Bobby Womack is understood to me today as being an enormous soul survivor. Both literally and figuratively. This Cleveland Ohio native came up in the same state would produce so many funk luminaries in the 1970’s. Particularly in Dayton. He started in his family gospel band The Womack Brothers,which included his famous brother Cecil. Once they were discovered by Sam Cooke and became his backup band,Sam changed their name to the Valentinos. He bought them to LA with him,and re-focused them from gospel toward pop flavored soul. Following Sam Cooke’s death,Womack worked as a session musician for Ray Charles for the next four years-having disbanded the Valentinos.
Having worked at Chip Moman’s American Sound Studios,famous for launch the late 60’s comeback of Elvis Presley,Womack found himself doing session work for Aretha Franklin on her major 60’s breakout albums. During this time Womack began to work on a solo album of his own. The rhythm section involved on his debut were bassist Mike Leech,organist Bobby Emmons,drummer Gene Chrisman,pianist Bobby Woods and a fellow guitar player in Reggie Young. His solo debut was the 1967 release Fly Me To The Moon. It’s title song was a doo-wop styled version of the Frank Sinatra hit. The song that moves me most off this album however was called “Lillie Mae”.
The song is heavy on the rhythm. The drum is playing a fast shuffle with the rhythm guitar chugging away with equal rhythmic energy. On each chorus and refrain,the horn section either burst out or sustain themselves melodically-depending on the chords of the given part of the song. On the refrain the organ comes in,again playing a very strong sustain. On the end of the songs second refrain,the organ transitions into the chorus with a big,up scaling psychedelic explosion of sound. The song concludes with the refrain of the song repeating as it fades out-having the organ play hi hat like percussive accents on the very last moments of it.
My very first reaction to hearing this song was that it sounded very similar to Elvis’s song “A Little Less Conversation”. That isn’t at all surprising as that was also recorded with Chip Moman’s production. And came out the same year as this. As it stands,this song is a quick tempo’d example at countrified funky soul at it’s finest. The guitar very much picks up on JB’s use of the instrument at the time as a fully involved rhythmic element to the drums in the song. It also includes the instrumental sustains used on Memphis/Stax soul records at the time. So right at the very time the funk was getting ready to burst out into a genre all it’s own,Bobby Womack was playing his part in the entire funk process.