The Last Soul Man: Bobby Womack, 1944-2014

BOBBY WOMACK, WHO passed away on Friday (June 27) at the age of 70, was a giant of American music, an idiosyncratic purveyor of alchemical vocal and guitar and a musician who was fêted by the worlds of R&B, soul, pop and rock throughout his astonishing 60-year career. From his first flourishes under the wing of Sam Cooke in the late 1950s, through his recordings with Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Sly Stone, Womack spent his first three decades summoning unique guitar arrangements from the depths of his gospel roots.

A hotshot session player, Womack was also a deft songwriter with his countrified 1964 track It’s All Over Now morphing into a crossover hit for The Rolling Stones – “I had bad vibes about the Stones version,” he told MOJO in 2004. “Then I got a royalty cheque.” His solo career kicked off with a series of sublime soul sides for the Minit label, all collected on his first two LPs Fly Me To The Moon (1968) and My Prescription (1969) – the latter featuring his tender, heart-wrenching reading of Everyone’s Gone To The Moon.

The 1970s saw Womack head further into the rock firmament with contributions to Janis Joplin’s Pearl and Sly And The Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, his unique guitar style (he played a right-hand stringed guitar left handed) also underpinning his superb solo collections Communication, Understanding and the soundtrack to blaxploitation drama Across 110th Street.

In 1980 Womack finally hit the UK charts as a guest vocalist on Crusader Wilton Felder’s Inherit The Wind. This was followed by 1981’s silky’n’rough The Poet and its sequel, both igniting another concentrated period of commercial success that continued in 1986 with a spot on The Stones’ Dirty Work.

2012’s The Bravest Man In The Universe – recorded with Damon Albarn and Richard Russell – was a valedictory record that saw Womack rediscover his love of playing the guitar with the subsequent tour generating the sort of soul fervour rightly reserved for one of the best in the business.

Having beaten drug addiction and prostate cancer, he’d recently revealed he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Womack was never one to shy away from pain and heartache. He managed to reinvent himself on multiple occasions, always facing life head on. “I always made a song out of it,” he once told MOJO. “You can always write truth.”

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