Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jimmy McGriff - Soul Song of Christmas (Silent Nite) (Jell 503)

Soul Song of Christmas

In 1959, a Newark Jukebox and 'Coin Op' named Joe Lederman started up his own label to try and plug in to the hoppin' local R&B market. Apparently originally named 'Jolt', the name was changed to 'Jell' after he discovered there was a west coast outfit with the same name. After a few releases that didn't do much, he hooked up with Philadelphia B-3 wizard Jimmy McGriff and cut a smokin' two-sided version of Ray Charles' I've Got A Woman in late 1961. Whenever WNJR played it, the phones lit up, and it wasn't long before another Newark record man, the infamous Juggy Murray, sat up and took notice.

Releasing it on his Sue label in the fall of 1962, the record took off and spent 11 weeks on the Billboard charts, climbing all the way to #5 R&B, and #20 on the Hot 100. The subsequent album of the same name Murray cut on Jimmy would produce follow-up hit All About My Girl, which narrowly missed the R&B top ten in early 1963. Jimmy was on a roll, and that December Sue issued the now legendary LP Christmas with McGriff, along with a 45 of the title track.

Within a year, however, a series of bad business decisions had essentially put Sue out of business, and McGriff was back recording with Joe Lederman. Attempting, no doubt, to capitalize on the success of the earlier Sue LP, Jell released Christmastime for the Holidays in 1964. This laid back take on Silent Night we have here was released as a single from the album, and is interesting because, except for that one flourish from the organ early on, it apparently features our man McGriff on the piano! Sleep in Heavenly Peace, my brother!

Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at The B Side Ranch... Ho-Ho-Ho!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Floyd Newman - Sassy (Stax 143)


Floyd Newman is a national treasure.

Besides B.B. himself, Floyd is the only person pictured in the iconic Ernest C. Withers photograph above that is still with us. As the baritone man in B.B.'s mid fifties Memphis outfit, that bus served as his second home as it rolled countless miles on the Chitlin' Circuit.

Floyd is also one of the few people left on this earth to have eaten a bowl of chili upstairs at 'Sunbeam' Mitchell's Club Handy, and is a veteran of those legendary late night jam sessions where the Sound of Memphis was born. A contemporary of influential Beale Street sax men like Bill Harvey, Fred Ford, George Coleman and Ben Branch, Floyd's unique Baritone sound laid the foundation for what was to come.

In the early sixties, Floyd would form his own group with some of the younger members of Ben Branch's band, including a couple of kids named Howard Grimes and Isaac Hayes. The Floyd Newman Orchestra would become the house band at the fabled Plantation Inn, and they were there on McElmore Avenue with Chips Moman at the very dawn of the Stax era.

Although not a vocalist by any stretch of the imagination, Floyd's voice is one of the most recognized in the history of Memphis R&B. He was the man who intoned "Ooh... Last Night" and "Ohh... YEAH!" on the fledgling (as in it was still called Satellite) label's breakthrough smash by The Mar-Keys in the Summer of 1961. It was Floyd and tenor sax partner Gilbert Caple who came up with that trademark horn riff that will live on forever.

Mining the same territory, this cool B Side we have here was issued as the flip of the only 45 Stax would press under Floyd's name, released shortly after he helped propel another Stax classic into the top ten, Rufus Thomas' Walking The Dog. It was that baritone heavy Stax sound that Jerry Wexler dubbed 'those Memphis horns' and, along with folks like Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love, Bowlegs Miller, Jack Hale, James Mitchell and Joe Arnold, Floyd began to deliver that big fat sound to Muscle Shoals and beyond, playing on scores of hit records in the process.

As Issac Hayes became Black Moses, he never forgot his mentor, and took Floyd with him on his way to Super Stardom. He was an integral part of Hayes' triumphal appearance at Wattstax, and remained with him on the road until Isaac decided to 'take a break' and open his own studio and label that he would name after his monster 1969 LP, Hot Buttered Soul (HBS).

Although Floyd considers Isaac a true musical genius, he told us "That was a mistake. While we were taking a break, they released a man that sounded just like him - Barry White. Barry White just killed Isaac. Everybody thought it was Isaac, but Isaac wasn't on the road. So then, Isaac said, 'Let's go back...', but Barry White had taken it away from him... Barry White smothered him."

Floyd Newman, however, landed on his feet. After playing baritone on Stephen Stills 2, Stephen took him on tour with him. This was back when Stills' phone was still ringing, and being 'on tour' included the full rock-star magilla of private jets to Europe, limos, red carpets and the finest hotels. Quite a different experience than riding on the B.B. King bus!
As the Memphis music scene continued to self-destruct in the late seventies, Floyd settled in to his career as Music Director and Guidance Counselor at area schools, thereby influencing generations of up and coming musicians...

When Preston Lauterbach and I were scheming and plotting to put Hi Rhythm back together with Otis Clay for the O.V. Wright benefit and tribute concert in Memphis in 2008, we left the recruitment of the horn section up to them. I'm not sure if it was Floyd's former Plantation Inn bandmate Howard Grimes who made the call that brought Floyd out of retirement to anchor 'those Memphis horns' for us that night, but it was an experience I'll never forget. "If you think you're the Soul Detective," Howard said, "you ought to talk to Floyd..."

...and so I did, beginning an ongoing discussion through letters and phone calls that culminated in Floyd and his remarkable wife Jean welcoming the Soul Detective team into their home in August of 2012.

Floyd's tales of his life in music are truly fascinating, but perhaps the most amazing one is the story of his horn: "I'm still playing that 1949 horn that my father bought for me that cost $200 out of the pawn shop. I've never played but one horn all these years... I didn't need but one." Running down the serial numbers years later, he found out that the horn was manufactured in 1918. Imagine? Talk about an artifact of Soul! After blowing that baritone on The Bo-Keys 2011 album Got To Get Back, Floyd had tucked it away in a closet, and we had to convince him to dig it out...

We're sure glad he did. It was an honor to stand in the presence of this man and his marvelous horn, and to hear once again the deep pure tones they create when they're together... a couple of weeks ago, I got a letter in the mail:

So humble and under-stated, just like the man himself, this giant of Memphis music (and his solitary horn) should have received their 'note' long ago. If I wasn't 1200 miles away (or Soul Detective had any kind of budget), you know I'd be there.

Thank You Floyd for your years of dedication and hard work in spreading The Sound of Memphis to the world at large.
"Ohh... YEAH!"

NOVEMBER 1st 2014, 1pm
Be there!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fats Domino - Good Hearted Man (Imperial 5764)

Good Hearted Man

By now you all know how I feel about Cosimo Matassa and the importance of his contributions to American music. He was a genuine Giant.

Since he passed away last week, there's been quite a lot written about him in the press, but it all seems to focus (understandably so) on the atom-bomb like explosion of Rock & Roll that emanated from his J&M Studio in the early fifties, but there's a lot more to the story...

Our mission over on The Cosimo Code is to demonstrate that Cos played just as large a role in the big fat sound of the 'second wave' of New Orleans chart domination - the period I like to call 'The Mother-In-Law Era'. Starting roughly with Jessie Hill's Ooh Poo Pah Doo in May of 1960 and continuing on through Barbara Lynn's You're Gonna Need Me in December of '62, records cut at Cosimo Recording on Governor Nicholls (not, as is widely reported, at J&M, which had closed it's doors in late 1956) spent an incredible 477 weeks on the Billboard Charts, including 14 weeks at #1 R&B. Wow!

People also refer to this as the 'post Fats Domino' era but, as you can see from today's selection, that is not entirely accurate. Cosimo continued to work with Fats and Dave Bartholomew after the move from J&M, cutting quite a few hits in the process. Judging from the Billboard ad at left, Imperial wasn't quite sure which side of this one was going to take off, but it turned out to be the flip, Let The Four Winds Blow, which would climb all the way to #2 R&B in the Summer of 1961 (kept from the top slot by Bobby Lewis' monster Tossin' and Turnin'), and become Fats' last appearance in the top ten. Both sides are great, and a testimony to the depth and variety of material that Cosimo was cutting at his studio in the early sixties... a period which is often overlooked.

Cosimo's unique vision and expertise in the studio would continue to be felt well into the 'soul era' (for more on all of that, please visit The A Side), and the music he had a hand in creating will live on forever. It is hard to imagine what the world might have been like without him... I am honored to have met him and shook his hand, and I am proud of the small part I play in preserving his legacy.

Let The Four Winds Blow!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sam Hutchins - Dang Me (AGP 106)

Dang Me

A lot has been said over the past few years about the 'deep melancholy' of Chips Moman and his 827 Thomas Street Band. As the guys who seemed to cut Dark End of The Street and Everyday I Have To Cry Some on everyone who walked through the door, I suppose that's true to a certain extent, but there is another side (literally) to the story...

A rollicking, good time, infectiously fun side that never fails to get you out of your seat. Sides like Skinny Legs And All, Funky Street, I Found A True Love and Broadway Walk come to mind right off the bat... or how about cooking instrumentals like Memphis Soul Stew, Memphis Underground or In The Pocket? These guys were not crying in their beer, man. They were making great music, and having a great time doing it.

Sam Hutchins had come to American from Dallas at the urging of his friends The Masqueraders in 1968, and cut one Tommy Cogbill produced 45 for Mala before being signed to the house label, AGP. This rocking little number we have here is one more illustration of American's fun side. Although the flip (erroneously posted on The A Side back in 2008), is an awesomely wistful deep soul record, Chips and Cogbill let it rip on this side, and Sam is really belting it out! Check out those punchy horn charts and Ed Kollis blowing that way cool harmonica while the 'Moman Tabernacle Choir' takes it to Church and 'The Boys' drive it the rest of the way home.

Sam would cut one more AGP single (the rocking Big D Breakdown), and remain a part of the crew at American till the end, even making the ill-fated move to Atlanta with Chips in 1972. When Lee Jones left The Masqueraders, Sam joined the group, and that's him singing lead vocal on great Darryl Carter produced Hi 45s like Wake Up Fool. He has remained with them to this day, and still sounds as great as ever.

In 1985, Chips told Jim Dickerson of The Commercial Appeal: "Memphis should be Music City, not Nashville... At the time when Memphis was the hottest thing going, the city didn't seem to really care... I said 'You know this place doesn't seem to like us too much, why don't we just tear this studio down and leave?'... and we left, every one of us. We pulled the kids out of school and left... I've always considered that a mistake. Not in the sense that we didn't do better when we left. We did. But if we had done the right thing, and stayed there... who knows, we might have done more there than we did away from there."

As The City of Memphis' complicated love-hate relationship with Chips Moman continues, at first glance it may seem that the historical marker dedication at 827 Thomas Street next Wednesday is too little, too late... When asked by music historian Keith Abel a few years ago about his lack of recognition by institutions like The Grammys and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Chips replied, "We made hits before they had those clubs." Ever the outlaw, ever the rebel, ever the industry outsider, that's precisely what makes him so great.

Maybe a plaque in front of a Family Dollar says it all...

Chips Moman stands alone.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Bobby Womack of the Valentinos - A Lonesome Man (Checker 1122)

A Lonesome Man

Part One Of The Story - first posted in 2006

Friendly Womack sang Gospel with his brothers down in the coal mining country of West Virginia. They called themselves The Womack Brothers, and Friendly promised the Lord that if he sent him five sons, he would see to it that they would carry on the tradition and sing Gospel under that name. He moved to Cleveland, got work in a steel mill, and before long his prayers had been answered.

Friendly's new group, The Voices Of Love, would rehearse up at the Womack house, and his boys would listen in, doing imitations of the various members later on that kept them in stitches. The middle brother, Bobby, began sneaking around and playing his father's guitar while he was at work. Left handed, he had to figure out his own method, with the strings "upside down". (He still plays that way today...)

By the early fifties, Friendly was keeping his promise, and had his boys singing Gospel at churches around the area. In 1953, he asked S.R. Crain, a senior member of The Soul Stirrers, if they could open up for them at a program held at Cleveland's Friendship Baptist Church. He was in the process of telling them to "stick to Sunday School", when Sam Cooke overheard and pushed Crain to let them do it. The Womack Brothers were a big hit, and Sam made sure that the congregation forked over some "quiet money" to the family to help them with expenses. The $73 they collected seemed like a million bucks to 9 year old Bobby, and, from that moment on, he wanted to be "just like Sam Cooke".

The Brothers career took off from there, and they began traveling the "Gospel Highway", working with groups like The Staple Singers and The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi. The Blind Boys were impressed with young Bobby's guitar work, and took him on the road with them. When their fabled lead singer Archie Brownlee died of pneumonia in 1960, he was replaced by the great Roscoe Robinson. It was Robinson who believed in the potential of the Womack boys, and called old friend Sam Cooke.

Cooke, who had just started up his own SAR label, was in the market for young talent and agreed to meet the brothers in Detroit. Sam was pushing them to 'cross-over' as he had done, but the Womacks, fearing the wrath of the Father (both the one up in Heaven, and their own back in Cleveland), were reluctant to do so. He made a deal with them; "Okay, fellas, we'll cut you all a Gospel record. But if it don't hit, will you all cut me a pop?" The deal was done, and The Womack Brothers' first single Somebody's Wrong, was released on SAR in 1961.

It flopped. Now it was their turn to make good on a promise. J.W. Alexander, Sam's partner at SAR, changed their name to The Valentinos and they re-worked the lyrics to a Gospel song Bobby had written for their first session (Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray) and came up with the great Lookin' For A Love. It sold two million copies in the summer of 1962, and spent over 3 months on the charts, cracking the top ten R&B and even breaking into the Billboard Hot 100. Friendly wanted no part in any of this, of course, and was just as glad to see his boys take off for California in the car Sam paid for, than to hear them sing 'the devil's music' in his own home.

It was Sam who saw something in Bobby, and made him the lead singer in place of his brother Curtis. "Curtis sings pretty like me." he said, " But now Bobby, he sings with authority. When Bobby sings he demands attention." Cooke sent the Valentinos out on tour with James Brown to school them in the ways of the R&B road, and when they came back all starched, pressed and walking in unison, he knew their 'basic training' had been a success. Sam next took Bobby out with him as a guitar player in his own band (much to his brothers' chagrin), and, in many ways, made him his "protegé". He chose to let Bobby ride in the limo with him (while everyone else in the band was back in the station wagon), and they talked for hours while America rolled on by. Bobby always had his guitar on hand, and Sam, it is said, got quite a few song ideas by listening to him play (when Womack confronted him with this, Sam said, "Okay, I'm taking your shit, but I'm doing you better than James Brown would... "). Suffice it to say that both men got something they needed from the other.

In June of 1964, J.W. Alexander was pulling out all the stops to promote the new Valentinos single, It's All Over Now. Radio stations all over the country were flooded with advance promo copies of the rockin' shout out record with the 'hook' that just couldn't miss (Bobby had written it after hearing his uncle Wes say that about his Aunt Betty about a thousand times). The Rolling Stones heard it in New York while they were in the studio for an interview with Murray The K (aka 'the fifth Beatle'). Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, contacted Sam about performing rights, and they recorded the song within a week at the Chess Studios in Chicago. Their record company (Decca/London) got into the act and "rush-released" the single, putting it out on both sides of the big pond the day before the Valentinos' version was officially released. Can you imagine these guys?

It was the Stones' breakthrough record, becoming their first number one hit in the UK, and rising to #26 here in the US. The Valentinos' original didn't stand a chance, spending only two weeks on the charts and stalling at #94 R&B. When they found out Sam had okayed the licensing of the song, they couldn't believe it. "What do I need this Pat Boone shit for?" Bobby said, "Let them get their own songs. They mean nothing to me!" Cooke, always the visionary, tried to explain to them that this was the way things were headed in the the music industry, and that they'd be a "part of history". Although it took him quite a while to get there, Bobby finally admiited "...he was right, man. He was always in the future."

When Sam Cooke wrote A Change Is Gonna Come in late 1963, it scared him. After he had gone into the studio and recorded it, with René Hall's great big arrangement and everything, he called up Bobby. "Come on over, I want you to hear something", he said. He played the song for him on his huge movie theatre speakers, there in the dark. Sam 'looked right through him'... "what do you think, Bobby?", he asked. "It sounds like death... it's just so eerie. It gives me the chills, Sam." Cooke said he had to agree, and told him "I promise I won't ever release that song... not while I'm alive."

When Sam was shot to death On December 11, 1964, Bobby's world was torn apart. He remembered his reaction to the song, how he had told Sam a second time, "It sounds like death, like somebody died or somebody is going to die"... RCA released A Change Is Gonna Come on December 22nd, as the B side of Shake.

On March 5th 1965, Bobby Womack married Sam Cooke's widow, Barbara Campbell at the Los Angeles County Court House (they had been turned away two weeks before because he had not yet turned 21). Whether Barbara was motivated by love, a need for support or some kind of revenge, we'll probably never know. Bobby has said that he married her to protect Sam's family, and to keep Barbara from "doing something crazy". In any event, the record-buying public (as well as Sam's family in Chicago) viewed it as too much too soon. They saw Campbell as a shameless woman who had no respect for their idol, and Womack as a little gold digger who could never fill Sam's shoes. The papers ate it up.

As SAR began to disintegrate around them, the Valentinos signed with Chess Records, but nothing much was happening. Today's selection is the B side of Bobby's first single under his own name, and was released on their Checker subsidiary in 1965 (it's the flip of I Found A True Love, the original version of the tune Wilson Pickett would take to #11 in 1968). They couldn't give the record away. As Bobby has said, at this point disk jockeys were "throwing his records in the garbage", as nobody wanted to hear them. I personally think this is a great song, and shows what a pro Womack had become during his years with Sam. Although it may be a little over-produced (there's no production credits on the label, so I'm not sure by whom), it still cranks along with Bobby's guitar holding down the bottom. I love the vocals, which definitely show Cooke's influence (how could they not)? When he belts out there towards the end that "don't nobody seem to want ol' Bob", it sounds like a wry commentary on what was going down at the time...

We'll pick up the rest of The Womack's unreal story in some future post, but meanwhile let me recommend his recently released autobiography Midnight Mover: The True Story of the Greatest Soul Singer in the World (modest, he's not) as well as the encyclopedic (and indispensable) Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by our man in the street, Peter Guralnick.

Great stuff.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bobby Womack - Don't Look Back (Liberty 56186)

Don't Look Back


OK, folks, it's hard to believe it was over a year ago that I promised you a second installment of the Bobby Womack saga, but time flies when you're having fun, I guess...

When we last left our hero, he was taking a lot of heat for marrying Sam Cooke's widow, and was unable to get his records played on the radio, as the disk jockeys that had known and loved Sam were 'throwing his records in the garbage'. Releases on the Him label and Fred Smith's Keymen Records went nowhere, and Bobby was itching to get back to work. In 1965, he auditioned for a spot in Ray Charles' band

Ray was reportedly amazed by the fact that Bobby could keep up with him, no matter what changes he called, without being able to read the music they had set in front of him. "My music is way more complicated than Sam Cooke's stuff," Ray told him, but in spite of that, Womack was hired. He spent the next year or so out on the road with Brother Ray, playing over 200 dates a year. Conditions were less than rosy, however, and Bobby, as the newest member of the outfit, had to take the brunt of it.

From ill fiiting hand-me-down uniforms, to doubling up in hotel rooms with the epileptic Curtis Aimey, Bobby seemed to be the last one on the list. The thing that finally got him fired, however, was that he complained about the fact that Ray would fly the band's plane himself. "Man, I couldn't sleep for thinking about our flights between gigs," Bobby said, "...a blind man was flying the plane. I had attacks about that." Incredible. Ray fired him in early 1967.

According to the liner notes of Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers, Bobby's lone session for Atlantic was held in September of 1966. When Atlantic 2388 was released in early 1967, his last name had been misspelled as 'Wommack'. As you may recall, that same spelling had been used on the writer's credit for the first song he gave to Wilson Pickett, Nothing You Can Do, which was recorded at Fame in Muscle Shoals. I'm guessing that Bobby's single was recorded there as well.

It was Pickett who told him about the studio in Memphis he was headed to next... "Bobby," he said. "there are some white boys down there; if you closed your eyes, you could not tell they weren't black. Those f#*@ers can play!" The studio he was referring to, of course, was American Sound, and in July of 1967, Bobby Womack flew into town, installed himself into the Trumpet Motel, and showed up at American for Pickett's first sessions there. In addition to playing guitar, he brought along another one of his compositions, the amazing I'm In Love, which The Wicked One would take to #6 R&B later that year. When Pickett left, Bobby stayed on, becoming an integral member of the 'American Group' during its absolute heyday.

" one bothered me there. No one asked me about Sam Cooke or nothing... they just knew me as Bobby Womack, guitar player," he said, "It was the place to be, I loved the atmosphere, and there was a little soul-food place around the corner. Perfect." His serious chops got him accepted right away, "I was especially good at the intros. That's what made Moman and the others notice me... they called me cold-blooded, the way I could slip a guitar break in to make a track sing. Give a crafty hook to the intro, something people don't forget."

All of these quotes are taken from the fascinating autobiography Bobby published last year, Midnight Mover: The True Story Of The Greatest Soul Singer In The World. In the book he describes the American Group as "a strong house band, with Bobby Emmons on keyboards, Tommy Cogbill on Bass, Bobby Wood the piano player, drummer Gene Chrisman, and Mike Leech who also played bass and arranged strings." No mention of Reggie Young, though... When Barney Hoskyns asked Chips Moman about Womack in those days, he said "He and Reggie played guitar together for a couple of years there, and the two of them would be just magic, alternating between lead and rhythm, and getting each other's playing down totally." That sounds about right, and I think the friendly competition between the two guitarists created something more than the sum of its parts. Chips saw that, and was happy to have Bobby on board.

Womack also became a regular member of Wilson Pickett's touring band, and has some stories to tell about that whole experience. As Pickett travelled back to Muscle Shoals to record, Bobby made the trip with him, supplying much of his material in the process. All in all, Wilson recorded some seventeen Womack compositions (like I'm A Midnight Mover and I Found A True Love), and Bobby was happy to sit back and collect the publishing checks.

Before he left California, however, Bobby had signed with Minit Records, after playing some of his songs for them as demos. They told him to go out and record something, and that they'd be happy to release it. After a couple of years of putting them off, Minit was finally looking for some 'product', only Bobby had given all of his originals away to Pickett. He started fooling around with a few standards with the guys in the studio, and the album that Minit finally received contained covers of Fly Me To The Moon, Moonlight In Vermont and California Dreamin'. They were none too thrilled.

Much to everyone's surprise (except Bobby's, of course), Fly Me To The Moon became a big hit, breaking into the R&B top twenty in the summer of 1968. California Dreamin' would do the same for the company that fall. Womack was onto something, and they let him run with it. When Womack covered a song, it became something else entirely. He made each one his own. Hoping to continue in that vein, his version of I Left My Heart In San Francisco was released as a single in early 1969, but only managed to dent the top fifty.

The album it was taken from, My Prescription, is often overlooked, but represents, in my opinion, some of the best stuff to ever emanate from 827 Thomas Street. Minit would pull three more singles from the album for release in 1969 and early 1970. All of them charted, with How I Miss You Baby climbing as high as #14 R&B. Then the company went out of business... more accurately, it was 'consolidated' by the corporate conglomerate that owned it (like the once mammoth Imperial label before it) into its parent company, Liberty Records.

Looking for more of the same, Liberty would release one more single from this mighty Minit Lp, I'm Gonna Forget About You. Written by Womack's mentor Sam Cooke, it would become an R&B top thirty hit in the summer of 1970. Today's positively infectious B side was the flip of that single. Originally written by Smokey Robinson for the Temptations in 1965, it had become Paul Williams signature song, and closed out many a Temps performance. This version is better. Way better. Let me just say here that in all the time I've been doing this, this has to be the absolute BEST RECORD I've ever put up here. I mean it, boys and girls. The unbelievable Chips Moman production, Bobby's soulful vocals, the interplay of the guitars, the organ, the drums, the cookin' bass line... like the label says, it's 'An American Group Production', this time for one of their own, and was recorded around the same time that Elvis was in the building. It just doesn't get any better.


Liberty would release a live album, as well as one last single on Bobby before being 'consolidated' right out of business itself in 1971, when something called The TransAmerica Corporation rolled it over into United Artists. The new label would release another single from the live album, one that was responsible for giving Bobby his nickname, The Preacher, as he told it like it was over both sides of the 45, just like he did at the end of his live shows.

Bobby, although he never changed anything, now found himself at his third record label in two years. As it turned out, that wasn't so bad, as the people at United Artists seemed willing to listen, and gave him creative control over his releases. 1971 was also the year that he collaborated with Gabor Szabo and came up with the immortal Breezin'. Bobby also began working with Sly Stone, and appeared on his groundbreaking There's a Riot Going On album. It was Sly who convinced him to lose the suit, and came up with the idea for the cool cover shot on his first UA album, Communication. In many ways, this was the record that kind of defined what Womack, and much of black music in the seventies, was all about. The title track would hit the R&B top forty, but the next single off the album, That's The Way I Feel About 'Cha, became his biggest hit yet, climbing to #2 R&B in December of 1971.

His next album, Understanding, was released in 1972. Just a fantastic record, Bobby Womack's genius is fully realized here for the first time. Establishing him as the R&B superstar Sam Cooke had envisioned he was destined to become, there was no turning back. One of the last albums to be recorded at American before Moman closed it down, it was produced by Womack himself, and it shows. Two 45s were taken from the album, resulting in no less than three chart hits.

The first of these, the timeless Woman's Gotta Have It, became Bobby's first #1 hit in April of 1972. Speaking to the ladies in the audience (another thing he had learned from Sam), they let him know that all was forgiven. The Womack was back. Both sides of his next single would chart, with Harry Hippie (reportedly written about his ill-fated brother, Harris Womack) going top ten, and Sweet Caroline (which he had no doubt been a part of when Neil Diamond cut the original at American) top twenty...