Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Boss Tracks, It's All Over Now, Bobby Womack and the Valentinos

The last leg of the Magic tour suddenly saw Springsteen going back to his bar band roots. Classic covers were flying all over the place, including some new ones. "It's All Over Now" was one of those debuts with Soozie taking lead vocal. Springsteen arguably first heard this one in the version by the Stones. The Valentinos version, however, is the original take and the more interesting to look at. In many ways "It's All Over Now," written by the great Bobby Womack, reflects an important shift in popular music and culture. The song is right on the edge of a movement toward black independence, the shift from Gospel to Soul and the turning point of what would become known as the British Invasion.

The shift starts with the career of Womack's mentor, Sam Cooke. As a Pop and Soul singer Sam is often recognized as one of those key figures in the development of Soul music. Sam had started his career as a recording Gospel artist, but soon took the leap to secular music. As a Gospel artist singing with the Soul Stirrers, Sam had been extremely popular. The label Sam had been signed to, Art Rupe's Specialty, didn't think a transition to secular music could ever work. Rupe felt it would destroy Sam's career if he started singing, what his core audience perceived as, the devil's music. Specialty let Sam go of his contract. A decision he soon learned to regret as Sam started scoring monster hits for first Keen records and later RCA. Sam's Gospel like approach to his big hits is part of what later became Soul music. Together with Ray Charles, Cooke would lay the foundation.

Like Charles, Sam was fiercely independent. Even though Sam had big ambitions in the Pop circuit, dreaming of playing the Copa like Sinatra, he never abandoned his roots. Sam openly associated with 'radical' black figures like Mohamed Ali and Malcolm X. Both figures reflected strong independent black thought and business. Ali's refusal to serve in Vietnam made him a highly controversial figure at the time, Malcom's "by any means necessary," even more so. Sam's firm believe in black independence prompted him to firm his own record company, SAR records, which would eventually release the 45 we're looking at today. Though SAR never became as big and successful as Motown, initiatives like these did reflect a shift in the civil rights struggle. Increasingly prominent black figures and entrepreneurs were striving independence and equality. For Sam however SAR reflected something more, he wanted to put his roots back on the map. SAR started out in 1959 recording Gospel records, even putting new Soul Stirrers sides on wax. When Specialty had dropped them and their new lead, Johnny Taylor, Sam saw an opportunity.

One of the acts SAR would soon sign were the Womack Brothers, featuring the young Bobby. Sam had first met Bobby in 1951, when the Womack Brothers were opening for the Soul Stirrers. Bobby was eight years old at the time. Taken by them, Sam gave them money to buy uniforms so they wouldn't have to go out and steal them. Bobby and his brothers had started doing Gospel imitating their father's group the Voices of Love, hoping their mother would bake them a cake as she did for his father's group. Bobby later recollected his mother would say "you can have what ever's left. But these guys left nothing but the crumbs. Now we were from a very poor neighborhood (I mean cake was something special), and I said, Those guys don't sing that good and they eat everything! So that's how we started mocking them." So it was cake that led to the first Womack Brother's SAR session in 1961 for the Gospel and Pop classic "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray," on which Bobby first took lead.

Sam was impressed by the young Bobby's voice, he felt he sang with authority. Cooke decided to re-cut the Gospel with the Womack Brothers as the Valentinos, re-writing the lyrics the #8 R&B smash "Looking for a Love" was born. Bobby would later recount his ambivalence toward the whole endeavor, feeling like he just made a mockery of God, telling Peter Gulranick, "He knew we were tripping because it was God's song, but he was laughing, cause he had been through it all before." Bobby remembers Sam fondly as a mentor, as the man who taught him everything he needed to know about singing, especially stressing diction, and writing, telling him "people will buy the news if it is sung with a melody." Sam's coaching eventually would lead Womack to write "It's All Over Now." Released in the spring of 1964, the record caught on fast, but the times were changing fast.

"I's All Over Now" was picked up by the Rolling Stones, who cut it in Chicago's Chess studios. By July 1964 they had their version out on the market, taking the winds out of Bobby's sails. Bobby was furious, feeling nobody could sing his song the way he did. He didn't feel the Stones' version was all that good. But Sam saw it differently. "This will be history" he'd tell Bobby, "This group will take the industry, They ain't like the Beatles, they are ghetto kids, they will make it loose for everybody." Sam strongly felt that singers like the Stones and Dylan were changing the way people were listening to music, "these writers start singing their own material. They might not sound as good, but people believe them more," he'd tell Bobby.

Sam wanted to be part of that future. When Dylan came out with his "Blowin' in the Wind" he felt the Jewish bard had written a song that should have been written by a black man. Dylan inspired Sam to write his immortal civil rights anthem "Change is Gonna Come." Unfortunately, we can only speculate on how Sam's career would have developed further as he was shot in 1964, even before the song saw release as a single. To large controversy in the Black community, Bobby would soon marry Sam's wife, even turning up in Sam's clothes on Cooke's funeral. This momentarily stalled his career. It wouldn't be until 1968 before Womack would hit big again with the Soul stomper "What is This." From there on Womack's career would take many twists and turns, but he's always prove to be a Soul survivor. By the mid eighties, Womack's Poets Trilogy was a testimony of his Gospel Soul roots in a time when many artists had shifted to a bland middle of the road formula. Bobby also featured on the Rolling Stones' "Dirty Work" around that time, one of those Stones albums best forgotten.

"It's All Over Now" by Bobby Womack & the Valentinos

Available onThe SAR Records Story

It's All Over Now, Springsteen, Milwaukee 2008

MP3 File

Sources and further reading:
Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke
by Peter Gulranick
Sam Cooke's Sar Records Story, liner notes by Peter Gulranick
Midnight Mover
by Bobby Womack

1 comment:

oo_nrb said...

Just wanted to point out, It's All Over Now from the Magic tour is from the show in Kansas City, not Milwaukee. A very interesting (and well-written) read!