Understanding The Womack


Bobby Womack - California Dreamin'
Bobby Womack - Arkansas State Prison
Bobby Womack - Ruby Dean
Bobby Womack - All Along The Watchtower

Bobby Womack is a soul music allrounder: he can scream (like James), talk deeply to the ladies (like Issac and Barry); he has the Al or Marvin touch when it comes to love songs, the honesty of Sam and Curtis, and the occasional Sly-like urge to wig out. In today's post, I'm not aiming at a broad overview of his career -- some patches of which are a bit cheesy. Instead I've chosen four tracks that simply float my boat.

Womack grew up singing in gospel groups with his brothers. When his hero and mentor, Sam Cooke, crossed over to secular (read, the devil's) music, Bobby followed suit. In 1964 a song penned by Womack, It's All Over Now, took the Rolling Stones to the top of the UK charts for the first time. Later that year, Womack would be devastated by tragedy, when Cooke was fatally shot. Perhaps it was grief that drew him closer to Cooke's widow. He married her within just three months. This scandalous marriage diverted his career ambitions, but he progressed as a session guitarist and songwriter, working with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. His debut album, Fly Me To The Moon, came out in 1969, at last beginning a long and successful solo career. It featured a cover of the Mamas And The Papas classic, California Dreamin', the perfect vehicle for Womack to show off his power of injecting soul into every sung syllable.

From his second solo LP, 'My Prescription', comes 'Arkansas State Prison'. It's a mighty fine country soul number that reeks of the Memphis/Muscle Souls studio sound; a sound that Womack helped create when working as a gun guitarist for hire. This country feel is also present on 'Ruby Dean', a Womack penned tune that borrows a little from a song made famous by Kenny Rogers, 'Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town'.

Womack became psychedelically charged after playing guitar on Sly & The Family Stone's 'There's a Riot Going On'. Though credited to Dylan, his version of 'All Along The Watchtower' is obviously inspired by the version recorded by fellow lefty, Jimi Hendrix (they used to tour together on the Chitlin' circuit in the early sixties).

Bobby Womack interview

Womack also recorded a full country album, BW Goes C&W, which I've spared you from today, but if you're hankering for some twang, check out the masses of Johnny Cash I've put on the radio blog in my sidebar.

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