R.I.P. to soul legend Bobby Womack who, we learned today, passed away at the age of 70. His passing was confirmed by Sonya Kolowrat, his publicist at XL Recordings in a statement today, although we await further details. His last record for XL, Bravest Man In The Universe, composed in collaboration with Damon Albarn and XL label head Richard Russell, was a triumph of 21st century soul and made Okayplayer’s year’s best list for 2012; an odd juxtaposition of raw emotion, experience and rare talent, framed by minimal, almost demo-tape like compositions that allowed Womack’s voice to show it’s incredible power. Jaleel Bunton of TV On The Radio, who played bass in Bobby’s band for the tour of live dates and TV performances that supported the release, shared this reminiscence with Okayplayer:
“During a video taping of one of our rehearsals for BBC television I looked over at the camera man to my right about midway through Bobby’s third song. He pulled his head away from his lens to wipe tears from his eyes. I looked over at my bandmate and we both smiled because the same thing had happened to us the day before. He really was that good. Hearing him sing validated everything I ever thought was beautiful and true.”
Bravest Man In The Universe, of course, was only the latest in a career that stretched more than a half-century, the first record he appeared on being “Buffalo Bill” released in 1954 by Curtis Womack and The Womack Brothers –at the age of 10. His career encompassed the highest highs and deepest lows, from veritable blacklisting in the industry when he married mentor Sam Cooke‘s widow close on the heels of his shooting death in 1964, to acclaim for immortal hits like “It’s All Over Now” (covered by The Rolling Stones for their very first #1) and “Across 110th Street” (a classic of the blaxploitation era which found a whole new audience as the opening theme of the 1990s film Jackie Brown). A tribute like this could hardly do even rough justice to the catalog–let alone the life–of an artist like Womack. But we would remiss if we didn’t attempt to honor his unconquerable cool. Through success, professional setbacks and even personal tragedy, Womack maintained a regal dignity such that in his recent essay series for Vulture, Questlove selected a quote from Womack to illustrate the essence of “black cool”–as he framed it, the refusal to reduce the artist’s human complexity–even within the superficialities of showbiz success:
So, I went on out or, should I say, I sold out. But like I’ve said before, music is music, that’s how it is — and that’s the way it is. Well, I didn’t change my style because I still had the same heart but just like the man said, he said, “Bobby, it’s got to be funky.” I came back and said, “I want to sing something. I want to sing.”
That spirit was fighting to express itself in Womack to the end, and it should be no surprise that in his final year on earth he recorded with Rick Ross and was at work on new album project featuring collaborations from Snoop Dogg and Stevie Wonder, among others. As Womack put it to us in his Okayplayer Interview some 6 months ago (one of his last interviews–but not his very last!) as long it was up to him, “I’ll just keep going.” We leave you with with full quote:
OKP: Do you think you’ll ever reach a place where you would say ‘this is my last album’ or ‘this is my last show’–or will you just keep going ?
BW: I’ll just keep going. Because that feeling when they say your name and you come out on stage and people want to hear you, you can’t get better than that. It’s all about having somebody to go home with. Because you can’t take the whole audience home with you, but if you can find that one person who gives you the same feeling…because when the time comes and you have something to sing and they say its time to go home? It feels like you’ve been a part of a family and they don’t want you in the family anymore.