Book Review: ‘Bobby Womack: My Story, 1944-2014’

BOBBY WOMACK_BOOK COVERThis past summer, the music world mourned the passing of gifted soul/R&B legend, Bobby Womack. This Cleveland-born Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, known for his chart-topping hits like “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” and “You’re Welcome, Stop on By,” achieved major notoriety and success in the industry as a songwriter, singer and guitarist. Through his talent as a musician, he worked with some of the biggest names in music including Elvis Presley, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles; however, those accolades and other accomplishments would forever be eclipsed by a single decision that haunted him personally and professionally for the rest of his life.

In Bobby Womack—My Story: 1944-2014, Womack, in a hip, avuncular fashion, details his humble upbringing in Ohio and how his music career was born in the 1950s via The Valentinos, a family group comprised of himself and his four brothers. The brothers’ path eventually led to Sam Cooke, who would become both a musical mentor and good friend to them, especially young Bobby.

Womack’s world crashed down around him though, when Cooke was killed in a California motel in 1964.  Things took an even worse turn when he suddenly married Cooke’s widow, Barbara, only three months after his death.

As expected, Womack spends a great deal of the book detailing the depths of him becoming an outcast in the music world as a result of his marriage to Cooke’s widow.  From violent threats to radio disc jockeys not playing his music, to his own family members distancing themselves from him, he faced ostracism on various levels.

While enduring this storm, he never gave up the pursuit of his career and eventually achieved success; however, the burden of being blackballed was never far from his thoughts. In addition to being shunned by an entire industry, he faced rough times in his personal life by losing two sons (one to suicide and another to prison); a divorce from Barbara (he admitted he never actually loved her); his brief, intimate affair with his stepdaughter, Linda (who later married his brother, Cecil); and the death of his brother, Harry.

Despite the tough times he endured, Womack’s memoir does contain some pretty amusing anecdotes that keep it from being too dark, including he and his brothers being whipped into shape by James Brown, his initial reaction to Sam Cooke when he told him about “A Change Is Gonna Come,” riding in vehicles being operated by Ray Charles, a famous hip-hop artist (whom he doesn’t name) requesting an R-rated remake of one of his songs and his tempestuous, yet productive working relationship with Mick Jagger.   

The book is the proverbial tale of “sex, drugs and rock & roll,” as Womack discusses his use of cocaine as a coping mechanism and his affairs with various women.

Womack’s tone remains cool throughout, but as the memoir winds down, there is a profound sense of sadness in his words, as it becomes obvious that despite his influence and talent, he knew he was destined to be even so much more.

Bobby Womack—My Story: 1944-2014 is available on Amazon.com.

—LaShawn Williams

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