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Goodnight Bobby…and musings on musical deaths

Three mornings this week the boy has been minding his own business in the kitchen only to be disturbed by hollered snippets of misery from the floor above.

Thanks to my habit of checking Twitter before I even contemplate getting up, I’ve become a bit of a bed-bound bearer of bad news.

It goes a little something like this:

 Me: “Oh NOOOO….”.

Boy: (Immediately thinks some catastrophe has befallen me, in a panic-stricken voice) “WHAT?”

Me: “You’ll never guess who died?”

Boy: “WHO?”

This week, the tragic punch lines have been Horace Silver, Gerry Goffin and, today, Bobby Womack; each one a musical hero to one or both of us.

It always strikes me that celebrity deaths tend to happen in bursts. How many people remember that the day Jacko died was the same day NME writer Steven Wells and Farrah Fawcett shuffled off this mortal coil? That was during Glastonbury five years ago.

Last night, I watched Arcade Fire dazzle during their Friday night set at Worthy Farm, went to sleep and woke up to the news that one of my favourite soul singers has passed away. I might just boycott watching Glasto on the telly because it never ends well.

With every death of a musician whose work has touched my life in some way, I can’t help but wonder whose name will be I be hollering down the stairs in doleful tones next?

I guess it’s a game of odds. The wider ranging and more eclectic your musical tastes, the more genres and eras they encompass, the more you open yourself up to being saddened by the death of somebody who matters to you in some small way.

As the boy sensibly pointed out, if your only musical hero is Justin Bieber, then you’re probably going to be pretty shielded from having to process any tragic hero-related news for a while (more’s the pity. DISCLAIMER: My words not his)

But Bobby. Ah, Bobby…

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My obsessive musical phases are legendary for their intensity. They tend to burn brightly then settle into the background while I move on to discovering something else. There’s something in my nature that doesn’t allow me to just casually dip into back catalogues, I have to devour it all, and then move on.

Bobby Womack was one of the rare artists that never faded away for me, and I listened to something by him at least once a week.

He had been recording since the 1950s as the Valentinos with his brothers, later going solo as a singer songwriter. Beyond his own work there was so much more; playing with Aretha, Ray Charles, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, writing for the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin. Over seven decades he was a giant of soul music.

The song that turned me on to him was “Across 110th Street” , a blaxploitation anthem that featured on the soundtrack to Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. I will never tire of hearing it. It’s best summed up by somebody more eloquent than me:

 “A friend once said that you ought to walk like you’ve got someplace you’ve gotta be. Across 110th Street is the song for that occasion.” – Kwame Opam

But there was so much more to his work.

I defy anybody who has been in love with somebody reluctant to make the leap to listen to “That’s the way I feel about cha” and not FEEL his pain. Another track that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up is “Harry Hippie”, originally a humorous comment on his brother Harry’s carefree lifestyle, it became a tribute when he was killed by a jealous girlfriend. The way he delivers the second line of this verse is enough to induce tears, every single time I hear it.

Mary Hippie, she’s Harry’s lady
Panhandles pennies just to feed Harry’s baby
She can lie down a story so incredible
Man, you wanna help her take the food
Home and put it on the table

Controversially, I also think his version of “I left my heart in San Francisco” is the best. It’s simply joyous. His comeback in recent years was a creative masterstroke, and I loved his work with Gorillaz, and his ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’ album. I was excited about what was to come next.

At 70, he had battled drug addiction and cancer, so it wasn’t the most unexpected of deaths. But soul music is a poorer place without him.

Rest in peace Bobby. Stay cool…

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5 thoughts on “Goodnight Bobby…and musings on musical deaths Leave a comment

  1. Sterling heartfelt words my fav lil wordsmith, off to dig out some Wicked n Aretha cuts. Another link to the founding soul father Mr Cooke has gone

  2. Lovely piece Sara. He was one of my heroes, and my family’s too. Not only for his writing, music and collaboration, but also his bravery. He was diagnosed with Alzheimers over two years ago and yet, still recorded and performed with the help of some very talented and loving friends (most notably Damon Albarn). His last performance was just a month ago at Coachella and if that is’nt a great man flipping the bird at a revolting condition such as dementia, then what is? As a fan and a woman who watches a loved one disappear through Alzheimers, I love his genius and his bravery in equal measure. x

    • Thank you my lovely. I wasn’t too aware of the Alzheimer’s thing until he passed, which makes everything he did after the diagnosis even more impressive. So very brave, you’re right. He’ll be missed. I’ll be playing ‘Harry Hippie’ a lot tonight. Oh, and thanks for commenting. It’s a new blog so it means a lot to know you are reading and took the time to comment. x

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