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
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'
"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."
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
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
"[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."
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