Bobby Womack, the multitalented singer-songwriter-guitarist who left an indelible mark on R&B and soul in the 1960s and ’70s but battled drug addiction in his later years, died Friday at 70, his record label XL Recordings confirmed. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012.
A gutsy singer and a superlative axe man, Womack charted nearly 50 hits, the majority of them self-penned, during his career of more than 40 years. His No. 1 R&B entries were “Woman’s Gotta Have It” (1972) and “Lookin’ for a Love” (1974), a remake of a number he recorded with his family act the Valentinos for Sam Cooke’s SAR label.
Womack also notched a top 20 hit with “Across 110th Street,” the title number from the 1973 crime thriller starring Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto; Quentin Tarantino appropriated the song for use under the opening credits of his 1997 pic “Jackie Brown,” and it was also employed in the 2007 Denzel Washington starrer “American Gangster.”
Born in Cleveland to a musical and religious family, Womack began singing and playing guitar at an early age. He toured the gospel circuit with his brothers. Cooke – also a product of gospel music, and the former lead singer of the Soul Stirrers – took the act under his wing, and recorded for SAR with a new moniker. After scoring a No. 8 hit in 1962 with “Lookin’ for a Love,” the group reached No. 21 in 1964 with “It’s All Over Now,” which the Rolling Stones turned into a top 30 pop hit the same year.
After Cooke was shot and killed in an incident at a Los Angeles motel in 1964, the Valentinos disbanded. Womack scandalously married Cooke’s widow Barbara three months after the singer’s death.
Womack initially made an impression as a sideman, playing guitar on crucial sessions at FAME in Muscle Shoals and American Studios in Memphis behind Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett (who also cut several of Womack’s compositions for Atlantic).
He recorded some lesser R&B chart singles for New Orleans’ Minit Records before signing in 1971 with United Artists Records, where he found his greatest commercial success. His hits for the company – which combined his trademark grit with a softer, acoustic-based sound – included “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha’” ((No. 2, 1971), “Harry Hippie” (No. 8, 1972), “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out” (No. 2, 1973), “You’re Welcome, Stop on By” (No. 5, 1974), “Check It Out” (No. 6, 1975) and “Daylight” (No. 5, 1976). He also crafted some outstanding albums for the company, including “Communication” (1971) and “Understanding” (1972).
Womack segued to Beverly Glen Records in the late ’70s; there he recorded the mellow, widely praised album “The Poet” (No. 29 in 1981) and its 1984 successor “The Poet II” (No. 60).
He wrestled with a serious cocaine addiction that scuttled his career in the ’80s. He recorded sporadically thereafter, and published an outrageous autobiography, “Midnight Mover,” in 2006. His later life was marred by tragedy, including the murder of one of his brothers, the death of two sons, and the jailing of a third.
However, after making an appearance on Gorillaz’s 2010 album “Plastic Beach,” he enjoyed a latter-day renaissance. Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn co-produced the 2012 XL set “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” which served to reinstate Womack’s reputation as one of the top do-everything talents in R&B. He played a show at L.A.’s Wilshire Theatre earlier this year, and had been scheduled to perform several tour dates in Europe this summer.
Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.