How Could You Break My Heart (Smooth Soul Survivor)

Bobby Womack"How Could You Break My Heart" 
[Song written by Bobby Womack]

Of the roster of artists whose music has featured as a Smooth Soul Survivor the wonderful Bobby Womack has, to date, been conspicuous by his absence. Quite simply, despite being a prolific song writer, Womack has a style so unique that credible cover versions of his greatest hits have historically been difficult to accomplish. His track ‘How Could You Break My Heart' is no exception yet its inclusion, over an extended period, on a range of quality compilation albums provides a much sought opportunity to comment on a shining example of the magic of Womack.

Bobby Womack"How Could You Break My Heart" 
[Song written by Bobby Womack]

Of the roster of artists whose music has featured as a Smooth Soul Survivor the wonderful Bobby Womack has, to date, been conspicuous by his absence. Quite simply, despite being a prolific song writer, Womack has a style so unique that credible cover versions of his greatest hits have historically been difficult to accomplish. His track ‘How Could You Break My Heart' is no exception yet its inclusion, over an extended period, on a range of quality compilation albums provides a much sought opportunity to comment on a shining example of the magic of Womack.

‘How Could You Break My Heart' comes from his 1979 release ‘Roads Of Life' that was recorded on the Arista label during one of the lowest points of his career and troubled life. A protégée of the great Sam Cooke, Womack first started making music in 1960 (with siblings Cecil, Curtis, Harry, and Friendly Jr.) as part of The Womack Brothers and the quartet made several recordings for Cooke's SAR label before being re-branded as The Valentinos in 1962. Womack joined Cooke's backing band as a guitarist while The Valentinos 1964 single, (and Bobby's own composition), ‘It's All Over Now' was covered by the Rolling Stones and provided them with their first UK number one. Cooke's untimely death in December of that year placed the career of The Valentinos in limbo and left Womack shaken to the core. Despite (or perhaps because of) the malaise in which he found himself he married Cooke's widow, Barbara Campbell just three months later. It was an event that earned him tremendous ill will in the R&B community. Campbell was significantly older than Womack and many viewed him as a shady opportunist looking to cash in on Cooke's legacy. The consequences dealt a hammer blow to his solo career and, despite their quality; his early singles for Chess were cold shouldered.

Needing to earn a living, Womack became a backing guitarist and worked with Ray Charles. He picked up session work at Moman's American Studio in Memphis and at the famous Muscle Shoals, AL where he appeared on classic recordings by Joe Tex, King Curtis, and Aretha Franklin. In the process he became one of Wilson Pickett's favorite songwriters and provided him with the R&B Top Ten hits ‘I'm in Love' and ‘I'm a Midnight Mover'. It was not until 1968 that Womack cut his first charting solo single, ‘What Is This?' It opened up the flood gates to a series of his own excellent compositions that from 1972 to 1976 kept him riding high on the R&B charts. Despite his Cleveland roots, his gritty southern soulfulness differentiated him from the smoother sounds then coming out of Philadelphia and it was during this period that he enjoyed his only pop top ten 10 hit with a version of the old Valentinos song, ‘Lookin For A Love'.

Together with this success Womack experienced the excess that a rock and roll lifestyle can bring and, as he regularly mingled with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Sly Stone, the drug usage began to take a more serious turn. After his brother Harry was murdered in Bobby's own apartment by a jealous girlfriend in 1974, the inability to escape from the non-stop partying that often masked serious depression became more acute. Retrospectively his 1976 ‘Daylight' seems like a cry for help and despite his new marriage to Regina Banks (he divorced Barbara Campbell in 1970) Womack was being increasingly seen as too difficult to work with. His recording of country music for United Artists garnered a minimal response and led to him moving on to Columbia where a couple of albums did nothing to recapture his commercial momentum or reinvent him for the disco age. The next stop was Arista and 1979's ‘Roads of Life' for which he composed ‘How Could You Break My Heart' with Patrick Moten.

Producer, arranger, keyboardist, and songwriter Moten was a behind-the-scenes musical giant who got to know Womack through Ike Turner while on a world tour with his wife Tina. He worked with Womack on several projects (including both ‘Poet' albums) and produced Johnnie Taylor's ‘Just Ain't Good Enough'. In addition Moten wrote nearly 60 registered compositions and toured with a jazz showcase featuring Joe Sample, Lalah Hathaway, and Gerald Albright. Sadly, Moten passed away in November 1999 aged only 42.

The vibe that Womack and Moten were able to create with ‘How Could You Break My Heart' is breathtaking. From the opening device of a fractious telephone discussion the tune builds, first with excellent keys from Moten, followed by sensational backing vocals from Melissa Manchester, on through huge yet subtle string arrangements, luscious horns and finally Womack's own under-rated guitar. The result is the kind of music totally synonymous with the very best of soul. Not surprisingly the track has found its way onto some of the best compilations around. It is featured on the 1998 BBE collection ‘Strange Games And Funky Things' as well as ‘All Time Classic Soul Heartbreakers' from 2003 and ‘Trevor Nelson's Soul Nation' from the same year. Find it also on the 2002 ‘Modern Soul - Livin For The Weekend' and the 2006 compilation ‘SZ Diskothek 1979'.

Finally, and most recently, it has been included on the brand new ‘The Sound Of Jazz FM 2008' that marks a welcome return on digital and online of the excellent UK based radio station that was last heard six years ago.

Fortunately, for Womack, 1979 did not mark the end of his career. At this low ebb in his life (his infant son died suddenly shortly before the release of ‘Roads of Life') Womack took time out from music to gather himself before appearing as a guest vocalist on Jazz Crusader Wilton Felder's 1980 solo album ‘Inherit the Wind'. Womack subsequently signed with the Beverly Glen label where his debut, 1981's ‘The Poet', was a surprising hit that rejuvenated his career. ‘The Poet II' and ‘Someday We'll All Be Free' both followed before Womack moved on to MCA where his debut release, ‘So Many Rivers', included the stunning ‘I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much'.

In subsequent years Womack has made fleeting returns to the music business. The 1994 CD ‘Resurrection' was recorded for Ron Wood's Slide label and in 1999 he fulfilled a long-standing promise to his father (who passed away in 1981) by delivering his first-ever gospel album, Back to My Roots.

In every respect Bobby Womack remains a true soul icon and ‘How Could You Break My Heart' is a shimmering illustration of his work. Although it is the first Bobby Womack Smooth Soul Survivor something tells me it will not be the last.

Denis Poole (November 2008)
www.smoothjazztherapy.com

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