I read an interview with Bobby Womack a few years ago in which he said that when he first heard that the Rolling Stones planned to record “It’s All Over Now,” he was not happy. He asked his manager to tell Mick Jagger to get his own song instead of recording one that Womack had written with his sister-in-law Shirley Womack. The manager convinced him to allow the Stones to record the song, and when the royalty checks from their version of the song started coming in a few months later, any problems that Womack had with the Stones disappeared. He told his manager to let Jagger know that he could record any Womack song he wanted to.
“It’s All Over Now” was first recorded by the Valentinos, a group that included Womack along with his brothers Cecil, Harry, Friendly, Jr., and Curtis, and released by Sam Cooke’s SAR Records in 1964, with Cooke as the producer. The Womacks got their start in their hometown of Cleveland. They began performing in church in around 1952, when Bobby was only eight years-old. Two years later the group (then known as Curtis and the Womack Brothers) cut their first single, “Buffalo Bill,” for Pennant Records. Two years after that they opened for the Soul Stirrers, led at the time by Sam Cooke, and Cooke liked what he heard.
It took a few years, but eventually Cooke crossed over from gospel to secular music and formed his own label, SAR Records. In 1960 he signed the Womack Brothers to his label. They were still gospel singers at that point, and their first two singles for the label were “Somebody’s Wrong” in 1961, and “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray” the following year. When the singles failed to chart, Cooke suggested that the group follow him into the secular music world.
They changed their name to the Valentinos. Bobby and Curtis were still trading lead vocals, even though Cooke preferred Bobby as the singer, perhaps because it was the singles with Bobby up front that did the most business. In March, 1962, the Valentinos released “Lookin’ for a Love” which rose to #8 on the R&B chart and sold two million copies. The success of the record earned them a spot opening for James Brown on his national tour.
In early 1964 the Valentinos recorded “It’s All Over Now.” The story goes that the legendary DJ Murray the K got an advance copy of the Valentinos single and played it for the Stones when he interviewed them in June of that year. Nine days later, the Stones went into Chess Studios and recorded it, and a couple of weeks later it was on the streets. The success of the Stones single dwarfed the Valentinos record. “It’s All Over Now” was a #1 hit for the Stones in the UK, and made it to #26 on the US pop chart, staying on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks.
The future still seemed bright for the Valentinos, until that night in December, 1964 that Sam Cooke was shot and killed at a Los Angeles motel. In their grief and sorrow, the Valentinos disbanded. A few months later, in a development that is still shocking and controversial, Bobby married Cooke’s widow Barbara Campbell. To say that Cooke’s fans were unhappy would be an understatement. In an effort to protect his brothers from being tarnished by the scandal, Bobby left the group in 1965 to begin what became an illustrious solo career. He urged his brothers to regroup as the Valentinos.
Sadly, Cooke’s death also meant the end of SAR Records, and as a result the Valentinos were without a label. They finally got signed by Chess Records, and recorded two singles for the label in 1966, “Do It Right,” and “Let’s Get Together.” Neither one of the singles had any success, and Chess dropped them. Soon after that brother Cecil Womack left the group to marry by-then former Motown star Mary Wells, and in 1968 the couple helped to get the remaining brothers signed to Jubilee Records.
The were just three Womack brothers remaining in the Valentinos by that time, Curtis, Harry, and Friendly, Jr. In 1968 they recorded “Tired of Being Nobody” and “Two Lovers History” (written by Cecil Womack) before calling it quits for good.
On January 27, ABKCO Records will release Lookin’ For a Love: The Complete SAR Recordings by the Valentinos. The set includes all 23 tracks recorded between June, 1961 and September, 1964 by the Valentinos and the Womack Brothers for SAR. Seven of the tracks are previously unreleased. The package also includes well-researched liner notes by Bill Dahl, and recording information for each track. If I had only one word with which to describe this collection, I would call it indispensable for any soul music fan.
On the same day, ABKCO, the company that did such a splendid job with the release of The Complete SAR Recordings by L.C. Cooke earlier this year, will be releasing Joy In My Soul: The Complete SAR Recordings by the Soul Stirrers. It is beyond doubt that the Soul Stirrers were one of the most influential groups of all time, if only for birthing the careers of Sam Cooke, and Johnnie Taylor, who replaced Cooke when he departed to record popular music.
The Soul Stirrers were founded in 1926 and they were a top gospel group for decades before Cooke joined in 1951. He stayed with the group for six years, and when the Soul Stirrers found themselves without a label in 1959, Cooke and his partners Roy Crain (the founder of the Soul Stirrers), and J.W. Alexander, started SAR Records specifically to release Soul Stirrers records with Taylor singing lead.
The Soul Stirrers recorded for SAR from September, 1959 to July, 1964. During that time there were two albums, Jesus Be a Fence Around Me, and Encore!! With the Soul Stirrers, as well as several singles that didn’t appear on the LPs, and some tracks that were unreleased altogether. The ABKCO set includes all of that material, including the song “Time Brings About a Change” which is currently featured in the film “Selma.” This two-disc set also includes liner notes by Dahl. I’ve already used the word indispensable, so let’s call the Soul Stirrers collection essential.