The passing Friday of Bobby Womack was a “huge loss,” says veteran music business press agent Bob Merlis, who worked with the legendary 70-year-old rock ‘n’ roll/R&B artist in his capacity as press rep for ABKCO Records.
ABKCO owns the early catalog of the Rolling Stones, whose first U.K. No. 1 hit was their 1964 cover of Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.” But ABKCO also owns the Sam Cooke catalog, Cooke, along with the Stones, having been managed by the company’s late founder Allen Klein. Womack was Cooke’s guitarist and protégé; Cooke produced Womack’s family band the Womack Brothers, and after a name change to The Valentinos, produced their first hit “Looking for a Love” as well as the group’s version of “It’s All Over Now.”
“He was a pivotal figure where soul music and rock ‘n’ roll met,” says Merlis, citing the Cooke and Stones connections—the latter remaining strong up through 2009, when Ron Wood inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “And he reconnected with British rock in 2010 when he guested prominently on the Gorillaz’ album Plastic Beach.”
Womack co-wrote and sang on the Plastic Beach single “Stylo,” and the Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn co-produced Womack’s 2012 album The Bravest Man in the Universe.
“He intersected with so many historic artists,” continues Merlis. “He wrote ‘Trust Me’ for Janis Joplin, and [Joplin’s] ‘Mercedes Benz’ was based on her having ridden in Bobby’s Mercedes. And he was a transitional artist as a guitar player in that he was left-handed and played guitar upside-down, as Jimi Hendrix would. He had an impact with a very significant number of artists and was hugely influential on both sides of the Atlantic—unlike almost anyone else in soul music in any generation.”
Merlis notes that Womack’s “somewhat autobiographical” hit “Across 110th Street” was the title theme for the 1972 Anthony Quinn crime film drama, and was later featured in both Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. Mariah Carey, meanwhile, referenced Womack by name and by a piece of his song “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” in her 2005 chart-topper “We Belong Together.”
“His saga is so rich and textured,” notes Merlis. “He wrote ‘Breezin’,’ which was a huge instrumenal hit for George Benson. So he started in gospel and had hits in jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and soul, and even made a country album, BW Goes C&W. He described himself as ‘the only survivor’ from the first generation of soul artists—the ‘last soul man,’ to use the title of his 1987 album.”
“He was a towering talent,” says Merlis.
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