Bobby Womack at Royal Albert Hall.
He can lift an audience like no other performer. He is a powerful vocalist, fusing gospel-inspired rhythms with the easy grace of a snake-charmer.
Womack is legendary, and part of the music revolution happening throughout the 60’s and 70’s in America.
Bobby’s earliest influence was Friendly Sr, Bobby’s dad, a disciplinarian who introduced Bobby to guitar playing and may well have moulded Womack’s iconic style.
Born and raised in Cleveland’s East 85th and Quincy area to Naomi Womack and Friendly Womack, Bobby being third of five brothers. Their mom played organ in their local church. Friendly Sr was a guitarist, he warned his children never to touch the instrument while he was away.
Poignantly, in interviews, Womack describes how his dad ‘whupped’ him for laying hands on the prized guitar. One night, eight-year-old Bobby accidentally damaged a string. After giving his disobedient son a sound thrashing,
Friendly Sr switched the string for a shoelace, and curiously enough he allowed Bobby to play the guitar again. Pretty soon Bobby got his own guitar.
The brothers hit the gospel circuit and in ’54 Bobby got to show off his rough young baritone voice. Sam Cooke instantly recognised the group’s talent and began mentoring the boys.
With SAR records, Sam signed up the quintet. Bobby was sixteen. The group recorded two gospel numbers, before turning to popular music. Friendly Sr kicked the boys out, being opposed to Sam Cooke’s secular music. Nevertheless, the boys went with Cooke to Los Angeles, changing their name along the way to The Valentinos. Their biggest hit came in 1964 with the country-tinged “It’s All Over Now”, co-composed by Bobby. Their star was rising when The Rolling Stones swiped the song, using it like cotton candy for a quick ‘big-hit’ release.
Royalty check notwithstanding, Bobby never got his due credit for the song, typical of the way the music industry acted back then, exploiting young black artists. Yet Womack went on to make the greatest soul-funk music of our times. He is still going strong, in fine voice, and looking good in his signature black leather. I guess he’ll be singing to the last beat of his heart.
The band is sounding even more assured than at Glastonbury (earlier this year). The atmosphere of the Royal Albert Hall was electric, the audience showing their appreciation throughout the entire performance.
Last night was the usual tight fusion of horn, guitar, and backing vocals. It is the tight-sounding crew people now expect, with Alltrinna Grayson’s gospel-operatic voice a perfect counterpoint to Womack’s distinctive gravel.
Bobby Womack’s latest album is called The Bravest Man In The Universe, produced by Damon Albarn of Blur.