John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“It’s All Over Now”

The Stones made it famous, but Bobbie Womack wrote it and kills it.

By - Aug 30th, 2015 06:44 pm
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Bobby Womack. Photo from Facebook.

Bobby Womack. Photo from Facebook.

Here’s the thing: I could list 20 or 30 black vocalists, and I’m probably being conservative, who I think are the greatest singers of all time. One minute it’s Aretha Franklin, the next it’s Ray Charles, or Otis Redding, Louis Armstrong, Cee-Lo Green or Nina Simone. Of course we can’t forget Pop Stapes or his amazing daughter, Mavis. Little Richard, Bobby Bland, Toots Hibbert, Sly Stone  I could keep it up forever, but you get the point.  It’s always the one I’m listening to now, who seems to erase all thoughts of anyone else ever needing to sing. This happens all the time.

I’m not trying to say all good singing is exclusively black. I love Ray Davies, Joni Mitchell, and Brian Wilson. They all express something wonderful and, perhaps, a little more cerebral. This is a tricky topic because it starts to feel like quotas and stereotypes are being tossed about casually. But it’s really about what makes black music great, the way it breeds astounding and expressive singers, and inspires people of all colors and backgrounds.

It guess it helps if you can define what a great singer is. My formula is simple: The ones I love don’t lie, or at least sound incapable of it. I hear an absolute dearth of mannerisms and false notes, a transparency that tells me there’s no time for anything but the truth. There is also the visceral pleasure of hearing honest depictions of emotions too grand to bear, the ones that put the crack and gravel in a voice. You sense the sheer joy of owning and using such a joyous instrument. The sway, the swing, the sensation of being in the care of someone who really knows what the song means.

The reason I’m trying in my clumsy way to talk about this is because I recently was treated to another winner on Paul Cebar’s show (Way Back Home, Wednesday mornings on WMSE). The song was Looking For A Love, by The Valentinos, also known as The Womack Brothers. They were a heavily gospel influenced group from Cleveland. I was going to write about that song until I came across original member Bobby Womack performing his song (written with his sister-in-law Shirley Womack), It’s All Over Now on an early David Letterman show. The very definition of a confident and rocking black man, Womack owns this song even though the more familiar version is by the “World’s Greatest Band,” The Rolling Stones.

The Stones started out as a cover band, introducing British audiences to American Blues and R&B. A noble and important mission and they did a respectable job. (I’ve previously saluted them in this column.)

Still, we’re talking about the The Valentino’s here. These guys were veterans, already on the road singing gospel before they were teenagers. This performance isn’t just about Bobby’s gruff lead, with enough sand in it to build a small beach, it features backing vocals as smooth and tight as any you’ll ever hear. Gospel harmonies are not random. They are codified and strict. You are either singing the right note or you’re a million miles from it. It’s as formally strict as baroque music — somehow that liberates the performers and allows them to forget everything but being in the moment and nailing it.

Put that voice to these more than credible lyrics and you have something:

Well, baby used to
Stay out all night long
She made me cry
She did me wrong

She hurt my nose open
That’s no lie
Tables turn and now
It’s her turn to cry

(CHORUS)

Because I used to love her
But it’s all over now
Because I used to love her
But it’s all over now

Well, she used to run around
With every man in town
She spent all my money
Tryin’ to play her high class game

She put me out
It was a pity how I cried
But tables turn and
Now it’s her turn to cry

(CHORUS)

Well, I used to wake up in the morning
And get my breakfast in bed
Whenever I got worried
She would rub my aching head

But now she’s here and there
With every man in town
She’s still trying to take me for
That same old clown

(CHORUS)

© Bobby Womack and Shirley Womack

This man could sing the phone book and I’d want to dance. But this song offers far more than that. Featuring the deathless line “She hurt my nose open,” which Urban Dictionary defines as being crazy in love, it’s a funny tale of a girl who won’t stay put and the hurtin’ man who has recently given up chasing her. The lyrics are hip and funny, written by a very young Womack who may have come up gospel but had other things on his mind.

And how about Letterman’s Band? It features original drummer Steve Jordan, the driving force on Keith Richards solo records, and he is absolutely killing it! The band not only keeps up, they burn all the way through this number. At that point in history, savvy musicians had absorbed it all and they knew the drill. The way Womack walks out playing is more than an entrance, it’s a statement of ownership. I once saw Ry Cooder use that move and I have to think this is where he got it.

The way a song like this makes me want to drive off the road when it comes on is something that should be looked into by the DMV. Maybe they should pop this one on full volume in the middle of all road tests, just to eliminate the more distractible types.

I’ll say it again… Black music, coming from the most difficult places in America, with little reason to express joy, is still somehow transcendent. Bobby Womack kept it up from the 60’s until last year, when he died. He stayed friendly with The Stones, added wah-wah guitar to Sly Stone’s Family Affair, played on a lot of other people’s records, kept making his own and even recorded with The Gorillaz, an English band the kids (and me) like. Listening to him is as good as it gets, but it’s at least a 30-way tie.

3 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: “It’s All Over Now””

  1. Paula Penebaker says:

    Check out It’s All Over Now with Bill Withers on “The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years.” It’s super!

  2. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    An energized song that I too used to know from the Stones’ popularization. I never knew the author of the song – thanks!

  3. Dale Pautzke says:

    John, you know too much.

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