Robert Dwayne “Bobby” Womack was born on March 4, 1944 and died on June 27, 2014. He was an American singer-songwriter and musician.
Since the early 1960s, when he started his career as the lead singer of his family musical group the Valentinos and as Sam Cooke’s backing guitarist, Womack’s career spanned more than 50 years, during which he played in the styles of R&B, soul, rock and roll, doo-wop, gospel, and country.
Born in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood, near East 85th Street and Quincy Avenue, to Naomi Womack and Friendly Womack, Bobby was the third of five brothers. Cecil and Harry were his younger brothers.
They all grew up in the Cleveland slums, so poor that the family would fish pig snouts out of the local supermarket’s trash. He had to share a bed with his brothers. Raised Baptist, their mother played the organ for the church choir, and their father was a steelworker, part-time minister, musician who played the guitar and also sang gospel.
Their father would advise his sons to not touch his guitar while he was away. One night, eight-year-old Bobby, who was often playing it, broke a guitar string.
After Friendly replaced the string with a shoelace, he let Bobby play the guitar for him. According to Bobby, Friendly was stunned by his son’s talents as well as the talents of his other sons. Soon afterwards, he bought Bobby his own guitar.
At the beginning of the 1960s, Cooke formed SAR Records and signed the quintet to the label in 1961, where they released a handful of gospel singles.
Then, Cooke changed their name to the Valentinos, relocated them to Los Angeles and convinced them to transition from gospel music to secular soul- and pop-influenced sound. Cooke produced and arranged the group’s first hit single, ”
Lookin’ for a Love”, which was a pop version of the gospel song, “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray”, they had recorded earlier. The song became an R&B hit and helped land the group an opening spot for James Brown’s tour.
The group’s next hit came in 1964 with the country-tinged “It’s All Over Now”, co-composed by Bobby. Their version was rising on the charts when the Rolling Stones covered it. In 1974, Womack released his most successful single during this period with a remake of his first hit single, ”
Lookin’ for a Love”. His solo version of the song became even more successful than the original with the Valentinos’, becoming his second number one hit on the R&B chart and peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming his only hit to reach that high on the pop chart.
The song was featured on the album Lookin’ for a Love Again and featured the minor charted “You’re Welcome, Stop on By”, later covered by Rufus & Chaka Khan. Womack’s career began stalling after Womack received the news of his brother Harry’s death.
Womack continued to record albums with United Artists through 1975 and 1976 but with less success than previous albums. In 1975, Womack collaborated with Rolling Stones member Ronnie Wood, on Wood’s second solo album, Now Look.
Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. “My very first thought was I wish I could call Sam Cooke and share this moment with him,” Womack said. In 2012, Womack began a career renaissance with the release of The Bravest Man in the Universe, his first album in more than 10 years.
Produced by Damon Albarn and XL’s Richard Russell, the album made Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2012 alongside numerous other critical accolades.
“You know more at 65 than you did at 25. I understand the songs much better now,” Womack told Rolling Stone at the time. “It’s not about 14 Rolls Royces and two Bentleys. Even if this album never sells a nickel, I know I put my best foot forward.