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02 July 2014 Written by  Forward Times Staff

We Remember: Soul Singer Bobby Womack

In 1971 Mr. Womack played guitar on, and helped produce, Sly Stone’s most ambitious album. Bobby Dwayne Womack was born on March 4, 1944, in Cleveland. His father, Friendly, was a steelworker and part-time Baptist minister. His mother, Naomi, played the organ for the church choir. Under their father’s direction, Bobby and his brothers Cecil, Curtis, Friendly Jr. and Harry formed a gospel group, the Womack Brothers, which began touring in 1953.

Soul singer Bobby Womack has died, his record company, XL Recordings, confirmed.  Various reports say he died in his sleep. However, the cause of death is currently unknown. Bobby Womack was 70. The singer’s career spanned seven decades and included ’80s hit "If You Think You’re Lonely Now." Womack began his career in the early 1960s as the lead singer of his family musical group The Valentinos. He was also Sam Cooke’s backing guitarist. In the late-60s, Womack went solo. In 1968, he signed with Minit Records and recorded his first solo album, "Fly Me To The Moon," which included his first major hit with a cover of The Mamas & The Papas’ "California Dreamin’." He would go on to collaborate with music notables Gábor Szabó, George Benson, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin and Pearl. He would later leave Minit and sign with United Artists where he released the album, "Communication." He would earn his first Top 40 hit, "That’s the Way I Feel About Cha." Bobby Womack, who spanned the American soul music era, touring as a gospel singer in the 1950s, playing guitar in Sam Cooke’s backup band in the early ’60s, writing hit songs recorded by Wilson Pickett and the Rolling Stones and composing music that broke onto the pop charts, has died, a spokeswoman for his record label said on Friday night. He was 70.

Mr. Womack, nicknamed the Preacher for his authoritative, church-trained voice and the way he introduced songs with long discourses on life, never had the million-record success of contemporaries like Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Otis Redding. His sandpaper vocal style made him more popular in England, where audiences revere what they consider authentic traditional American music, than in the United States.

But the pop stars of his time considered Mr. Womack royalty. His admirers included Keith Richards, Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder, all of whom acknowledged their debt with guest performances on albums he made in his later years. Mr. Womack’s 2012 album, "The Bravest Man in the Universe," is an avant-garde collaboration with a new generation of musicians. It combines old and new material by Mr. Womack, which the British producer Richard Russell and the alternative rock songwriter Damon Albarn mixed with programmed beats, old gospel recordings, samplings of Cooke and other sounds, some played backward or sped up.

The album earned favorable reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 36 on its list of the 50 best albums of the year.

"I don’t understand a lot of the things they were doing," Mr. Womack said of his collaborators in an interview with The Guardian. "I would never have dreamed of doing stuff like that, but I wanted to relate to the people today."

Mr. Womack had his first major hit in 1964. He was under contract with Cooke’s SAR label when he wrote the song, "It’s All Over Now," and recorded it with his group, the Valentinos, which consisted of him and four of his brothers. The song was slowly rising on the R&B charts when Cooke told him that a British band called the Rolling Stones had liked it so much that they planned to record it, too.

The song became the Stones’ first No. 1 single in Britain and their first international hit, while the Valentinos’ version sank. "I was very upset about it," Mr. Womack said in an interview. "It was like, ‘They stole my song.’ Later, he said, as Cooke had predicted he would: "I stopped being upset when we got our first royalty check. That changed everything."

Many of his songs were recorded by others, often with greater success than his own renditions. Janis Joplin included "Trust Me" on her album "Pearl," the J. Geils Band recorded "Lookin’ for a Love," which reached the Top 40 in 1972, and Pickett recorded "I’m a Midnight Mover" and 16 other Womack songs.