He's a Soul Man
Although the outside of the DVD box doesn’t say it, this disc features Bobby Womack performing and being interviewed during his tour of Great Britain in 1991. By then Womack was a soul music legend more respected in England than the United States. There’s even one scene that features a young, male, British fan kissing Womack’s hand in deference as if Womack was the queen or a bishop, and repeatedly thanking Womack for his music. Still, the musician’s career as a star performer had faded. He’s playing the midsize London Town and Country Club rather than a big arena.
Womack possesses an earthy and sensual voice. He’s a lover, like Marvin Gaye, who understands both the spiritual side of sex and the carnal pleasures of sin. He performs with a kick-ass six-piece band and three back-up singers who provide him with top-notch funk accompaniment. Womack also tells stories and speaks openly about a number of different personal, social, and political topics. The result is a brilliant snapshot of the man as a human being, an artist, and an entertainer. Bobby Womack: Soul Seduction Supreme is essential viewing for anyone into contemporary soul music.
The disc does not provide any background information about the man. It presumes the audience knows his history, but although he’s still alive and recording in 2005, many people have forgotten Womack’s importance and talents. The soul man began his career during the ‘50s as a member of a gospel vocal group with his brothers. Sam Cooke thought they were so good that Cooke signed the band up on his record label and produced their early pop records (as The Valentinos). Cooke also employed Womack as his guitar player. After Cooke was killed, Womack married Cooke’s widow. Womack went on and wrote some tracks for the Wicked Wilson Pickett (“Midnight Mover”) played guitar on Sly Stone’s best records, (There’s a Riot Goin’ On with it’s big hit single “Family Affair”) and then had a successful solo career on the R&B charts as a country soul singer (“Harry Hippie”), an interpreter of pop standards (“Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out”), and as featured crooner with a jazz band (The Crusaders’ Wilton Felder). Womack also scored one of the first blaxploitation flicks, Across 110th Street. Famous artists as varied as The Rolling Stones (“It’s All Over Now”) and James Taylor (“Woman’s Got to Have It”) profitably covered his tunes with Top Ten results. During the eighties Womack’s aching ballad of temptation, “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much,” crossed over into the pop charts and his video for this song received much airplay on the tube.
Womack only performs nine songs on Bobby Womack: Soul Seduction Supreme, which include several of the aforementioned titles such as “Woman’s Gotta Have It”, “Harry Hippie” and “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much”, but he twists every ounce of excitement out of the material. He’s an electric entertainer, who energizes the crowd and turns the show into a party. Womack learned his craft the hard way. He tells the interviewer a story about growing up in the pre-Civil Rights Era. Womack’s father trained his boys to be singers as a way to succeed despite the barriers of racism. Womack remembers his father’s words, “There’s one thing they will always let you do, is to let you entertain them. That’s why I’m gonna make you be an entertainer. You ain’t got no choice. Anytime I come home, the song I taught you last night, you better know it today”. Womack stopped, eyed the camera, then continued, “He had a razor strap right there”. His father would severely beat Womack and his brothers when they did not perform up to his father’s standards.
Although Womack’s band is multiracial, the English audience is almost all white. He’s aware of the racial components of his crowds and opined to the interviewer. “I used to be between two houses. One house was the black audiences. They didn’t want to hear me play me play guitar. They wanted to hear me sing my records. I was with a black audience most of my career.” Womack mimicked a reporter, “Why don’t you play your guitar?” Then Womack answered himself, “If I do, the people think I’m really shucking. They just know me by my records. They don’t think I can really play.” Womack then added, “I go to the white side of town, they want to hear Bobby Womack play his guitar”. The filmmakers immediately launch into Womack plucking the opening measures of “It’s All Over Now” on his guitar like a butcher pulling the feathers off a chicken. He later plays the song Blues style, with a nod to John Lee Hooker, and strums and strings with a deep vibrato.
The showpiece here is the almost 10-minute celebration of redemption, “Love Has Finally Come at Last”. Womack duets with Alltrina Grayson as the two engage in a vocal tango that slowly builds in passion and resolution as surely as Ravel’s “Bolero”. Womack pleads his affections so sweetly, that the two eventually have to resort to cooing as mere words can’t capture the intensity of their feelings. The crowd eggs them on as it becomes a shared experience through the power of the vocals. The women in the audience become especially interactive, no doubt due to Womack’s sex appeal. The singers take things down a notch before they finish the song, aware that they have captured the full attention of those in attendance.
Recently, a slew of artists from the ‘60s have resuscitated their careers with new releases, including Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and Neil Diamond. Womack isn’t dead yet. Maybe he’ll come out with a new disc and blow our socks off. That would be cool. But in the meantime, this newly released DVD of Womack from the ‘90s will have to suffice.