Friday, June 27, 2014

Bobby Womack - Rest In Peace, Brother....A Brief Remembrance

As always, it began innocently enough. We were working behind the counter at the Guitar Center in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. We had just moved the store into its new mega-location from the low rent ghetto of a store I hired into, and we were getting ready for our grand opening.

I had gone off to the warehouse to count some stock, and when I returned one of my co-workers, a GIT student with silver blonde hair that was stacked to the moon and frozen in place with simple syrup was arguing with a gentleman over some pricing on a few guitar effects pedals. The man said that they were just some toys for his 'git-ar.'

I looked up, recognized what was happening, who we were dealing with, and I sought to lighten the tension.

"Marshall," I said, "Don't you know who the fuck you're talking too?"

Marshall looked at me with a look that said, "What the fuck are you talking about?"

I said, "Marshall, this is Bobby Womack, fercrissakes, show the man some respect."

Womack seemed chuffed to have been recognized, and my co-worker looked at me with an even more intense, 'What the fuck' glance.

"Marshall, Bobby wrote It's All Over Now that The Stones had a huge hit with, and he wrote I'm Lookin' For A Love by J. Geils."

No response. Marshall knew every lick that had been played on The Strip since Eddie had hit the scene, but he had no deep catalogue knowledge. I asked him to TO (turn over) the sale to me. He did so with some obvious relief, and I was quietly giddy.

We didn't get star-struck at GC Hollywood, stars were our bread and butter, a daily occurrence, but this one kind of got me. I had been a Womack fan for years, and I loved my cult status heroes.

I found out what Bobby wanted - he was putting together his first pedal board (I think they were actually going on the floor), and he was looking for some modern sounds. I played a few notes through a few choice Boss pedals, and he thought I knew everything there was to know about the newfangled sounds. I had the advantage of being a bit older, and knowing how to demo the right pedals with the right sounds for the right customers. We were, after all, professionals.

I got it all together, and then I told Bobby that I wanted to go get my manager's approval for a pro discount. Dave D was running the store, and he said, "Sure, and while you're at it invite him to our grand opening next week."

We were having a gala grand opening that was only open to pro accounts and high roller customers, and frankly, it was the hottest ticket in Hollywood. The Van Halen's, Ratt, Motley Crue, Poison, Les Paul, Jim Marshall, and everybody who was anybody in the LA rock scene circa 1985. Our grand opening was set for November 13, 1985.

I went back down to the sales floor, and handed Bobby the adjusted receipt, and asked him if he'd be interested in joining us for our grand opening. Now, you have to understand that this was not a high watermark in Bobby's career, his hits from the '70s had dried up, his later '80s resurgence hadn't happened yet, so he seemed rather pleased to be seen as a star, a proper celeb. He shook my hand, and said, "Young man, thank you very much. I'd be glad to attend, shall I dress for it?" I told him I thought that best.

A couple of weeks later, we had the store decked out, the champagne on ice, and we got the party started.

Several hours into the celebration, Jimmy Crimmons came up, and said, "Hey Conley, there's a guy at the counter asking for you."

It was Bobby Womack, and the man could dress. He was wearing a velvet suit in a color best described as deep cranberry, a dark blue silk shirt, and some seriously expensive Italian loafers that matched his stunning designer glasses, replete with jewels. He greeted me like an old friend, and asked me to show him around the store. I was in the middle of our tour when he asked me if I may be interested in a toot. This was the '80s after all, and everybody had a dark brown bottle with the requisite gram somewhere in their pockets.

I said, "Sure," and we walked slowly into a relatively dark corner and he handed me a bag that must have had an ounce of cocaine. He told me to go where I needed to go, and to meet him back there in a few minutes. He asked me not to share it.

We all had a great time that evening, and eventually went our ways into the cold November night.

I next heard from Bobby when he called the store, and said he needed to pick up a few things. He also asked me if I wanted to join him afterwards for a cocktail across the street at El Compadre, the famed Mexican restaurant. I accepted his invitation, and promptly proceeded to call my friend and alcohol cohort, Lex Gardner and asked her to join us on this mission of cocktails and war stories.

Bobby came in, bought some new toys for his home recording studio, and then we retired across the street to wind up the day, or so I thought.

We had dinner, Womack regaled us with some great tales of music business gangsters and super sessions, and we also imbibed most of the restaurant's stock of Cuervo Tres Generaciones. The high point of the night was singing face-to-face along with Bobby Womack, and harmonizing drunkenly on some old Motown tunes. Finally, it was last call, and Bobby invited us back to his pad. Lex had perhaps had enough of the soul man's not so subtle invitations to tumble between the sheets, and she demurred. I said, "Sure, why not." This is where the story gets good.

We got into Bobby's late model Mercedes, and we tooled off into the night. We arrived at his stately estate, and we proceeded up the walk, and into his house.

Upon entering, he said he had to turn off the security shit, and that I should just wait in the foyer. I said sure, and he walked off into the living room. Just about then, I heard a noise, and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I realized there was someone lying on a divan in the entry way. They were just sitting up, as the lights came on, and Bobby re-entered the room. He said, "Tony, I'd like you to meet Ronnie Woods (I know, but he said Woods). Sure enough, there before us was a very disheveled Ron Wood.

As I slowly let this sink in, Bobby laughingly told me that Ronnie's wife had just found out that Ronnie had had a child with a Jamaican girlfriend, and that he was cooling his heels at Bobby's house while things settled down at home.

Bobby invited us into his music room, and we stayed up until daylight listening to rare tapes, and unreleased recordings that he and Wood had been working on. It was the night of a lifetime. I think I even missed work that day, but I didn't mind. In fact, I would have paid for the ticket.

After that, I got to know Bobby pretty well, eventually playing bass on some tracks that ended up on his 1987 album, The Last Soul Man. He also gave me another thrill by inviting me to join him on a short tour of Japan, playing bass with his band for some clinics held by Sony and Yamaha. Bobby had no way of dealing with people that I ever saw besides being friendly and direct. He always treated me like a friend and a fellow musician, and that was as much as I could have ever dreamed for.

Eventually as these things go, we fell out of touch, and I went back behind the counter at Guitar Center, but I always kept track of his comings and goings.

I was, of course, thrilled when he had yet another resurgence over the last few years, guesting with Gorillaz, and his final two studio albums that saw him return to the glory of years past. I had always hoped to run into Bobby again, but that was not meant to be.

I'm glad that my old friend went out on top - he deserved nothing less. I know there are many versions of the life of Bobby Womack, but to me he will always be remembered as both a hero, and a friend. Rest in peace, Bobby....


gman said...

That is such an awesome story Tony!

Anonymous said...

great story!

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