Bobby Womack, the singer/songwriter/guitarist who died June 27 at the age of 70, was one of R&B's greatest musicians, and one of its most confounding. His 50-year career was marked by one wrong turn after another, party due to his habit of making genuinely catastrophic personal decisions; yet it always righted itself over time. Womack was a singular talent who very often subordinated his own vision to other artists', or relied on other voices to offer contrast to his own.
Bobby and his brothers - Cecil, Harry, Curtis and Friendly Jr. - started recording in the early '60s as the Womack Brothers, cutting gospel singles for Sam Cooke's label SAR Records. It apparently was Cooke who suggested they follow him in the transition to pop music. In those days, though, turning one's back on the gospel world could mean commercial poison, so the Womack Brothers hedged their bets: They changed their name to the Valentinos, but their first single under the new name, "Lookin' for a Love," was a rewrite of Bobby's best gospel song, "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray."
By the middle of 1964, Womack was already making a name for himself as a songwriter. Almost as soon as the Valentinos released his "It's All Over Now," the Rolling Stones swooped in and covered it, scoring their first British No. 1 single and beginning their intermittent but long relationship with Womack. In December of that year, though, Cooke was killed, and the Valentinos' career was derailed. Womack made a point of his deep debt to Cooke ever after, but the grieving process went weirdly: Three months after Cooke's death, Womack married his widow, Barbara. (The marriage lasted until 1970, when Barbara caught Womack in bed with her daughter Linda Cooke. Linda subsequently married Cecil Womack, with whom she wrote and recorded hits as Womack & Womack.)