Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mis-remembering Bobby Womack

It's good that BBC TV News acknowledge the deaths of artists like Bobby Womack but I'm increasingly irritated by the way they feel they have to misrepresent history in order to justify doing it.

He had hits with "It's All Over Now" and "Across 110th Street", they said. Well, of course, it's the Rolling Stones who had the hit with the first song and when "Across 110th Street" came out in 1972 it got to number 19 in the black singles chart in the USA, which even in those days was hardly a smash. It was only in 1997 when Quentin Tarantino put it on the soundtrack of Jackie Brown that it came to wider attention, or at least to the attention of those people who end up putting together news bulletins in 2014.

The bulletin went on to say that he'd played Glastonbury a while back in front of an audience including everyone from small children to grandparents. The implication was that Bobby had drawn all those people there, which I don't think he would have claimed. Then there was a brief interview with an old bloke in this year's crowd who remembered seeing him and said he liked him because he was, well, old.

I suppose people like Womack are a problem for the news machine. Not obscure enough to be regarded as underrated (indeed he was always being talked up by people like Keith Richards) and not famous enough to able to depend on the people at home having actually heard of him.


  1. Pop history is invariably written by those who weren't around at the time. Pound to a penny the obit writers upon hearing the news googled Womack & Womack first.

  2. I suspect to the mainstream media/casual reader or listener Womack was probably most famous by association with the Rolling Stones rather than in his own right. Something similar (in the 'misrepresentation' shorthand stakes) happened a year or so back when Toyah and Robert Fripp appeared, however implausibly, on 'Celebrity Mr & Mrs'. Toyah was the 'celebrity' while Fripp was introduced as 'a session guitarist who has worked with David Bowie'. Truly pathetic, isn't it, when the real 'scoop' of the thing was getting Robert Fripp of the never-mentioned King Crimson to do Light Entertainment? But then Robert was probably enjoying that very aspect of it.

    The not cult enough/not famous enough point is a good one. I recall offering a Horslips feature to a national magazine in the 90s to be turned down with that very reason! And it was a fair enough reason.

  3. Bobby Womack's credits don't just include writing the Stones first hit and "110th Street". He also was an accomplished session guitarist who played on albums by many soul artists, including Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Sly & The Family Stone while those acts where in their hitmaking prime. He composed hit songs for Wilson Pickett, Jackie Deshannon and George Benson. He composed the soul standard "Trust Me" for Janis Joplin.

    His lack of number one hits on the Top 40 is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is that he was a soul artist & that his prime years were during the "album era" when the charts were dominated by saccharine pop acts.

    Saying a person isn't famous because you hadn't heard of him is only an admission of one thing and I will leave it to you to figure out.

  4. I do however agree with your sentiment on the vapid was the media deals with these matters.

  5. Back in about 1991, when I was 15, I did some work experience in an independent record shop. Every morning, the shop's owner would play a CD of his favourite music. On day one, he put a CD on and asked me to guess the artist. "That sounds like Bobby Womack", I said. "Well done!" I'm probably of a generation that shouldn't have heard of him – but had. People get put in boxes depending on when they were born and the music they are most likely to have been exposed to growing up. Any musician's obituary should therefore be written by someone who was a fan at age 15 or 16. At least that way, even if the appraisal is overly positive; the artist actually meant something to the writer on a personal level.

  6. I suppose that most death news reports are written by people who don't remember, or know a whole lot, about the individual who died. This is exacerbated by twenty-four-hour-rolling-news, which demands that something get written/scripted and slung out on the wires as fast as possible. Had the BBC asked a BBC4 regular to come up with something more considered, the result might have been better, but already there are more stories coming in, Womack is old news, done that, move on!
    I was more frustrated the following day to read in The Times obituary (which should have been a considered, pre-prepared, fact-checked piece) that Womack wrote the Rolling Stones' first hit, which would have been news to Chuck Berry, Lennon/McCartney and Buddy Holly.
    But - per your piece about A Hard Day's Night - the further people recede into history, the more we simplify their story. The Beatles' own story now reads, I think:
    - Love Me Do released, sounds as a thunderclap around the world, changes everything. Lots more records released.
    - Sgt Pepper released. Great cover, best album ever.
    - Abbey Road released. Great cover. They split up, acrimoniously.
    Of course, this is the disinterested public view, not the more nuanced/detailed/obsessive view that readers of this blog might share! The further back we go, the broader the brush strokes, or the greater the omissions.
    Elvis: invented rock'n'roll, got fat in Las Vegas, died.
    Louis Armstrong: sang "What a Wonderful World"
    Al Jolson: said "You ain't heard nothin' yet."
    Wagner: Nazi.
    Beethoven: deaf
    Mozart: brattish
    And so on. Still, if you're remembered at all, I guess you're doing well...

  7. Front of Store: one word summations to a world weary & attention deficient readership is probably the way forward. Terry Collier was a dab hand at it. This from Whatever Happened to the LIkely Lads - Bob goes round the globe with Terry over a drink: Americans - flash. Italians - greasy. Orientals - brutal. Spanish - lazy. And most rock and roll obits are just that. Lazy.