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Bobby Womack: My Story. Review by John Smith

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This book is a description of what made Bobby into the man he was. His strict upbringing and lack of money was always a problem in the Womack household during his younger years. The family were very religious and feeding their preacher seemed more important to them than ensuring their own kids got enough decent food to eat. If it had been up to his father, Bobby would never have developed into an accomplished guitarist. He defied his father on many occasions, usually coming off worse for his actions.


The beginnings of the Womack Brothers group are covered in detail, as are their meeting and ongoing links with Sam Cooke. The Womack Brothers and Valentinos SAR recordings are dealt with well in the period up to 1964. Bobby doesn't shy away from some painful stories about the Valentinos early touring experiences. The reader learns about what went on, warts and all. He also goes on to mention his solo 1965 Chess 45 (“I Found A True Love”) plus the Valentinos' Chess cuts. Information on what he sang on tracks like “Sweeter Than The Day Before” isn't fully covered. 


The devastation that Sam Cooke's murder brought to his life is fully dealt with, as is Sam's family's reaction to his marriage to Barbara Cooke. Bobby had been touring as a member of Sam's backing band on live shows and also played on Cooke’s recordings from 1962. The killing of Sam in December 1964 caused a major disruption to Bobby's career (the Valentinos had also sometimes toured, performing on the support bill on the shows Sam undertook). . 


The Rolling Stones early entry into Bobby's world, via their big hit version of “It's All Over Now” is also discussed, initially Bobby not appreciating them utilising his song. The group reappeared in Bobby's life in the 1980's. He toured with them, playing in their backing band and worked on some of their recordings around 1986. In addition, he recounts events that occurred during the periods that he was touring as a musician with Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett and side issues (women, drugs and racism).


If fine detail is expected on his recording career then the reader may be a little disappointed. The Keymen, HIM and Atlantic 45's aren’t mentioned, though his UA period and the reason why he left the label is referenced. The discography of his own recordings is not 100% correct (some pre-Minit 45's being omitted). Otherwise, it provides a useful tool. The list of the recordings he played on for other artists is also informative, though again there are a few omissions (the Masqueraders told me he played on their “I Ain't Got To Love Nobody Else” track and this doesn't get a listing).


Bobby talks very warmly about his work in Memphis and Muscle Shoals area studios, which became his spiritual home. Although deeply suspicious of the 'white world', close friendships were made with the southern white musicians who became his friends during that period. His work for Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson, Joe Tex, Joe Simon, King Curtis, Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley are all referenced. 


Like many black performers back in the 60's / 70's, money was an issue for Bobby. (like many others). He never trusted banks and didn't believe in getting into debt. When he had money he spent it, with little regard to his tax liabilities. Studio work would be used to entice women he liked and he even employed one partner-to-be on his sessions as a way of ensuring she spent lots of time with him (paying her royally during the process). His work with Wilton Felder does however get mentioned. The dealings he had with Beverly Glenn's Otis Smith are also discussed. In his later years he was far from well, with the drug years taking a toll on his body, but he didn't seem to see his demise approaching. Bobby had to work right up to the end to keep himself in the life style he desired. But he would do the gigs and then head straight off home, and little interaction with his fans. He did seem to find a more happy daily home routine towards the end of his life in his local LA neighbourhood. His deep regret at losing touch with most of his old work colleagues and his brothers is reported towards the end of the book, an issue of some regret for him.


Bobby Womack: My Story by Bobby Womack and Robert Ashton is a trade paperback and available to order now from the new book section.

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