Bobby Womack, the legendary soul singer whose career spanned seven decades, died Friday at age 70. A representative for Womack’s label XL Recordings confirmed the singer has died to Rolling Stone, but said the cause of death was currently unknown.
Bobby Womack Reaches Way Back for “Deep River”
The son of two musicians, Womack began his career as a member of Curtis Womack and the Womack Brothers with his siblings Curtis, Harry, Cecil and Friendly Jr. After Sam Cooke signed the group to his SAR Records in 1960, they released a handful of gospel singles before changing their name to the Valentinos and earning success with a more secular, soul- and pop-influenced sound. In 1964, one month after the Valentinos released their hit “It’s All Over Now,” the Rolling Stones put out their version, which went to Number One on the U.K. singles charts.
Three months after the death of Cooke in 1964, Womack married Cooke’s widow, Barbara Campbell, and the Valentinos disbanded after the collapse of SAR Records. After leaving the group, Womack became a session musician, playing guitar on several albums, including Aretha Franklin’s landmark Lady Soul, before releasing his debut album, Fly Me to the Moon, in 1968. A string of successful R&B albums would follow, including Understanding and Across 110th Street, both released in 1972, 1973’s Facts of Life and 1974’s Lookin for a Love Again.
After the death of his brother, Harry, in 1974, Womack’s career stalled, but was revived in 1981 with the R&B hit “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.” Throughout most of the Eighties, the singer struggled with drug addiction, eventually checking himself into a rehabilitation center for treatment. A series of health problems would follow, including diabetes, pneumonia, colon cancer and the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, though it was unclear if any of these ailments contributed to his death. Womack was declared cancer-free in 2012.
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.” Upon his death, Womack was in the process of recording his next album for XL, tentatively titled The Best Is Yet to Come and reportedly featuring contributions by Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart and Snoop Dogg.
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. “This is just about as exciting to me as being able to see Barack Obama become the first black President of the United States of America! It proves that, if you’re blessed to be able to wait on what’s important to you, a lot of things will change in life.”
By Jason Newman