Born on March 4, 1944, Cleveland-native Bobby Womack grew into a soul and gospel legend whose contributions as a songwriter, singer and guitarist have kept him and his music relevant for decades.
The son of a steelworker, Womack and his siblings got their start as a gospel group. On tour with the Soul Stirrers, the Womack brothers – Bobby, Cecil, Curtis, Harris and Friendly Jr. – were introduced to the Stirrer's lead singer, Sam Cooke. With a move from gospel to secular soul, Cooke asked the Womack brothers to join him in California, and 16-year-old Bobby Womack made the trip.
Billed as the Valentinos, Bobby and his brothers cut two R&B classics: “Looking for a Love” (later covered by the J. Geils Band) and “It’s All Over Now.” The Rolling Stones’ cover of the latter song beat the Valentinos’ own version onto the charts, giving the Stones their second Top 40 hit in the States and first Number One hit in the U.K.
In the years following his work with Cooke, Womack would write songs recorded by Wilson Pickett (“I’m a Midnight Mover”), George Benson (“Breezin’”), Janis Joplin (“Trust Me”) and others. Pickett alone recorded 17 of Womack’s compositions. A solid guitarist who worked on the Memphis session scene for a period in the Sixties, Womack played on sessions for Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Joe Tex, King Curtis, Dusty Springfield and other soul and R&B artists.
From 1970 to 1990, Womack was popular and prolific, charting 36 singles. These include such major R&B hits as “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha” (Number Two), “Woman’s Gotta Have It” (Number One) and “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” (Number Three). Womack topped the R&B chart with his 1974 re-recording of “Lookin’ for a Love,” while his contemporary update of a blues classic, “Nobody Wants to Know You When You’re Down and Out,” made it to Number Two. He was a hit-making machine in the mid-Seventies, perennially present in the Top 10 with such numbers as 1974’s “You’re Welcome, Stop On By,” 1975’s “Check It Out” and 1976’s “Daylight.” The first half of the Eighties saw the release of his two best-selling albums, The Poet and The Poet II.
Decades later, in 2009, Gorillaz co-founder and musical mastermind Damon Albarn (also of Blur fame) connected with Womack to record "Stylo" for the group's third studio album, Plastic Beach. Released as the first single, "Stylo" featured Womack's unmistakable, throaty vocals, and introduced the Hall of Fame Inductee to an entirely new audience after a long absence from recording. Three years later, in 2012, Womack – reunited with Albarn and having signed with Richard Russell's XL imprint – released his first album in more than a decade, The Bravest Man in the Universe. Although the album updated his sound with electronics and break beats, the mostly minimalist arrangements proved an ideal foil for Womack’s rough,weathered voice.
In February 2013, Hall of Fame inductee and Cleveland native Bobby Womack came to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where he sat for an interview with Rock Hall education director Jason Hanley and then later performed on the Rock Hall's main stage.