Classics: Bobby Womack – Across 110th Street (United Artists)
“Across 110th Street, pimps trying to catch a woman that’s weak, across 110th Street, pushers won’t let the junkie go free. Across 110th Street, woman trying to catch a trick on the street, across 110th Street, you can find it all in the street…”
As many words tellin’ a lot about as to how life happened to be back in the day – 1973 – in the streets of the Big Apple. But also more widely the relations between the various ethnic groups and social classes in America. With the whole given further developments in the Barry Shear directed film of the likes, starring Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, and Anthony Franciosa. Meanwhile standing among Bobby Womack‘s biggest classics and eventually resurfacing 24 years after in the Quentin Tarantino‘s 1997 ‘Jackie Brown’ OST.
Remembered for his gruff baritone voice and his guitar playing, Bobby Womack stands as one of the key figures in the history of Soul Music…
A native of Cleveland, OH, Bobby grew up in a poor environment. By the mid-1950s, 10 years old Bobby was touring with his brothers on the Midwest Gospel circuit as The Womack Brothers. Eventually releasing a single – ‘Buffalo Bill’ – as Cecil Womack & The Womack Brothers back in 1954.
It’s during that time that Sam Cooke first saw them performing. Eventually signing them on his newly formed SAR Records label in 1961. But also changing their name to The Valentinos. Meanwhile convincing them to transition from Gospel to secular music. Then producing their first hit single, ‘Lookin’ For A Love’. Itself being nothing but a so to say Pop version of ‘Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray’ which they’d recorded ealier.
‘Lookin’ For A Love’ became a hit. Helping the group to become the opening act for James Brown‘s tour at the time. Their next big hit, ‘It’s All Over Now’, comin’ up in 1964. With The Rolling Stones covering it soon after.
Apart from his activities with the band, Bobby Womack broadened his experience while working as a freelance guitarist. Beginning with Sam Cooke, but also Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone and Janis Joplin among others. Alas, came the tragic killing of Sam Cooke in a Los Angeles motel. The latter getting the brothers disbanding and the label folding. Thus bringing Bobby to record and tour with Ray Charles between 1965 and 1968.
His contribution is quite impressive. From the writing of ‘Breezin’ along with Gábor Szabó which George Benson eventually came to cover back in 1976. To the one of ‘I’m A Midnight Lover’ for Wilson Pickett. Not to mention his vocal performance on Wilton Felder‘s ‘Inherit The Wind’, to just name but a very few…
Womack scored his first big hit in the early 70’s with ‘That’s The Way I Feel About Cha’. This as as a part of his ‘Communication’ album which opened his account on United Artists Records back in 1971. Its follow up – ‘Understanding’ – the year after featuring ‘I Can Understand’. A cut which New Birth made noise with when givin’ it a James Brownesque version soon after. Meanwhile ‘Harry Hippie’, from the same album, became his first gold disc.
Bobby Womack definitely reached one of his peaks the year after. This with the release of the ‘Across 110th Street’ OST which he composed, and its seminal title track. The latter reappearing 24 years after as a part of the ‘Jackie Brown’ OST. Meanwhile scoring his biggest success in 1974 with his re-recording of The Valentinos‘ ‘Lookin’ For A Love’.
Something most definitely got broken after the passing of Bobby‘s brother, Harry, on March 09, 1974 though. With this tragic reality havin’ unbdeniable consequences on his career, if not existence from then.
Womack eventually resurfaced in 1979. This while delivering one of his most vibrant vocal performances ever on Wilton Felder‘s ‘Inherit The Wind’. A cut which BBC Radio 1 heavily championed at the time.
Signing with Beverly Glen Records added to his return under the spotlights. This with the release of his ‘The Poet’ album. An effort which spanned the classic ‘If You Think You’re Lonely Now’ which got him to #3 position on the R&B charts Stateside. And he also charted along with Patti Labelle on ‘Love Has Finally Come at Last’.
The mid-80’s saw Bobby starting to really struggle with his drug addiction. And, as a result, his activities became more sporadic. His cocaine use turned into an addiction by the late 70’s, he admitted in his memoirs. He survived a prostate cancer then a colon cancer after surgery back in 2012. But he also developed diabetes in his later years.
On Jan. 01, 2013, he admitted that he struggled to remember his songs and other people’s names. Eventually being diagnosed soon after with early stages of the Alzheimer’s disease. He sadly died at his home in Tarzana, CA on June 27, 2014, aged 70.