The Secrets of Bobby Womack

Now that the last “soul man” has been honored by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he can finally put his demons behind him.

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Despite the drama, Womack began a solo career of some distinction, initially establishing himself as a solid session musician (he played guitar on Aretha Franklin’s classic I Have Never Loved a Man) and an in-demand songwriter, whose credits include tunes recorded by Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and George Benson. After releasing a string of singles, beginning with “I Found a True Love” in 1965 for the legendary Chess label, Womack released his first solo album in 1968 with Fly Me to the Moon on the Minit label. It would still be a few years before Womack would hit his artistic stride, recording a sequence of stellar recordings for the United Artist label in the early 1970s that included signature tracks such as “I Can Understand It,” “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha,” “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” “Across 110th Street” (from the movie soundtrack of the same name) and “Lookin’ for a Love,” a song Womack originally recorded with his brothers in 1962.

Though Womack’s music was well-regarded by black audiences and received the support of black radio, he never made the crossover inroads that his friend and mentor Sam Cooke did.

But, Womack kept recording and made a bit of a comeback in the early 1980s recording for the independent label Beverly Glen. On The Poet, Womack recorded what is perhaps his most recognizable tune, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.”

It was during the midst of this resurgence that Womack finally responded musically to the drama that initially unfolded in the months after his mentor’s demise. “I Wish You Wouldn’t Trust Me So” rather casually tells the story of a man who has fallen in love with his best friend’s wife. By the time the song was released in the summer of 1985, most listeners didn’t know about the singer’s relationship with Cooke’s widow, who Womack had divorced a decade earlier.

To complicate matters, Womack’s brother Cecil married Linda Cooke, the daughter of Sam and Barbara Cooke. During the time that Bobby Womack recorded “I Wish I Wouldn’t Trust You So Much,” Curtis and Linda Womack were popular songwriters and artists in their own right recording as “Womack & Womack;” the duo, for example, penned Teddy Pendergrass’s hit “Love T.K.O.”

In the end, it’s all about how great the music was, and more than anything, this is what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame recognizes with their induction of Bobby Womack.

Mark Anthony Neal is professor of African & African-American Studies at Duke University. The author of several books, he is currently completing Looking for Leroy: (Il)Legible Black Masculinities for New York University Press.

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