The exciting, eventful and not always edifying life of Bobby Womack has ended at 70, putting an end to the singer’s battles with cancer and Alzheimer’s. Womack was, of course, one of the great soul voices and writers in soul music. He was a wonderful interpreter of covers (his cover of “Come Fly With Me” is quite impressive) and the originator of influential music, starting with the original of the Rolling Stones’ hit “It’s All Over Now”.
Less known was his work as a session musician, a consequence of the ostracism that followed his marriage to the widow of his mentor and close friend Sam Cooke, just three months after Cooke’s killing. Womack always maintained that he did so to protect Cooke’s widow; Cooke’s family and friends in the industry saw it as an opportunistic betrayal (the marriage failed when he had an affair with his step-daughter Linda, who would go on to marry Bobby’s brother Cecil, with whom she had a career as Womack & Womack).
As a session guitarist, Bobby played with the likes of Wilson Pickett (including “I’m In Love” and “I’m A Midnight Mover”, which Womack also wrote), Aretha Franklin (including “Chain Of Fools”), Dusty Springfield (including “Son Of The Preacher Man”), Elvis Presley (apparently also on “Suspicious Minds”), The Box Tops (on “The Letter”), Rita Coolidge, Ron Wood, Johnny Nash and others. And the wah-wah guitars on Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On album, including those on “Family Affair”, was all Womack’s work. He also co-wrote “Breezin’” with Gabor Szabo, later a hit for George Benson.
One of the great hitmakers of the 1970s has left the Brill Building (well, 1650 Broadway, really). Gerry Goffin penned many timeless classics with his then-wife Carole King, from “The Loco-Motion”, “Take Good Care Of My Baby”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, “One Fine Day”, “Up On The Roof” to “I’m Into Something Good”, “That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)”, “Smackwater Jack” and “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”.
Particularly noteworthy was his ability to write lyrics from a female point of view. The words of “Natural Woman” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” — but also of the controversial “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”, a song intended as a protest against spousal abuse and the justification some women use to defend their abusive partners, but quickly and lazily misinterpreted as some form of endorsement.
Carole King, Paul Simon and Gerry Goffin in 1957.
Later Goffin co-wrote with different partners, scoring hits with Diana Ross’ “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”, “Saving All My Love For You” (originally for Marilyn McCoo) and “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You (originally for George Benson).
Included here are three original versions of later hits, including “That Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Hi) by The City, a short-lived band comprising Goffin’s ex-wife King, her future husband Charles Larkey and Danny Kortchmar.
Casey Kasem has dropped out of the Top 40. Kasem’s Top 40 radio countdown helped change pop music, not only in the US but around the world. He was known internationally — and not only as the voice of Shaggy on Scooby-Doo — so his death was noted by many outside the United States.
What was rarely noted in the US was Kasem’s background: one of the union’s most beloved celebrity was an Arab, in a country which tends to take a caricatured view of Arabs. Kasem, who was born in Detroit of Lebanese background as Kemal Amen Kasem, said in 1991 that warped stereotypes in the US had “demonised and dehumanised Arabs. We think of them, to quote an Israeli general, as ‘cockroaches to be kept in bottles’. That’s not the kind of mind-set that is healthy for the world.” Indeed.
Horace Silver on the piano.
Steely Dan didn’t forget his number: Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” gave the Dan the bass riff for “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and the melody’s influence can be heard on their song “FM”. The horn riff might also have inspired Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout A Thing”. Born of a father from Cape-Verde and an Irish-African mother, Silver was a headliner in his own right, but before that collaborated with jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Nat Adderley, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, Donald Byrd, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Burrell, Lou Donaldson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sonny Rollins and Lester Young.
TV viewers will know Jimmy Scott from his performance of “Sycamore Tree” on Twin Peaks, but he had an unusual career before that. Scott had Kallmann’s syndrome, a very rare genetic condition which prevents normal growth. It means that Scott never went through puberty, and so retained his contralto voice. In the late 1940s he began recording with Lionel Hampton and later with Charlie Parker. He had hits with both, but neither have him a vocalist credit (Parker actually credited another singer!).
In the 1960s what looked like a break, thanks to Ray Charles, fell through because the repulsive record executive Hermann Lubinsky, founder of Savoy Records, insisted that Scott had a life-time contract with him and had Scott’s well-received LP pilled from the record shelves. His career thoroughly screwed up by Lubinsky, Scott returned to Cleveland and worked as hospital orderly, shipping clerk and elevator operator.
He was rediscovered in 1991 when he sang at the funeral of the great songwriter Doc Pomus in 1991. Seymour Stein, founder of Sire Records, signed Scott to record the Grammy-nominated All The Way (1992), which was followed by a series of well-received albums. Lou Reed also roped him in to sing backing vocals, and in 1993 he sang at President Bill Clinton’s inaugurations, singing the same song he performed at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration almost exactly 40 years earlier, “Why Was I Born?”.
Sourh African band Mango Groove was one of the country’s first racially integrated hit groups in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Their sound was a fine fusion of township jazz and pop.
If pop music was fair, Mango Groove’s 1989 song “Special Star” would have been a worldwide hit. In the event it has become a South African classic, not least because of the pennywhistle solos by Kelley Petlane, which served as a tribute to the greatest pennywhistler of all, Spokes Mashiane. Petlane is now gone as well, at the age of 64, of kidney failure.
Unless you follow the work of session musicians in country with some care, you likely don’t know Weldon Myrick, a steel guitar player. But you probably have heard him play on such songs as Connie Smith’s “Once A Day”, Jerry Jeff Walker’s original of “Mr. Bojangles”, Donna Fargo’s “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.,” Delbert McClinton’s “Victim of Life’s Circumstances”, Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time”, Bill Anderson’s “Bright Lights and Country Music”, Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee”, George Strait’s “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together” or Ronnie Milsap’s “Houston Solution”. From 1966 to 1998 he was also a member of the Grand Ole Opry’s staff band, and was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame.
Don Davis had a respectable career as a banker, setting up the first African-American band in Michigan. But his real jam was soul music. As a young guitarist he played on Motown tracks such as Barret Strong’s “Money” and Mary Wells’ “Bye Bye Baby”. He then moved to Stax and struck up a long relationship with Johnnie Taylor, writing and producing his 1968 hit “Who’s Making Love”, on which he also played guitar, with Steve Cropper. Eight years he wrote and produced Taylor’s global hit “Disco Lady”, and a year later produced Davis produced Billy Davis Jr. & Marilyn McCoo’s mega hit “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)”. He owned the United Sound studio in Detroit and a record company, Tortoise International.
Few producers have attracted as much ire as Alan Douglas, but that’s what you get when you mess with Jimi Hendrix tracks. In the 1980s and ‘90s, Douglas, as curator of the Hendrix catalogue, remastered the posthumous Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning albums. In doing so, he replaced the original drum and bass tracks, added guitar overdubs and, one track, female backing singers. Fir his troubles he claimed co-composer credit on some songs. Before all that, in the 1960s, Douglas was a respected jazz producer for the likes of Art Blakey, The Jazz Messengers, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Herbie Mann, Ken McIntyre, Betty Carter and Vi Red, and later for proto rap outfit The Last Poets and Bo Diddley.
Victor Agnello, 50, drummer of thrash metal band Lääz Rockit, on June 1
Weldon Myrick, 76, steel guitar player, on June 2
Connie Smith – Once A Day (1964)
Jerry Jeff Walker – Mr Bojangles (1968)
James Alan Shelton, 53, bluegrass guitarist, on June 3
Ralph Pruitt, 74, singer with soul band The Fantastic Four, on June 3
The Fantastic Four – The Whole World Is A Stage (1967)
Virginia Luque, 86, Argentine tango singer and actress, on June 3
Doc Neeson, 67, lead singer of Australian hard-rock band The Angels, on June 4
The Angels – Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? (rock version, 1976)
Don Davis, 75, soul musician, songwriter and producer, on June 5
Johnnie Taylor – Who’s Making Love (1968, as writer, guitarist and producer)
JayAre, 25, rapper with Cali Swag District, on June 6
Alan Douglas, 81, producer and sound engineer, on June 7
Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach – Money Jungle (1963, as producer)
Bambi Fossati, 65, singer and guitarist of Italian bands Gleemen and Garybaldi, on June 7
Jesus Perales, 78, Chicano rock guitarist, on June 8
Mando & The Chili Peppers – Baby I Can’t Believe (1958)
Rik Mayall, 56, English comedian with a #1 hit, on June 9
Cliff Richard & The Young Ones – Living Doll (1986)
Molefe ‘Kelley’ Petlane, 64, pennywhistler with South African pop group Mango Groove, on June 9
Mango Groove – Special Star (1989)
Ruby Dee, 91, actress, civil rights activist, spoken record Grammy winner, on June 11
Jimmy Scott, 88, jazz singer, on June 12
Little Jimmy Scott – Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool (1950)
Jimmy Scott – Sycamore Trees (from Twin Peaks) (1992)
Jim Keays, 67, singer of Australian rock band The Masters Apprentices, on June 13
The Masters Apprentices – Undecided (1967)
Horace Silver, 85, jazz pianist, on June 18
Horace Silver – Song For My Father (1965)
Horace Silver – Liberated Brother (1973)
Muskan, 38, Pakistani singer, murdered on June 18
Johnny Mann, 85, American composer, arranger and singer, on June 18
Johnny Mann Singers – Up Up And Away (1967)
Don Light, 77, Gospel musician and record executive, on June 18
Gerry Goffin, 75, songwriter of many hits, on June 19
Steve Lawrence – Go Away Little Girl (1962, as lyricist)
The City – That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho) (1968, as lyricist)
George Benson – Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You (1985, as lyricist)
Jimmy C. Newman, 86, country singer, on June 21
Jimmy C. Newman – A Fallen Star (1957)
Teenie Hodges, 68, session guitarist at Hi Records and songwriter (“Take Me To The River”), on June 22
Al Green – Love And Happiness (1972, as co-writer)
Denise LaSalle - There Ain’t Enough Hate Around (1973, on rhythm guitar)
Cat Power – The Greatest (2006, on rhythm guitar)
Clifton Dunn, baritone of doo wop group The Dreamlovers, on June 22
The Dreamlovers – When We Get Married (1961)
John Mast, 81, jazz and classical pianist, on May 22
Lee McBee, 63, American blues musician, on June 24
Lee McBee – It’s Your Voodoo Working (2002)
Patrik Karlsson, 53, bassist of Swedish pop band Sven-Ingvars, on June 25
Bobby Womack, 70, soul singer, guitarist, songwriter, producer and arranger, on June 27
The Valentinos – It’s All Over Now (1964)
Wilson Pickett – I’m A Midnight Mover (1968)
Bobby Womack – I’m In Love (1969)
Gabor Szabo & Bobby Womack – Breezin’ (1971, also as co-composer)
Sly & the Family Stone – Poet (1971, on guitar)
Bobby Womack – If You Think You’re Lonely Now (1981)
(PW in comments)
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