by Jeff Niesel
If 69-year-old soul singer Bobby Womack had merely shown up for last night’s concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and capably performed all his big hits — which he did — that would have merited high praise. But Womack, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, went above and beyond the call of duty.
Before the concert started, Womack appeared in the Rock Hall’s Foster Theater for a Hall of Fame Series interview. Director of Education Jason Hanley interviewed Womack about his career and while Womack often didn’t directly answer Hanley’s questions, he affably discussed his past and talked about his experiences growing up in Cleveland. “I was born here before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was even in existence,” he said. When asked about growing up in Cleveland, Womack said his father was “the real teacher” and recalled how he encouraged him to keep singing after he heard them mocking his band The Voices of Love. Womack talked about how he had thought he was done with the music business when Damon Albarn, singer in the British rock band Blur, approached him about singing with his electronic/hip-hop outfit Gorillaz and then even took Womack on tour. “That was the longest tour I’ve even been on,” he said. “I left half of me on that tour.” Womack ended the interview with a simple bit of advice: “Don’t let anybody tell you what you can or can’t do.”
Clearly enthused to be performing in his hometown (“it’s great to be back home,” he said as soon as he arrived on stage), Womack followed the interview with an hour-long set on the Rock Hall’s main stage. Early on, he played “Across 110th St.,” the song he co-wrote for the 1972 movie by the same name, and his terrific band (a large ensemble of backing singers and a three-piece horn section) delivered it in all its soulful glory. Womack then slowed things down for tunes such as “Looking for a Love” and “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha.” While the cavernous performance space often muddied the tunes' intricacies, Womack sounded sharp and he even revisited an early gospel number as he regularly told stories and reminisced about the days when Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield were superstars. The fact that the concert was seated kept the crowd from really rallying behind Womack, who was clad in black and wore sunglasses for the entire show, but the fans respectfully applauded his performance and a group of guys at the back of room even added impromptu backing vocals, creating a concert within a concert.