solo artist in 1968 with "What Is This?" and would find great success with a number of covers including "Fly Me to the Moon," "California Dreamin'" and "I Left My Heart In San Francisco."

The next few years would find Womack enjoying multiple hits and incredible success on the charts including his 1973 version of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." Although he was on top of the world at this point, sadly, it wouldn't be long until Womack was once again "down and out."

Sam Cooke
In 1974 his brother Harry (who inspired Womack's 1972 hit "Harry Hippie") was murdered by a jealous girlfriend in Bobby Womack's apartment. The weight was too much to bear and Bobby Womack became heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol. Although he did manage a few more hits in 1975, he had more or less slipped off the scene, and in 1979 his infant son died, which further isolated Womack.

He's long since returned to recording, releasing albums through the '80s and '90s, but it's the live arena that truly inspires Womack today.

"I go through all of the ups and downs that everybody else do. If it's losing somebody that's very close to you, or if it's being totally broke, or going into tax situations, all kind of problems," says Womack. "But, when I walk out on that stage I become the other Bobby Womack. To see all of those people out there, they are here to do one thing - to forget about what's been taking place in their lives. And I turn them on and they turn me on. That's a major spiritual thing."

When Womack talks about performing live it's as if he's found the Fountain of Youth. "That spirit that they feed back to me, if I'm 64 it makes me feel like I'm 31" laughs Womack. "It's a spirit that you can't control, and when I come off that stage I'm 64 again. Every time that miracle happens! That's something you can't buy and I long for it."

Bobby Womack grew up on the stage, and while he still enjoys connecting with his old fans, it's the new ones that really turn him on. "The most rewarding aspect [now] is to see new generations. Like, we just played Houston and I saw generations that were my daughter's age. She's in her twenties now, and they were saying, 'Man, I love your music!'"

And the reason they love it is the message, it's always been the message with Bobby Womack.

"[When you're playing live] you have to drop everything and become very honest and real as you possibly can be," says Womack. "It all comes from the music or some kind of a message that reached from one side of the world to the other. People that don't even speak the language, in Japan, understand it through just the feeling. They understand every word, everything I'm saying."

We seem to forget our history – musically and otherwise. Bobby Womack is a soul legend and he's responsible for some of the greatest songs the genre has ever seen, yet many aren't sure exactly who he is. Because of this, The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years, is all the more important.

"It's another way of enlightening the new generations, generation after generation, on what's going on, what's been going on and how long it's been going on," says Womack. With the release of the album and current resurgence in soul music, Womack reflects on how he'd like to be remembered. "I'm as real as they get," he says, "and I always tried to relay a message, whether it's lightweight or heavyweight, something took you."

JamBase | Soulville
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[Published on: 6/12/08]

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HoodooVoodoo starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/12/2008 03:42PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Shaft is a great movie. bow-chik-a-wow-wow

cuttyfives Thu 6/12/2008 04:59PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

better tunes than 90% of the ish covered on this site. Check it out.

Tiny Dancer starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/12/2008 10:27PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Tiny Dancer

Love it when Kayce talks to the legends

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/13/2008 07:38AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Dig it!

panicpanicpanic! starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/13/2008 08:12AM
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awesome write up!! nicely done

All Loving Liberal White Guy Fri 6/13/2008 11:01AM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

Shit yes! Bobby Womack rules! You should also check out this cd he's on called "Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country". So many good greats doing country songs. Womack is on it as well as Ike and Tina and Curtis Mayfield name a few. It just came out. Check it.

Navin R. Johnson Fri 6/13/2008 01:59PM
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Navin R. Johnson

Bobby is the man. Really nice write up. Glad to see him get some love. You go on with you bad self Bobby. Across 110th st is perhaps the great sould song every written. It oozes....

candise starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/13/2008 08:19PM
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It's always cool to read about the power of music- thanks for sharing this story.

thehurricane23 Tue 6/24/2008 11:28AM
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I was psyched to hear MMJ did a cover of 110th at Bonnaroo this year, I'm sure it turned some younger kids on to this