I initially became familiar with Bobby Womack’s music during his early ’80s renaissance, when songs like “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” and “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much” were burning up urban radio. I was a little kid at the time, and those songs were definitively not kid-friendly, so I don’t know if I appreciated them very much then. His husky voice and confessional lyrics, indicative of an earlier, some would say more authentic, grain of soul, sounded at the time like “old peoples’ music” to my prepubescent ears.

Many years later, I discovered and began to appreciate Bobby’s classic run of early ’70s hits, from “Across 110th Street” (from the blaxploitation flick of the same name and later resurrected in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown) to “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down & Out,” “I’m In Love” and “That’s The Way I Feel About ‘Cha.” I also grew to respect his ’80s work (even if I didn’t think it held a candle to his vastly superior set of albums from the beginning of the previous decade.) His legacy loomed strong, as I discovered many of these songs initially through covers by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Kelly Rowland, Mary J. Blige and Gerald LeVert. Upon discovering and appreciating the original versions, I got to know more about Womack’s “story”-his apprenticeship under the legendary Sam Cooke, his underrated guitar skills, his real-talk songwriting style, his struggles with addiction that lasted through the Seventies and much of the ’80s. As the title of one of his hits compilations lays plain, Bobby was certainly a Soul Survivor.

His voice is silenced, he succumbed yesterday to unknown causes (although he suffered from a variety of ailments) but he leaves behind a rich catalog of music, and R&B fans can still hear his voice when they listen to Calvin Richardson, Anthony Hamilton, K-Ci Hailey, Sisqo, Jaheim and many others. R&B music hasn’t been the best at preserving its own history, particularly recently, but Bobby Womack’s name is one that should be remembered and appreciated for generations to come.

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