The Okayplayer Interview: Bobby Womack Reveals New LP, Working w/ Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg + More
The Okayplayer Interview: Bobby Womack (photo via Holler Online)
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?
BW: Yeah, that’s very true but you know I’m trying to catch up with Rick Ross to hear what we recorded! It was great because with his tracks, it wasn’t even like trying something new, he really brought something close to some of my old records and…I was at home with it, I would say, when we went in the studio together.
OKP: So you would say he reached back to your vibe...
BW: He reached back to something he felt from my records and it was great. I was very surprised with that because it's embarrassing sometimes, you know, when I have to ask my son (whispers): Who's Rick Ross? --and he’s like, Daddy he’s one of the hottest rappers out here—not 'one of the', the hottest rapper out here! And I say: Ok, I didn’t know. I think sometimes its better not to know, you know. Because I’ve been blessed to work with some many people in my time: Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix…and I still see them. It sounds crazy but when I perform, I see them there on stage with me, like they’re grading my performance. And I mention them in my music for that reason, because they’re very present to me...
OKP: You have indeed been blessed to work with so many of the greats; is there one collaborator who really stood out to you over the years?
BW: Wilson Pickett. Because Wilson Pickett really gave me my first shot, and I never paid him back. I think about it now. When I was coming to Atlantic and Atlantic didn’t want to sign me, he said, Well why don’t you bring those songs to me? I was like, well...why didn’t you say you were interested in those songs in the first place! And he said, No because I'm hot right now. So if you bring me your songs, every time people see my name they’ll see your name under it. Whenever they see Wilson Pickett they’ll see Bobby Womack [on the songwriting credit] right under it. And he was right. Because of that, labels that wasn’t paying attention to me started trying to sign me.
OKP: Speaking of labels, will you be putting out a new album after this?
BW: Yes I've already been working on one because its not like it used to be, you have to follow up right away or people forget about you so quick...
OKP: So will you be working with Damon and Richard again?
BW: I told Damon and Richard that whenever they're available to record I will make myself available. But I was already Working on a new album, I have Stevie Wonder on it, I have Rod Stewart, Levert, Snoop Dogg is on it, this lady from Motown--now what was her name? Well, I have a lot of songs where you hear Stevie Wonder singing the song and you hear me on the same song, so you really get the style, because I think that’s important. You don’t get that style anymore. Like Sam Cooke and Ray Charles I love both because they're both so different. Nowadays its more about fitting everybody in with the latest style or the latest fad--and then that’s how they get rid of you so quick when the fad goes out—except maybe Mariah Carey, she still has that voice and that sound you recognize. But you know I heard an interview with Gloria Gaynor the other day and what she was saying was true: mostly you have to really fight to get your own sound and get it down. It takes time; sometimes it takes a few records that don’t sell till you find it. Anybody-- Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye--they all fought the labels to put their own sound down and that’s why they lasted.
OKP: So what will these live shows [at City winery] be like?
BW: Well first is, I try not to plan to much. Because you want the freedom to come out and do the songs people want to here and just go where the spirit moves you. That’s why I always use the same band so they're not just learning a set, it's always the same guys I work with so they can go wherever I go.
OKP: So would it be same band from Bravest Man In Th Universe--with Jaleel Bunton [from TV On The Radio]... ?
BW: No, I have my own band—when I came to London [for the Bravest Man sessions] they already had tracks cut and I heard it I said...well, first I said I wouldn’t have done it quite like that. But then you have to step back and say Well, I’m not the one cutting this one. And that’s what I came to Damon and Richard for—or why else come to London?
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.