Cornucopia Thursday

The music world can offer a fascinating look at times ...

FATHER-DAUGHTER? - musicians Edgar Winter and Lady Gaga.

   

Help get through the week by stopping in for a look at news items outside the headlines, in the arts and sciences; foreign news that generates little notice in the US media and ....well, just plain whimsy.....    
ART NOTES - a collection of nearly seventy-five drawings from Renaissance Venice are at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City through September 23rd.

THIS COMING DECEMBER will mark the 150th anniversary of the day when Union general Ulysses S Grant ordered the expulsion of all Jews from the territory under his command in the South.

TIME MARCHES ON - for a long time, the Italian city of Naples prided itself on presenting only classic styles of pizza - but now, even Naples is seeing some of its restaurants offer 'ultra-pizzas' ... as has happened in other Italian cities.

WEDNESDAY's CHILD is an Australian kitteh fortunate to be alive: discovered when a man brought his car in to the dealership to locate the origin of a strange noise - only to find this kitten trapped between the exhaust and the heat shield attached to the body.

SIGN of the APOCALYPSE - it seems Prince Charles has become adept at multi-tasking: earlier this month, he read the weather report for Scotland on the BBC, then he tried his luck as a disk jockey while on a trip to Canada.

ART NOTES - for those attending Netroots Nation and planning a side trip to Newport, Rhode Island: a dual exhibit of works by Norman Rockwell and the author Tom Wolfe is at the National Museum of American Illustration thru September 2nd.

   

FOR YEARS the Ivory Coast was western Africa's jewel, before a nasty civil war tore the country apart (along with its former president refusing for months to leave office after losing re-election). Now its new president Alassane Ouattara is struggling to make peace permanent, but has had some early successes.

PROGRAMMING NOTE - there will not be an Odds & Ends next week, as I'll be at Netroots Nation. If you plan to attend, I hope we get a chance to meet. Otherwise, will back back in two weeks.

EVEN WITH a new law set to go into effect this October - which will ease restrictions on pubs and small clubs with a crowd capacity below 200 - many small music venues in Britain are threatened with closure, including several where famous bands got their start.

THURSDAY's CHILD - is the 9-month-old Church the Cat - trapped in a tree for nearly a week (with an owl flying ominously overhead) before a tree-service bucket-loader serviceman was able to rescue her - who said that, unlike other rescues he's done: Church willingly moved towards the bucket, and then hopped right in.

IT SEEMS a PITY that it took the brutal murder of a gay man in the South American nation of Chile to enact an anti-discrimination law - but the relatively new president Sebastián Piñera has been much more gay-friendly than others in his post-Pinochet conservative party, giving activists more optimism than ever of seeing change.

POLITICAL NOTES - as the leader of a relatively new far-left party in France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon could have chosen to seek election as an MP to the Assemblée Nationale in one of the areas where his party scored highly in the first round of the presidential election. Instead, he chose to seek office directly against the leader of the xenophobic right-wing party leader Marine Le Pen in a June run-off election - and with the local chapter of the more moderate Socialist Party mired in allegations of corruption, he may stand a chance of winning.

SEPARATED at BIRTH - "Glee" star Lea Michele and Kim Kardashian.

   

TIME MARCHES ON - the biggest success story in the post-Iron Curtain eastern Europe has been Poland - who are about to host the European soccer championships - featuring national teams - next month, and for whom relationships with Germany (notoriously bad throughout history) have never been better.

CHEERS to two natives of India: Viswanathan Anand who has just successfully defended his World Chess Champion title, as well as the 16 year-old Shouryya Ray - now a student in Germany - who has solved a 300 year-old physics problem first proposed by Sir Isaac Newton.

FRIDAY's CHILD is the chosen emergency warning sign for the Internet Defense League - indicating that a threat to Internet freedom is now before Congress or elsewhere ... and so why not use an Internet staple as a warning sign? Same cat time, same cat channel.

.....and finally, for a song of the week ............... someone who is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and has written songs recorded by Wilson Pickett, Janis Joplin, George Benson and the Rolling Stones, and as a guitarist was an influence on Jimi Hendrix is Bobby Womack - yet is not as well-known in his own right as he ought to be (in no small part, believe it or not, due to his first marriage). Let's see if we can't remedy the situation.

Born in Cleveland in 1944, Bobby was the middle of five sons born to steelworker Friendly Womack and his wife Naomi, who formed a Gospel group known as the Womack Brothers - which met with the approval of his father, who sang in a Gospel choir in church. They opened in 1953 for the legendary traveling band The Soul Stirrers .... headed at that time by a young Sam Cooke who befriended Bobby Womack.

That proved fateful when Cooke formed his own SAR record label in California, and recruited the Womack Brothers: yet not (over the long run) as a Gospel group, but rather (as he had already done so) to transfer into secular music. In Friendly Womack's ears (as it was to many adult African-Americans of the time) that meant "the devil's music" and he threw them out of the house. Sam Cooke wired them $3,000 to buy a new car to drive to California, but Bobby had his heart set on a used $600 Cadillac - which broke down numerous times. But they made it finally: and Sam had them record in 1960 and 1961 as the Womack Brothers, with several songs indeed being Gospel music.

But Same convinced them not only to make the transition, but also to rename them as The Valentinos - which sounds (for all the world) like a doo-wop group. But their first single was a Top Ten hit on the 1962 R&B charts "Looking for a Love" - which resulted in them touring with James Brown. They had a second R&B hit in June, 1964 with It's All Over Now - which the Rolling Stones heard on the radio when they were in New York that month. Having co-written the tune, Bobby Womack was upset that a rock band wanted to record the song and even told Mick Jagger to get his own song ... but Sam Cooke saw the potential, persuading Bobby to let them record it. And when the Stones reached #1 in Britain with it and Bobby got his first royalty check .... he asked Sam Cooke "if they wanted to record any more of his songs?" (and he has remained friends with the Stones ever since, as you'll see).

But the shooting death in December, 1964 of Sam Cooke threatened the future of the Valentinos. In no small part because just three months later, Bobby Womack married Sam Cooke's widow Barbara - while the murder was still under investigation (it has yet to be solved) and even wearing one of Sam's suits (per Barbara's request).

In early 1965, this caused a major scandal in the R&B community, with Bobby forced to leave the Valentinos in favor of a solo career - which also flopped. He did find work as a session musician: first for Ray Charles, and particularly at the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, where he performed on classic soul recordings such as Aretha Franklin's album Lady Soul from early 1968. To his tasty guitar playing, Womack had also returned to songwriting, contributing two hit songs "I'm in Love" and "I'm a Midnight Mover" for Wilson Pickett.

It took until 1968 for Bobby Womack to revive his solo career (after the scandal had quieted) with "What Is This?" as his first charted single. And then - in yet another reinvention of himself - his first album had three imaginative cover songs: just listen to I Left My Heart in San Francisco as well as Fly Me to the Moon, not to mention California Dreaming  - the latter two even making the R&B charts. He continued to have success on the R&B charts over the next few years, with songs featuring an opening prologue on subjects such as love, and while he left sacred music for secular: he retained the ability not only to sing but to testify.

In the meantime, his songwriting continued to pay dividends: Trust Me was a song he not only wrote but performed on for Janis Joplin's posthumous album "Pearl". In 1971, the J. Geils Band had their first hit with Looking for a Love - which Bobby did not write but which he sang lead on the Valentinos' version nine years earlier (and had his own successful re-make of it in 1974, becoming his highest-rated single on the pop charts at #10). And Bobby showcased his guitar abilities in another forum: a duet album with the (equally eclectic) Hungarian jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó in which a song that Bobby wrote for Gabor - the instrumental Breezin' - was a hit for George Benson a few years later.

But the murder of his brother Harry in 1974 led him (along with other reasons) into substance abuse and - after another interesting foray, this time into country music - which failed commercially - he had a difficult time (as did many soul artists) in the disco era, and he laid low for the remainder of the decade.

He made a comeback in the 1980's with his album The Poet - which had a more stylish sound, including a version of "Just My Imagination" - and this became his highest-charting album of all. During the decade, he had several duets with Patti LaBelle, including "Love Has Finally Come at Last", a cover of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All be Free" and backed the Rolling Stones on their re-make of Harlem Shuffle in 1986. He recorded an album in 1989 reuniting him with his surviving Womack Brothers before taking a five-year absence.

He re-surfaced with the appropriately titled album Resurrection in 1994 (recorded on Ron Wood's record label) with guest stars such as Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Ronald Isley and Keith Richards. And in 1999 he fulfilled a promise he made to his late father Friendly Womack (who died in 1981) that he would record a Gospel album - which also had secular songs such as Bridge Over Troubled Water and a tribute to his mentor Sam Cooke with "Ease My Troubled Mind".

And he still performs, albeit on a slower pace. In 2007 he released his autobiography, then in 2010 he released a live album and last year he was nominated (along with Mos Def & Gorillaz) for a Grammy in "Best Short-Form Music Video". It was fitting that none other than Ron Wood introduced him upon his 2009 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - and even more fitting that the 2009 ceremonies took place in Cleveland itself - his hometown.

At age 68, the year 2012 is shaping up to be a good year for Bobby Womack. His first new studio album in twelve years - The Bravest Man in the Universe - is due to be released in a few weeks, with the title track actually dating back forty years ago. And just the other day: he underwent a successful colon cancer operation to remove (what turned out to be) a benign tumor. Not for nothing is he referred to as "one of soul music's great survivors".

Of all of his work, it is his composition If You Think You're Lonely Now from his 1981 album "The Poet" that is my favorite - and was included in the medley of songs he performed at his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. And below you can listen to it.


I want to dedicate this song

to all the lovers in the world tonight

and I expect that might be the whole world

because everybody needs something

or someone to love

Can I talk about this woman I have?

She's always complaining

about the things she ain't got

and the things her girlfriend's got

But I can't be in two places at one time

If you think you're lonely now

Wait until tonight, girl

I'll be long gone

Ain't it funny how tables turn

when things ain't going your way

when love walks out, pain walks in

You can't help to say

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