The life and extreme times of a well-traveled soul man.
It’s tough to top the sensational first chapter of soul singer and songwriter Womack’s autobiography, in which his wife—widow of the late Sam Cooke, whom he married less than four months after the singer’s shooting death—attempts to kill him after she discovers him sleeping with his stepdaughter. In fact, it’s all downhill from there in this perplexing book, first published in the U.K. in 2006. Womack’s life was certainly not without incident. Raised in Cleveland in a gospel-singing family, he rose to fame as Cooke’s protégé in the Valentinos, whose ’60s hits included “It’s All Over Now,” which became a breakthrough cover for the Rolling Stones. After playing guitar in Ray Charles’ band and crafting hits for Wilson Pickett, Womack stepped out on his own, creating the bestselling albums Communication, Understanding and The Poet. His career, which also encompassed encounters with Janis Joplin (on the last night of her life), the Stones and the Faces, takes a backseat to stories of drug abuse (in the company of such notorious figures as Ike Turner and Sly Stone), drinking and womanizing. Along the way, he recounts the breakup of two marriages, the murder of a brother, the deaths of two sons and the jailing of a third. It’s frustrating reading, for Womack and collaborator Robert Ashton present his hair-raising and outrageous stories matter-of-factly, with little analysis of the character flaws that laid him so low in life; adversity has evidently taught him nothing. His chronology is frequently garbled; facts and names are scrambled; and the narrative takes enormous leaps. Some stories appear embroidered or simply implausible: For instance, Womack devotes several pages to Cooke’s purported decision to not release “A Change is Gonna Come,” while the song actually appeared on an album six months before the singer’s death.
Minus any illuminating self-exploration, Womack’s saga is a fitfully colorful but ultimately empty and depressing tale of a misspent musical life.