Saturday, 26 May 2012



Being rushed to hospital because you're suffering from potential fatal pneumonia doesn't seem much like being tricked, but then the interview doesn't seem much like an interview either. Indeed, it resembles one only in so far as I'm an interviewer and I'm in the same room as Womack. I haven't said anything to him yet, beyond hello, at which point he embarks upon a monologue that continues unabated for an hour. It leaps without warning from topic to topic: during one particularly head-spinning section we go from Muhammad Ali's unerring ability to find racist undercurrents in innocuous adverts, to Aretha Franklin's love of soap operas to Martin Luther King in the space of about two minutes. It takes in both gruff homespun wisdom ("I don't wanna be a star because stars fall from the sky, and when they hit the ground they turn into a rock and a rock ain't no good unless you bust someone in the head with it") and, at one juncture, the impossibly winning phrase "your mama only got one titty and that's full of wine".


He played with James Brown and Ray Charles and toured with a young Jimi Hendrix. He wrote It's All Over Now, which the Rolling Stones turned into a global hit, a state of affairs that did not overly delight Womack. "To be honest with you, I said: 'Let the Rolling Stones get their own fuckin' record and record that.'" He worked with the Stones decades later, on 1986's Dirty Work: he liked Keith Richards and Ron Wood, but "had a problem with Mick Jagger". "Some people never grow up if you give 'em too much," he grimaces. "They gonna be assholes, then they just become a bigger asshole."

He spent time as a session guitarist in Memphis, where he played with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and on Dusty Springfield's Dusty In Memphis. He also played on Elvis Presley's Suspicious Minds, which didn't impress him much either. "People say: 'What did you think of Elvis Presley?' I say: 'He wasn't shit. Everything he got he stole.'"

He returned to LA, where he recorded Trust Me and Mercedes Benz with Janis Joplin on the day she died – he was the last person to see the singer alive, save for the drug dealer who sold her the smack that killed her – and moved into the Bel-Air mansion where the coke-addled sessions for Sly And The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On were in full swing: "It was a circus." He was working with Marvin Gaye when the latter was murdered. "The last time I saw him, the day before he died, he said: 'Bobby, what's a nigger got to do to get on the cover of Rolling Stone?' It was all white acts. I said: 'Die.'" He sighs. "It's bullshit, it's really bullshit. One of the greatest singers in the world. Marvin never knew he was gonna be as big as he is. Now you hear him on commercials every day."

Occasionally, he sounds mad at everything. He hates hip-hop. "What the shit is that?" he spits. "No melody. Generations are coming up, if they have to listen to bullshit, they'll grow up bullshitty. People don't respect their mom, say they're gonna knock her out. White kids trying to be black because they're confused. I say to them, you wanna be black? You're gonna have a hard time!"


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