Cecil Womack: Half of the husband-and-wife duo known for their soul hits of the 1980s
Bobby Womack admitted he'd had an affair with Linda; the brothers did not speak for years
Sunday 10 February 2013
The husband-and-wife duo of Cecil and Linda Womack made some of the most enduring, sensuous, slinky, soul records of the 1980, starting with their wonderful debut album Love Wars, a favourite on US urban stations with the quiet storm ballads “Baby I'm Scared Of You” and “Express Myself”, and its electro-funk title track, which became their UK chart debut in 1984. However, Womack & Womack are probably best remembered for the naggingly catchy “Teardrops”, a Top 3 hit throughout much of the world in 1988, which has since been revived by many, including Elton John and k.d. lang, the Sugababes and Joss Stone
Expertly produced by Stewart Levine, Love Wars also contained a version of Cecil Womack's best-known song, “Love T.K.O.”, co-written with Eddie Noble, Jr. First recorded by David Oliver, but popularised on both sides of the Atlantic by Teddy Pendergrass in 1980, “Love T.K.O.” was subsequently covered by Debbie Harry, Hall & Oates, Bette Midler, Boz Scaggs, Lambchop, Michael McDonald, Seal and the Beautiful South.
Drawing from their own, convoluted, personal experiences, Cecil and his wife, who had known each other since childhood, were experts at captivating the trials, travails and tribulations of love. Cecil had previously been married to the Motown star Mary Wells, while his older brother Bobby married Linda's mother, the widow of the gospel-turned-soul singer Sam Cooke, in 1965, and admitted to a 1970 affair with Linda in his 2006 autobiography Midnight Mover.
Born in 1947, Cecil Womack was the youngest of five sons born to a steelworker who often sang gospel with his own siblings as the Womack Brothers in Charleston, West Virginia, and continued to do so after moving to Cleveland with a group called the Voices of Love. Nicknamed “Cornflakes”, Cecil slept in the same big bed as Friendly Jr – who was named after his father – Curtis, Bobby and Harry, and joined them in imitating their father's group and playing his guitar until they were found out and encouraged to practice their harmonies.
Eventually, their father quit his job and revived the Womack Brothers, now featuring his five sons, performing in churches across the Midwest. In 1953 they opened for the Soul Stirrers at the Friendship Baptist Church in Cleveland and came to the attention of their good-looking frontman, Sam Cooke, who mentored them.
They joined the “gospel highway” circuit alongside the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Pilgrim Travelers and the Staples Singers before signing to Cooke's new label, SAR Records, and moving to Los Angeles. After a flop gospel single in 1961, they changed their names to The Valentinos and sold two million copies of “Lookin' For A Love”, a secular adaptation of “Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray”, featuring Bobby Womack on lead, in 1962.
By then, Friendly Jr and Curtis had graduated, and Bobby, Harry and Cecil quit school to concentrate on “the devil's music”, to the horror of their religious father. They toured with James Brown, and scored another crossover hit with “It's All Over Now”, which was subsequently covered by the Rolling Stones, but the fall-out from Cooke's death – he was shot by a motel manager in Los Angeles in December 1964 – and Bobby Womack's marriage halted their progress.
They called it a day after releasing a couple of singles on the Chicago label Chess in 1966. Cecil helped Wells write and produce Servin' Up Some Soul, her 1968 album for Jubilee Records, which featured the other Womacks, as did several of Bobby's solo albums in the 1970s and '80s. He also wrote several of his brother's stand-out tracks, including “Stand Up” on The Poet album and “I Wish I Had Someone To Go Home To” on The Poet II, though Bobby admitted in his autobiography that he hadn't spoken to Cecil in years.
In 1976, Cecil Womack filed for divorce from Wells on the grounds that she was having an affair with his brother Curtis. The following year he married Linda Cooke and they hit a creative purple patch, composing material that went on to be recorded by George Benson, Eric Clapton, Patti LaBelle, Bonnie Raitt, Ruby Turner, The Dells, The Dramatics and The O'Jays. As Womack & Womack, their intertwined vocals – Cecil's grainy tenor was eerily similar to Bobby's – and mastery of the songwriting process, combined with his understanding of studio technology, brought them critical acclaim and steady album sales, not only with Love Wars, but also their 1985 follow-up for Elektra, Radio M.U.S.I.C. Man.
In January 1987 they headlined the Royal Albert Hall in London before signing to Fourth & Broadway, Island's dance imprint, and making the Conscience album, co-produced by Chris Blackwell, and featuring several of their offspring. The album spent close to a year on the charts and spawned not only “Teardrops”, but also two further UK Top 40 entries, “Life's Just A Ballgame” and “Celebrate The World”, which were indicative of the wider concerns they continued exploring on 1991's Family Spirit.
This African-centric consciousness coalesced during a trip to Nigeria, where they discovered ancestral ties to the Zekkariyas tribe and both adopted African names, Cecil becoming known as Zekuumba Zekkariyas and Linda as Zeriiya Zekkariyas. In 1993 they issued an album, Transformation To The House of Zekkariyas, and moved from the US to South Africa with their children.
The seven-year age difference, which had prevented Cecil and Linda getting together in the mid-'60s, had long ceased being a big deal. “When Zeriiya was young, I felt we were like brother and sister,” he told The Independent On Sunday when interviewed for the How We Met feature in 1994. “I still do. We relate the same way as we've always done. I think we're successful together because we're so alike. I love travelling and so does she. She has never been into material possessions and I'm not either. So we don't have any disagreements. We prefer to sit down and talk about how we can get closer to each other.”
Cecil Dale Womack, singer, songwriter, musician and producer: born Cleveland, Ohio 25 September 1947; one son; married 1967 Mary Wells (divorced 1976; two sons, one daughter), 1977 Linda Cooke (six children); died South Africa 1 February 2013.
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