Photos via Holler Online
Bobby Womack has been back. The icon of hustler-soul who recorded “Across 110th Street” and a string of other classics appears to be on his 3rd or 4th miraculous comeback this year, having topped our 2012 year end list of best music with Bravest Man In The Universe–his spacey soul collaboration with Damon Albarn and XL Records boss Richard Russell–just before news of his battle with cancer and alzheimer’s disease made it seem likely that record would be his last. It’s worth noting, however that Bravest Man was already comeback #2, the chemistry with Albarn having been formed through the crucible of cameos and touring dates with Albarn’s virtual band The Gorillaz. So perhaps we should not be surprised of the ultimate soul survivor is recording with big-name rappers and coming back to New York to play a series of 3 intimate concerts collectively titled “Love Is Gonna Lift You Up” (starting tomorrow Friday December 20th at City Winery >>>get tickets here).
Okayplayer jumped on the opportunity to get on the phone with Womack (first rule of music journalism: when Bobby Womack calls, pick up the phone) and hear him talk about performing while dealing with his recent health struggles openly for the first time. In the process he not only confirmed Rick Ross‘ recent assertion to Sway that the two bosses have recorded a track together for Ross’ in-production album Mastermind–but also revealed he is working on a whole new album of his own, including collaborations with Stevie Wonder, Levert, Rod Stewart and Snoop Dogg (!) In this extremely rare interview, Womack gives us a glimpse of what comebacks #3-4 might look like and shares some invaluable wisdom on how to survive in the game as long as he has (cliff notes: you have to fight for it–and it doesn’t hurt to have Wilson Pickett on your team). Read on to experience the Okayplayer Interview with Bobby Womack.
OKP: How are you feeling today?
BW: I feel great. So many things are going in a good way for me right now. It’s not really about music or a song, but in my personal life; everything is going great for me personally.
OKP: You certainly seem to be in a very productive mode right now
BW: Yeah, that’s the time you gonna get a productive mood. Even though I always worry…it’s like a great boxer goin out –and he can’t box; I lost my sharpness, I lost my skills, you know? Well, I felt like that at times because I had been through so much in the hospital (being treated for colon cancer – ed.) and I had a long way to come if I EVER could get on stage like nothing happened. So I still go out and I’m always trying saying: I wish I could have done that, or I wish I would have done that differently–I’m very critical. Sometimes people say, Man, I think that was great. And I say, Yeah, well, I ran hoarse. It’s always gon’ be something with me, even if it was a great show.
OKP: Well we had the pleasure to be present for your performance at the taping of Jimmy Fallon last year and I can confirm it was a great show–you didn’t miss a step.
BW: Well, at that time I had reaaally just came out (of the hospital) and did a show for the first time. I kept tellin’ my wife: if I go out there and I don’t look good—you know my balance wasn’t good–I’m sittin’ down. Because people are so quick to paint: Oh, he was on drugs. And I didn’t want it to be that impression, I didn’t want to leave the impression that they could see any signs of sickness.
OKP: Now, these shows coming up at City Winery this weekend—is that your first time in NY since the Jimmy Fallon appearance?
BW: Yeah it’s the first time back since then and [coming back to New York] really takes me back, makes you think about guys like Frankie Crocker [the famous New York disc jockey who Womack ran with during the mid-70s peak of popularity for tunes like “Daylight.”-ed.]
OKP: Which prompts me to ask: have you been across 110th street…lately?
BW: I tell you what, I always have to open up with that song, because I think everybody–whether they’ve been to the ghetto or not–they know I’ve come from that. And if you have come from that, you have a better shot, you know, at life and making decisions…
OKP: But have you experienced the new Harlem?
BW: (laughs) I haven’t, I haven’t.
OKP: Tell us a little about the experience of working with Damon Albarn and Richard Russell on the last album was like, such a tough combination…
BW: It was very different because–as long as I’ve been singing, I was still going into foreign territory. It’s alright to be from the old school but you can’t live there, I like to go onstage and they feel what the old school is about but at the same time I wanna try something new. I’m not afraid to try nothing new because one thing that me and Damon discussed, he said: Yo’ voice is dominant–everybody would know your voice if they heard it. Your voice is upfront so it don’t matter whats around you. So you know, I woulda put more music in it and stuff like that but at the same time I went along with it, I liked what we were writing about. They gave me so much freedom to be able to tell stories about when I was young. [I would say] when I was young my brothers we all sang this song and they would run the tape and they would say: Well, why don’t you do it? And I had fought so long to get that, because sometimes people wont give you 50/50—best they’ll give you is 60/40– but our vibe was good because I didn’t have to deal with ego, you know. Damon is very earthy and Richard is very earthy. They were lookin up to me, in a sense, and that made me feel really good because I don’t need the ego but at least I say: I can work here, tell my ideas and maybe they’ll take ‘em and some, maybe they won’t.
OKP: Speaking of trying something new we heard from Rick Ross that he recruited you for a song on his new record–is that true?