Bobby Womack, the expert soul singer, songwriter and guitarist who died Friday after a long battle with cancer, made as many friends in the music business as he did great songs.
The artist was best known for penning the breakout Rolling Stones hit “It’s All Over Now” and his own soul classic “Across 110th Street," as well as being soul legend Sam Cooke’s guitarist. As news spread of his passing, famous friends took to Twitter to pay tribute.
Wrote the Stones’ Ron Wood: “I'm so sad to hear about my friend Bobby Womack ~ the man who could make you cry when he sang has brought tears to my eyes with his passing.” Blur’s Damon Albarn, who helped bring new ears to Womack’s voice through work with Gorillaz and on Womack’s recent work, tweeted, simply, “I will see my brother in church.”
And gospel and soul singer Candi Staton, who knew Womack for nearly 60 years, wrote, “I'm so sorry to hear of the passing of Bobby Womack. He was one of my dearest closest friends. I was so honored...”
During a conversation the morning after Womack passed, Staton was eager to expand on her tribute. Speaking before boarding a plane to perform in Charleston, W.V., Staton said she grew up with Womack. Below is an edited transcript of that conversation.
My condolences for your loss. I know you were friends for a long time.
Yes, we've been friends since — I think maybe he was 11 or 12 and I was 13. We were kids together.
Where was this?
We traveled. We used to sing on the road with his brothers, the Womack brothers. They were kids, like us. At that particular time my sister and I were in a trio called the Jewell Gospel Trio, and we were on stages with Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls and all of the guys, and Bobby Womack and his little brother were also on the shows with us. So we got a chance — since we were the youngest, along with the Staples Singers, we were all friends. We had nobody else to play with. We'd play ball and stuff before the shows started.
So we were just really, really close, and we stayed close. I used to open for him when he had out "Sweet Caroline." I went out on tour with him several times. I had "Stand By Your Man" and "In the Ghetto," different songs like that back during that time. We spent a lot of time in dressing rooms. I'm eating up all of his platter, he'd come into my dressing room and eat up all mine. We just laughed and talked.
He was really a comedian. He would keep you laughing better than some comedians, because he always found sense of humor in everything he went through. I think that's why, even though he was sick, he still continued to do what he loved most. And I think he wouldn't have it no other way, than to be singing himself right out of here.
I met him once, and he was so warm. He'd already been battling cancer, but was in great spirits.
Bobby never met a stranger. Everybody was his friend, and that was a great trait. He was such a good person from the inside. My sister and I used hang with him all the time because we liked to laugh. We'd go to church and we'd be laughing and they didn't know what was wrong with us. The older people would say, "Shh! Be quiet!' And that would make us even more tickled. We go way, way back and I am certainly going to miss him.
He was in a coma for a while, and when he came out of his coma, I think I was one of the first people he called, and he told me what was going on in his life. I said, “Oh Bobby, I'm praying for you. Are you okay?” He said, “Yeah, I'm outside right now. They thought I wasn't going to make it through, Candi.”
I said, "But you made it, didn't you?" And he said, "Yeah, I made it." I said, "You're going to keep making it, because you're strong." I would uplift him. I saw him for the last time last year. I think it was in January when I went to his show. He and Millie Jackson and I were in the dressing room together. He was sick then, just so sick.
I said, "Bobby, how long are you going to be out on this road sick like this?" He said, "I'm going to be out here until I can't go no more." I said, "OK, Bobby, but you know you've written enough songs and make enough money that if you wanted to, you could go home and lay down and retire." He said, "Yeah, go home, lay down, retire and die."
What was striking to me was through his ups and downs, he never seemed to take a break, never stopped making records.
His tenacity was over the top. He even made a gospel record. He tried to get it to some of the Christian record labels and they wouldn't take it — so Bobby put it on TV on his own! That’s the Bobby I know.
When he toured with his brothers, he toured playing gospel music. At some point, though, he decided to start playing secular music on his own. From what I understand that caused a rift with his father. Did you talk about that with him?
Yeah, we talked about that. It was so many different opinions, and he was being controlled and stuff. His brothers wanted to go one way and he wanted to go another way. The Bobby I know? Bobby said ‘Y’all got it, I’m out of here. I can make it on my own." And he did, and he made it big.
You recorded “Stop Before We Start” with him, as well.
That was in the 1970s. We did that with Don Davis in Detroit. Bobby was actually doing his record and I happened to be hanging out that day. Bobby and David Ruffin and I were very close. We used to just hang out in his Rolls Royce and we were all over L.A. He and David Ruffin and I would be everywhere. We'd be out all night. I don’t know why I just loved to hang with the guys, but I did.
Were you in the studio with Bobby often?
I was in the studio with him quite a few times. I’d come in if I was in the city – sometimes I’d be doing shows there and he’d say, “I’m in the studio tonight. Want to come over?” So I’d come over. [In Detroit] while I was there, the producer came up with a big, bright idea. “Candi, why don’t you go in the booth with him and answer him?” I said, “OK!” So I was in there with him, and they put it out. It was just always fun to be around Bobby. I sure miss him.
What are your favorite songs of his?
“Across 110th Street” — “trying to catch a woman that’s weak.” That’s one. I loved to hear him sing “Harry Hippie." And nobody can sing “Sweet Caroline” like that. Bobby was just the greatest. He had such a unique voice. Nobody can sing like that. Nobody can duplicate Bobby. One of a kind.
Candi Staton's new record, "Life Happens," was released May 13. Featuring collaborations with singer and songwriter Jason Isbell and John Paul White of the Civil Wars, the album was produced by Rick Hall, who produced her early '70s hit versions of "Stand By Your Man" and "In the Ghetto," among others.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit