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George Carlin, Speaking Blue to Power

Linguist Geoff Nunberg reflects on the life and language of the late comedian George Carlin, who died last month.


Other segments from the episode on July 4, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 4, 2008: Interview with Bobby Womack; Review of Carole King's classic album "Tapestry;" Commentary on George Carlin.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Bobby Womack discusses his career and musical

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, from Broadcasting & Cable magazine
and, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Our guest is soul singer Bobby Womack. He started singing gospel in the
mid-1950s with his brothers. After they were discovered by Sam Cooke, they
started recording soul music under the name The Valentinos. One of their
records, "It's All Over Now," co-written by Bobby Womack, was covered by The
Rolling Stones.

Womack went on to a solo recording career, and also had some success as a
songwriter. He wrote several songs for Wilson Pickett, including "I'm a
Midnight Mover" and "I'm in Love." Womack wrote and sang the title song for
the '70s action film "Across 110th Street." That song was used by Quentin
Tarantino in his film "Jackie Brown," and more recently was also heard in the
film "American Gangster." The collection "The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul
Years" has recently been released. It includes this 1971 hit.

(Soundbite of "That's the Way I Feel About Cha")

Mr. BOBBY WOMACK: Huh, you know, life is funny when you look at it
Everybody wants love, but everybody's afraid of love
You know, I'm a true believer that

(Singing) If you get anything out of life
You got to put up with the talk, that's right

(Speaking) Now, listen

(Singing) Ooh, you're pushing my love a little bit too far
I don't think you know
I don't think you know how blessed you are
And your friend Annie Mae
Tell you all she see
Have you ever thought she was trying to get close to me

Think it over
Think it over, girl
Think it over

Look, that's the way I feel about ya

Unidentified Backup Singers: (Singing) That's the way I feel about you

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) And if that's being weak, for you darling, yeah
I don't mind, I don't mind, I don't mind

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross spoke with Bobby Womack in 1999. She asked him about
Sam Cooke, who discovered Womack and his brothers and was the first to record
them and give them their big break.


Tell me about the first time you heard him sing in church, and I think this
was in the early 1950s.

Mr. B. WOMACK: That was in the early 1950s. He had just joined The Soul
Stirrers. And it was strange because the guy that was this lead singer of The
Soul Stirrers, R.H. Harris, was--Sam idolized and worshipped the ground he
walked on, and that's who he was trying to sing like. So R.H. Harris started
to give him voice lessons and work with him.

But R.H. Harris was like Rudolph Valentino. He had a woman in every city,
and in every city he also had kids. So it got to a point for child support,
he couldn't perform anywhere because they would pick him up and take him off
the stage. So it was really weird. So he says, `I can't go out anymore.' I
don't know why he was able to stay in Chicago. Would it be because he didn't
have no kids there?

But anyway, he got Sam. Sam was 16, 17, and he said, `This guy's got to
replace me because I'm hurting the group.' And Sam came in and took over. He
took over so fast that it seemed like the people forgot about Harris.

And Sam came to Cleveland to perform with The Soul Stirrers, and we were
trying to get our break. In other words, if we could open up for The Soul
Stirrers, at that time, it was like opening up for The Rolling Stones. And
all of the old guys in the group says, `Oh, no. Let them come back when they
grow up. We're professionals. You guys, you all nice, that's cute. But this
ain't no place for kids.' And Sam said, `What you mean "No place for kids?"'
And he says, `It's going to be a place today. And not only that, I want your
mom to find the biggest purse she possibly can find. And we ain't singing
until you all take up a offering for them.' And I never forgot that.

GROSS: You once said that the first time that you saw him perform in church,
it's like he's fixing his hair in the middle of the concert and...

Mr. B. WOMACK: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...women are going crazy.

Mr. B. WOMACK: He would sing.

(Singing) `Wonderful. God is so wonderful.'

(Speaking) And he would just--I said, `Look at this guy. Women are going
crazy.' It was like a rock 'n' roll show. So the older people didn't like it.
They'd say, `We don't think that they should play with God like this.' I said,
`Look, the Bible said make a joyful noise.' You don't have to be under some
spell to shout or cry and jump up and down. I think it's great to see kids
dancing off records, whatever. If they're dancing, they're respecting God and
they're showing him their love. So that's what it's all about. So the Gospel
is the truth. You just have to broaden the scope of it, and they can go as
far as you let it go.

GROSS: Well, Sam Cooke not only let you sing when he performed, he later
signed you and your brothers to his recording label and produced you for
singing gospel, but then singing rhythm and blues. Now, Sam Cooke, I think,
was an inspiration to a lot of gospel singers because he crossed over from
gospel to pop and made it really big. So...

Mr. B. WOMACK: And everybody was afraid to do that. Even Sam was afraid to
do it.

GROSS: How'd you feel about making that transition?

Mr. B. WOMACK: I was scared to death because everybody was constantly
saying, `Sam's not going to have any good luck because he sold hisself out to
the devil. And he was singing for God, now he's worshipping the devil.'

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. B. WOMACK: So that's the way we were taught. And I was watching
Sam--when is something going to happen to him, you know? And as soon as he
had a car wreck, that was a warning. Then if something else happened, they
would say, `God's punishing him.' I said, `I don't know that kind of God.
Those things just happen.' And tragically--I mean, sorrily, he did leave here
of a death you would never expect. But today, I mean, you could be walking
down the street and somebody shoot you for snoring or talking to yourself, you
know. So it's crazy. But it was then, that was like Sam wasn't a violent
kind of person and he died of a bullet, of being shot by a woman.

GROSS: Your father sang gospel. He sang with a group called Voices of Love.
How did he feel when you and your brothers started recording rhythm and blues?

Mr. B. WOMACK: He was very, very hurt. It broke his spirit. I remember he
was so hurt that he told us, he said, `All of you guys got to leave this
house, you got to get out. You're not going to sing it in here.' So he put us
out. We all--I quit school when I was about 16, and Harry was 14 and he quit,
Cecil was 13 and he quit, and my other two brothers had finished.

And so we told Sam, `He put us out.' And he said, `Where you at?' I said,
`We're standing on the corner.' And he says, `Oh, God, man. I didn't want to
cause that kind of a problem.' But he knew because his father was a preacher.


Mr. B. WOMACK: He said, `I know what you're going through.' He said, `I
just hate this responsibility.' He said, `Do you all know how to drive?' I
said, `I got a temporary license. And my oldest brother got a license.' He
said, `OK. I'm going to send you some money to buy a car. And you all get on
Route 66 and do not get off Route 66 until you get to California.'

GROSS: Is that what you did?

Mr. B. WOMACK: I was supposed to go buy a new Chevy, a station wagon. But
all of the hustlers and the pimps and the fast street people had these big
Cadillacs. So I said, `I can't buy no Cadillac with this car and go to
California, too.' So I talked my brothers into, `instead of getting a new car,
let's get this old Cadillac. It looks good.' So they say, `Come on, Bob.
Let's do what he asks us to do.' I says, `No, let's get this Caddy.' I said,
`The Cadillac like only costs $600. We got 2700 left,' you know. Well, they
said OK.

So we bought this Cadillac. And the first thing I went to do is drive back on
the school grounds and talk to my history teacher who always told me I would
be nothing. He said, `You're not going to be nothing but a janitor. You
always talking about you all going'--we used to go sing and my father would
drop us out the next morning--we come from Florida. He'd drop us out right in
front of the school and we were already an hour late. And we running, trying
to get into the school. And the kids were laughing, but he would always make
a joke. `Womack, go to the board. Who invented the cotton gin?' or some
question like that. I'm looking for some girl to tell me, `Help me, please.'
You know, I'd write it 5,000 times.

And he was always--so this guy, his name was Mr. Washington. I said, `I've
got to drive back before I go anywhere.' I drove on the school grounds and
blow my horn and everybody came running, `It's Womack!' I said, `Yeah, that's
where I got my start. Got me a Caddy,' you know. So he kept telling the
kids, `Get away from the window!' And the strangest thing happened. The car
cut off and would not start. And, man, I'm praying to God, `Jesus, please let
this car start. I just want to get off the school grounds.' He said, `I'm
going to call the police if you don't move the car.' And it finally cranked up
and I got it home.

We left that night, going to--on our way to California. My mother was crying.
She was worried, she packed us a big lunch. My father, probably, was sorry
that he had pushed it to that point. But he was a very stubborn man. He
wasn't the kind of guy to give in. So he says--he didn't say anything, and we
took off driving. A week later they were still looking for us, Sam...

GROSS: Where'd you end up?

Mr. B. WOMACK: Well, we went to hospital because we were overtaken by gas

GROSS: Oh, gosh.

Mr. B. WOMACK: It started to rain. We cut on the windshield wipers. They
went straight off the car. And we kept filling the car up about--it seemed
like every hour we had to put gas in the car. The gas--the tank had two big,
old holes in it. All the tires blew out, every last one. It was really
crazy. So when we got to Hollywood, California, we were pushing the car down
Hollywood Boulevard.

GROSS: Well, so you finally made it to Hollywood in this really bum car that
you spent your...

Mr. B. WOMACK: Yeah, this bum--oh, man, the car was terrible.

GROSS: on and hooked up with Sam Cooke.

Mr. B. WOMACK: Yeah.

GROSS: Now, before we hear something that you recording with your brothers,
produced by Sam Cooke, I want to just backtrack a second and play something
that you recorded with your father, since we were talking about him and his
reaction to your crossover.

Mr. B. WOMACK: I hope you play the song that I think you're going to play.

GROSS: "Tarnished Rings" from 1976.

Mr. B. WOMACK: Yeah. That's a great song.

GROSS: This is a great recording. And...

Mr. B. WOMACK: A great song. And I heard his voice the other day. It
scared me to death because I drive his car right now.

GROSS: No, really?

Mr. B. WOMACK: That's my favorite automobile. It's a 1974 Buick, just like
it was when he drove it off the floor. And that was the car I purchased for
him, that he said, `If you ever do anything and you ever make it out there,'
he said, `you can buy me a deuce and a quarter.' So I said, `A deuce and a
quarter?' I didn't know what a deuce and a quarter was. I said, `Yeah, I'll
get that for you, Pop.'

But when I did make it--my first piece of money, I said, `I'm going to get my
father that deuce and a quarter.' And I asked somebody, `What is a deuce and a
quarter?' They said, `He must be from back East.' They said, `That's a Buick.'
I said, `That's what he wanted, a Buick and not a Cadillac?' No, he wants a
Buick. So he had that Buick, and he would never let me trade it in. So when
he passed away, I restored the car to its original--just the way it was
originally, and I drive it all the time. It feels like, when I start it up,
he starts up.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. B. WOMACK: And so...

GROSS: When did he pass?

Mr. B. WOMACK: ...the other day that song--I forgot I had a CD put in it,
and that song just came on.

(Singing) "Tarnished Rings."

(Speaking) It scared me to death. I thought my father was in the car. I
said, `Oh my God.'

GROSS: Well, let's hear "Tarnished Rings"...


GROSS: ...recorded in 1976. This is my guest Bobby Womack with his father,
Friendly Womack Sr.

(Soundbite of "Tarnished Rings")

Mr. B. WOMACK: You know, people always ask me, they say, `Bobby, where did
you learn how to sing like that?' Well, I think I'll let you all in on a
little something extra. I want you to hear my father sing this
particular song. He sings...

Mr. FRIENDLY WOMACK Sr.: (Singing)
When I see a ring that never grazed a finger
Dime-store trinkets made of glass and tin
And how we cling to faded dreams that linger
And saying the past can live again

Tarnished ring and imitation jewelry
Foolish things I cannot leave behind.

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Speaking) All right, Dad, my turn.

(Singing) For this ring, it never takes that jewelry
always bring you back into my mind

When I was young, I thought all...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bobby Womack and his father, Friendly Womack Sr., recorded in

Let's pick up where Sam Cooke had signed you and your brothers, and after
recording a few gospel sides, you started to do rhythm and blues. You were,
you know, performing, I think, on stage with people like Sam Cooke. I think
The Valentinos opened for James Brown, didn't you?

Mr. B. WOMACK: Yeah. We opened for James Brown. We opened for Solomon
Burke. We opened for The Falcons, who had Wilson Pickett as their lead singer
at that time...

GROSS: Uh-huh. Now, this is...

Mr. B. WOMACK: ...and Eddie Floyd.

GROSS: This must have been different for you than singing in the church.

Mr. B. WOMACK: Well, it was different because the women could come in mini
dresses and whatever, and you didn't have pretty women backstage in church,
you know. They just caught the service and then they went home.

GROSS: Did you go wild?

Mr. B. WOMACK: But then I could take them home...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. B. WOMACK: ...and then I'd go wild. They called me "Wild Bill Hickock"
Yeah. But I'll tell you--and something when you first get--I mean, basically,
you sing--70 percent of the audience is women.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. B. WOMACK: But after being in it for 10 years, you adjust and you find
out this is going to be happening every night, you know. And you better get
used to it.

BIANCULLI: Bobby Womack speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. We'll hear more
of their conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Singer Bobby Womack. His CD collection "The Soul Years" has just
been released.

GROSS: I'd like to play what's probably the best-known song from the early
part of your career. This is a song you co-wrote. It's called "It's All Over
Now," which was covered by The Rolling Stones after you recorded it with your

Mr. B. WOMACK: They just did a commercial on that again.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. B. WOMACK: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, tell me a little bit about writing the song. Do you remember
writing it?

Mr. B. WOMACK: I remember I had an uncle, his name was Uncle Wes. That's
my father's youngest brother. And he was in love with this woman named Betty
Jo. But Betty Jo was going to church with him and Dad all the time, and she
was a pretty lady. And one day she just said, `Enough is enough,' and she
started going to nightclubs and hanging out. And she use to wear these long
dresses, and she took her dress up to past her knees. Uncle Wes could not
control it. So every weekend, he didn't know where she was. Nobody knew
where she was. They knew she was out having a good time. And she'd come
in--but he'd be talking about, `I'm leaving Betty. This is it. No, it's all
over now. It's all--I swear, it's all over now.'

Soon as Betty Jo came in the house it was, `Uncle Wes, stick to your guns.
Don't'--she come in there and she say, `How you doing, honey?' `Oh, no, no.
You've got to get. I've got your bags packed.' She said, `Come here a
minute,' she'd take him in the other room. We never understood what happened.
But he'd go in that room. He never came out. I didn't know if they were
dead, but the next morning he'd be unpacking her bags. We said, `Uncle Wes,
you fell for it.' So I said, `Next week, when she go out this week, don't go
in the room when she come back. Fight. Hold on to the couch. We'll help
you.' He'd keep saying, `You don't understand.' I'd say, `No, no, no. I
understand. Just don't go in that room.'

So the same thing applied again the next week. And she'd say, `Come here,
Wes.' And so he'd be coming, `No, it's all over now.' So that's how the song
came about.

(Singing) But I used to love her, but it's all over now.

(Speaking) And I didn't know about because I wasn't too young to fall in love.
I was 15 when I wrote the song. But just thinking about--that's where the
song came from.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "It's All Over Now"...


GROSS: ...recorded by The Valentinos, which is the Womack brothers.

Mr. B. WOMACK: The Womack brothers.

GROSS: My guest Bobby Womack...

Mr. B. WOMACK: That's what they called us in church, the Womack boys.

GROSS: My guest Bobby Womack is singing lead on this 1964 recording.

(Soundbite of "It's All Over Now")

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Well, baby used to stay out all night long
She made me cry
She did wrong
She had my nose open
That's no lie
Table's turning, now it's her turn to cry

Because I used to love her,
but it's all over now
Because I used to love her,
but it's all over now

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bobby Womack and his brothers, who were known then as The
Valentinos, recorded in 1964.

So what was your reaction when you found out that The Rolling Stones wanted to
record your song?

Mr. B. WOMACK: I was very upset.

GROSS: Why were you upset?

Mr. B. WOMACK: It's because, as far as I can remember, that every time a
black artist came out with a song--you know, segregation was everywhere. It
was in music and everything. So they would say, `We can't let that record be
played on pop stations,' which were white stations. So we would get a Pat
Boone, or somebody, to take the same song and sing it, which the white
audience never knew it was sung by a black artist. The same with Elvis
Presley songs, you know. It was written by a lot of black artists and sung by
most black artists. They was hits on the black side of town. On the white
side of town, it was a whole different thing.

So when Sam came in and said, `Bobby, there's a group called The Rolling
Stones.' And I say, `Yeah, that's nice. I hope they keep rolling.' He said,
`No, what I'm trying to tell you,' he said, `they like your song and they want
to sing your song. They want to record it.' I said, `Man, let them get their
own song. I don't want them to sing my song.' He said, `You don't understand.
They're going to be huge.' He said, `Bobby, The Rolling Stones are coming
whether you like it or not.' And he said, `And plus, I own the publishing.' He
said, `I'm trying to tell you that this is going to be a career move for you.'
I said, `Yeah, but, dad, this is our first break.'

GROSS: Did you like their version of it?

Mr. B. WOMACK: Well, I didn't like their version because I didn't think
Mick Jagger--and to this day, I say Mick Jagger can't out-sing me, you know.
But when I saw that first royalty check, I liked their version.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. B. WOMACK: Much. I said, `Good God almighty.' I said, `Man, I can go
back and buy Cleveland'

GROSS: Let me ask you about...

Mr. B. WOMACK: So I've been chasing him for the past 30 years saying, `Just
do one more song. If you all do one more song of mine I'll retire.' They'd
say, `Bobby, you started us to writing.' Because Andrew Oldam says, `Bobby,
when you put that song'--I told them--I said, `If you want to be The Beatles,
you can't keep taking songs from other people. You got to start writing your
own songs.' They said, `We can't write.' He said, `Yes, you can. You can
write.' And he was the sixth Stone really.

BIANCULLI: Bobby Womack speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. His CD "Bobby
Womack: The Soul Years" has just been released.

We'll hear more of their interview in the second half of the show. I'm David
Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "I'm a Midnight Mover")

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Ah, help me!
Yeah, I'm a midnight mover
All night groover
Yeah, yeah, uh-huh
I'm a midnight teaser
Real soul pleaser
I'm a midnight hurter
All night lover
Listen, just believe when you're down and you're out
I will always bring you home
Yeah, yeah
Oh, yeah

I'm a midnight teaser
Real soul pleaser
I'm a midnight rover
I've looked things over
I'm a midnight creeper
All day sleeper
Oh, yeah

Come to me when you're down and you're out
I will always bring you out

Mover, mover
Groover, groover
Teaser, teaser

(End of soundbite)


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, back
with Terry's conversation with soul singer Bobby Womack. When we left off,
they were talking about cover versions of his records. His song "Looking for
a Love" was covered by the J. Geils Band. Let's listen to the version Womack
recorded in the 1960s with his brothers, The Valentinos.

(Soundbite of "Looking for a Love")

The Valentinos: (Singing) I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Hm

The Valentinos: (Singing) I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) I'm looking for a love

The Valentinos: (Singing) I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Looking for a love

The Valentinos: (Singing) Whoa, oh, oh, oh, oh
I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Well, I'm looking here and there

Mr. B. WOMACK and The Valentinos: (Singing) And I'm searching everywhere
And I'm look, I'm look, I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) I'm looking for my love

The Valentinos: (Singing) I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

The Valentinos: (Singing) I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Well, now...

Mr. B. WOMACK and The Valentinos: (Singing) Whoa, I'm looking here and there
I'm searching everywhere
And I'm look, I'm look, I'm look, I'm look
Oh, I'm looking for a love

Mr. B. WOMACK: (Singing) Well, so when you get up in the morning...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Now, that session was produced for Sam Cooke's record label. Sam
Cooke was killed--shot and killed in 1964, and I know that changed your life
in every way. I mean, he was your close friend...

Mr. B. WOMACK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...your close musical associate. And then you became part of his
family, in a way.

Mr. B. WOMACK: Yeah, I married Sam's wife.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. B. WOMACK: A lot of people, I mean, I think I must have invented the
tabloids because, I mean, they ate me alive. They use to call me `the boy
that married Sam Cooke's wife.' And I was saying, `I got to cut some hit
records now because I want my name back, Bobby Womack.' And I figured the only
way I could take that is through song.

And they was trying to compare me with Sam, and I wasn't Sam. And I still say
today--I'm 55, I was 19 when I married her--that I married her because I saw a
move going down where it was separation between the two. Sam played around a
lot. People talked and said, `Don't let her know the business. Don't let her
know anything. But she'll be the first one to divorce you, and you'll be
broke.' And he used to always say--I says, `Sam, why don't you take--why don't
you get a will?' And he said, `A will?' He says, `Bobby, if I made up a will,
my wife would kill me.' He says, `I'm scared. I have to play around. I love
women, and that's just my nature. That's just part of me.' So he said, `But
if I should die,' he says, `bury me deep and put two women on each side of
me.' And he would always laugh, and I'd say, `I don't find that funny, man. I
don't think'...

But here's the guy--I mean, I'm 19 and Sam was about 30, you know. And so he
thought it was funny. He said, `I tell you what. You be my will. Something
happens to me, you take care of my family,' and he would joke like that. But
I took him very serious. So as soon as that happened, I started being the
detective, walking around saying, `Hey, I know where the money's at. I know
what bank it's in. I know this is this, and he also owned this.' `He owned
that? Where's the publishing?' and I'd tell them the publishing. So...

GROSS: So you're saying you didn't feel like you were betraying him in any

Mr. B. WOMACK: No. I wasn't betraying him. In my mind, I was doing just
what he would have done if he was here.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. B. WOMACK: And I said, `I will make sure that she's in the position.' I
told her, I said, `I don't love you.' She was the one who said it. It was
like "The Graduate." She said, `Marry me.'

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Now you are also really well known as a session guitarist in the '60s and
'70s. And I want to get to an example of your session work and a very kind of
famous wah-wah guitar line that you played for Sly & The Family Stone's
recording "Family Affair." Where did you learn to play wah-wah guitar?

Mr. WOMACK: Well, I just, I play upside down. I'm a left-handed guitar
player. My father was a guitar player and I learned how to play. I taught
myself. And I want to make it real short. I'm not going to deviate or talk a
long time. You want to edit me, that's it.

GROSS: OK. The end!

Mr. B. WOMACK: And that's the end.

GROSS: All right.

Mr. B. WOMACK: That's a good one. That's good for me.

GROSS: Now, I know you knew Jimi Hendrix. Did he teach you anything

Mr. B. WOMACK: No, because we both had two different styles, though he was
a left-handed guitar player, too. Jimi was a very gentle guy, very gentle,
and wanted to help everybody. Was easy. I mean, Jimi would walk around a
roach. And normally you see a roach crawling, you just step on it. You know,
he was just a nice guy. And Jimi played different. He played--he could play
the way I played, but he also has his style. His style was hard driving. He
use to stand up to the--I remember, he use to set his little guitar on fire he
had bought at Sears & Roebucks. And then he would jump on it with a blanket
and put it out. By the end of the week, keep doing that to the guitar, it
looked like there had been somebody tried to barbecue it. And he said, `One
day I'm going to have me a line of guitars.' He say, `I just get so engrossed
while I'm in that climax. I want to climax so much I just want--after the
guitar is on fire, I just want to cut it and burn it. And then after I get
through burning it, break it up and bust it all over the stage and walk off.'

GROSS: Did you think he was crazy doing that to his guitar?

Mr. B. WOMACK: Well, because I've been in show business, I just take it,
he's just come from another angle.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. B. WOMACK: I thought he was different. I said, `Boy, he's weird.' I
said, `I would never put my--set no match to my guitar.'

GROSS: Well, let's hear...

Mr. B. WOMACK: But now he had so many guitars, he finally did work it out
where he could just burn them every night.

GROSS: Well, lets hear you on wah-wah guitar on this recording of Sly & The
Family Stone's "Family Affair."

(Soundbite of "Family Affair")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) It's a family affair
It's a family affair
It's a family affair
It's a family affair

Unidentified Man: (Singing) One child grows up to be
Somebody that just loves to learn
And another child grows up to be
Somebody you'd just love to burn
Mom loves the both of them
You see, it's in the blood
Both kids are good to Mom
Blood's thicker than the mud
It's a family affair

Woman: (Singing) It's a family affair

Man: (Singing) It's a family affair

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That was Bobby Womack on guitar.

Now tell me, you know, wah-wah guitar ended up sounding so dated after awhile.
Like, was there a...

Mr. WOMACK: Yeah.

GROSS: Was there a time when you said, `OK. It's over for this style of
playing. I'm not going to do it anymore.'

Mr. WOMACK: Look, the guy that had the name for wah-wah guitar was--the
guy's name was Wahwah. And he played wah-wah on everything. I just played
wah-wah on that song because I was trying to create something. So I said,
`Hey, Sly's never used a wah-wah. I'll put the wah-wah on it.' And we was in
the studio and we was just, like, hanging out. And it came out that way. But
I didn't play wah-wah on everything. I didn't even like it. I liked it on
that song because it just sort of fit with the...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. WOMACK: ...grace notes that he was playing on the keyboards.

GROSS: My guest is Bobby Womack. Now, I want to move on to another of your
many great records. And this is "Across 110th Street," which you wrote as the
theme for the movie of the same name, which starred Anthony Quinn and Yaphet
Kotto. And this was one of, like, the great action films of the early '70s.
How much of the movie had you seen before you had to write the theme song for

Mr. WOMACK: I saw the movie all the way through one time.

GROSS: Did you like it?

Mr. WOMACK: I loved the movie, but I felt that the company really didn't
want to let me do the--and I was getting ready to go on tour the very next
day. They said, `You've got to have the score done in two weeks.' What they
didn't know is that that whole story was about something I lived all my life,
the ghetto.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WOMACK: So I said, `I can write this song and just keep elaborating on
it and do other songs.' But I never seen the movie again because everybody
told me. They said, `They should've given you a TV-edited version down so you
could look at it and you could set the song tones to, you know'--I didn't get
a chance to do that. And, plus, when you're touring and hitting one-nighters
every night, I was surprised that I came off with what I did. And I had to
record it, all this in two weeks. I went to Muscle Shoals and cut everything
and got the tape back and the guy said, `That's incredible. Boy, if we would
have given him the time that he needed, no telling what would happen.' I said,
`Probably the same thing.'

GROSS: Now, I'm not sure it would've gotten better than this.

Mr. WOMACK: No. I don't think it would've gotten better because I think
you--I'm better when I'm under pressure.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Let's hear your recording of "Across 110th Street."

(Soundbite of "Across 110th Street")

Mr. WOMACK: (Singing) Ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
I was the third brother of five doing whatever I had to do to survive
I'm not saying what I did was all right
Trying to break out of the ghetto was a day-to-day fight

Being down so long, getting up didn't cross my mind,
But I knew there was a better way of life that I was just trying to find
But you don't know what you're doing till you're put under pressure
Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester

Across 110th Street, pimps trying to catch a woman that's weak
Across 110th Street, pushers won't let the junkie go free
Across 110th Street, woman trying to catch a trick on the street
Ooh, baby
Across 110th Street, you can find it all in the street


(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bobby Womack's theme from "Across 110th Street."

You must have been pleased when Quentin Tarantino used this in "Jackie Brown"
to open the film.

Mr. WOMACK: Yeah, because, you know, I used to date Pam Grier.

GROSS: Oh, wow.

Mr. WOMACK: That was Rosie Grier's, ex-Ram--that's his niece. And so he
introduced her to me after me and Barbara divorced. And he says, `Hey, man,
she's a beautiful girl.' And she was saying, `I'm going to be a star.' And she
was real wild, but she was real positive. I mean, she would get anywhere and
anything she wanted to do, Pam Grier found a way. So I had her singing on
"Across 110th Street."

Now, the most incredible story about that is that about seven years ago we did
an interview--we hadn't seen each other in years--in New York. And we were
doing--she's asking me what was I doing, and I was telling her, `Well, you
know, just working. Doing the same old thing. Things slowed down quite a
bit. But you know, there's something new happen, they always do.' And her
thing had slowed down from doing her black exploitation movies. But if I
could have told her then, `A couple of years from now you're going to be
starring over people like'--she would have thought I was crazy. And that that
song would bring us both back.

BIANCULLI: Bobby Womack speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. By the way,
Womack's song "Across 110th Street" was also used in the recent film "American
Gangster." "The Best of Bobby Womack: The Soul Years" has recently been

Coming up, Milo Miles tells us about a classic 1971 pop album that he says
holds up to the scrutiny of time. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Milo Miles on the reissue of Carole King's "Tapestry"

Carole King's "Tapestry" was a dominant album in 1971. It held the number one
slot on the Billboard charts for 15 weeks, selling 24 million copies worldwide
in the next six years. King won four Grammys, including Album of the Year and
Song of the Year. "Tapestry" was reissued recently in a form that critic Milo
Miles says may be its finest presentation yet.

Mr. MILO MILES: Time does strange things to classic pop albums. Some, like
The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's" and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," fly
along on auto pilot, famous for being famous. Others, like Michael Jackson's
"Thriller," are tarnished by forces outside themselves and may take a
generation to recover luster. Others are simply invincible.

(Soundbite of "You've Got a Friend")

Ms. CAROLE KING: (Singing) When you're down and troubled
And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: The only negative you can say about Carole King's second solo
album "Tapestry" is that she's never made anything as good since. But few
performers have.

1971 was a landmark year for women's pop music, which also saw the release of
Joni Mitchell's moodier, darker masterpiece "Blue." But "Tapestry" was the
monster success, selling millions and winning awards. And it should have,
because it answered a burning populous need. Joni was a rarified creature;
Carole King was telling everybody what it felt like to be a modern,
self-assured woman and a grown up woman at that. The supremely adult
reflections of "It's Too Late" and "You've Got a Friend" enriched the
anxieties of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" originally a trembling teen anthem.

(Soundbite of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?")

Ms. KING: (Singing) Tonight you're mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this the...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: That version of the song appears on the second disc of the new,
expanded edition of "Tapestry." Except for the weakest, most passive track,
"Where You Lead," the entire album is reproduced with previously unreleased
solo acoustic versions recorded at three 1973 concerts and one from 1976.
This turns out to be a brilliant repackaging, though not in the way I
initially expected. Not having heard the studio "Tapestry" in awhile, I
remember it as being overproduced, not because too much was added but because
the proceedings were too smoothed out. I hoped the solo versions would
correct that, and a couple times they do. The new treatment of "So Far Away"
is more fervent and soulful than the original.

(Soundbite of "So Far Away")

Ms. KING: (Singing) So far away
Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore
It would be so fine to see your face at my door
Doesn't help to know you're just time away
Long ago I reached for you and
There you stood
Holding you again could only do me good
Ooh, how I wish I could
But you're so far away

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: But listening to the remastered "Tapestry," it's impossible to
deny producer Lou Adler did a visionary job. The sound is casual but focused,
flowing but precise. The open mood underscores King's determination to state
herself forcefully. It's a style that would be widely imitated in the '70s.
And I agree with liner note writer Harvey Kubernik that you can hear echoes of
"Tapestry" in current performers like Tori Amos and Alicia Keys.

Adler must have a special feel for this material because he does a fine job of
explaining how the new presentation works. He first heard the songs as potent
demos and built the sound of "Tapestry" up from those. Inevitably, King and
her piano became a bit less central. So including solo performance versions
of the tracks, as Adler says, allows the listener to hear the songs as they
were first presented to the producer and then go back to "Tapestry" and follow
the process to the production of the final album.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman")

Ms. KING: (Singing) Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel uninspired
And when I knew I'd have to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired

Before the day I met you
Life was so unkind
But your love was the key to my peace of mind
'Cause you make me feel
You make me feel
You make me feel like a natural woman

(Soundbite of whistle)

Ms. KING: (Singing) When my soul...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILES: And it works. Listen to the live versions first. Then, even if
you felt burnt out with the studio album, you will hear it with fresh ears.
All previous versions of "Tapestry" should be rolled up and put into storage.

BIANCULLI: Milo Miles lives in Boston.

Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg considers George Carlin and the timing of
those seven dirty words. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Linguist Geoff Nunberg on George Carlin

Whether fairly or not, George Carlin's name will always be associated most
closely with his routine on seven words you can't say on television, which he
first performed more than 35 years ago. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has these
thoughts on how our attitudes about profanity have changed since then.

Mr. GEOFF NUNBERG: The appreciations of George Carlin described him as a
counterculture comedian, but the connection was really just circumstantial.
Carlin was no hippy. Actually, I don't know that there were any hippy
comedians, apart from Cheech and Chong, or I guess maybe Sonny Bono, if you
want to push the point. Long hair and beard or no, Carlin was really the last
hipster. The sardonic tone and scat riffing went straight back to Lenny
Bruce, Mort Sahl and Lord Buckley. And Carlin would have been the first to
acknowledge his debt to Bruce for a lot of the elements in his routine on
seven dirty words you can't say on television. Like the ruminations on the
grammar of profanity and the rapid fire recitations of a string of dirty
words, like a kid pledging allegiance to the flag of some undeclared nation of
the id.

But it was Carlin's routine that entered American folklore and that stamped
his identity as a performer. That's partly because Carlin's material was less
confrontational and more ribald than Bruce's was. But it also reflected a
cultural sea change. In their time, comics like Bruce and Sahl were relegated
to the category of sick humor. Bruce himself disliked the label, although he
used it in the title of a 1958 LP.

But whoever spoke it, sick implied a deviation from normality that required a
special dispensation in the name of art. When Bruce was arrested for
obscenity in New York in 1964, a group of cultural luminaries, including
Lionel Trilling, Susan Sontag and Allen Ginsberg issued a manifesto in his
behalf. True, they said, Bruce's routine sometimes made use of what they
called "the vernacular," but they defended the language as essential to
Bruce's satirical intent, and went on to compare him to Swift and Rabelais.

Actually the adjective Rabelaisian actually fits Carlin a lot better than
Bruce, but by the time Carlin started performing his dirty words routine a few
years later, public profanity didn't require an artistic justification. It
was a form of social protest in its own right. There's a telling moment in
the movie "Woodstock" when Country Joe and the Fish engage the crowd in a call
and response of the F word. `Give me an F,' `F!' `Give me a U,' `U!' And so
on. And then launch into their anti-war "Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag,"
the one that goes, `It's one, two, three, what are we fighting for?'

The segue would have been bewildering a decade earlier, but by 1969 shouting
the F word had become a gesture of political liberation. It wasn't just that
the stigma of the word embodies Americans' sexual repression and hypocrisy,
but that those very hangups were held to be responsible for the injustice and
violence of the American system. As Jerry Rubin put it, `How can you separate
politics from sex? Puritanism led us to Vietnam.' That connection between
sexual and political repression was at the heart of Carlin's seven dirty words

(Soundbite of comedy routine)

Mr. GEORGE CARLIN: You know the seven, don't you, that you can't say on
television? (Censored by network)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. CARLIN: Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that'll infect
your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. NUNBERG: At the time, in fact, some people were making those charges in
perfect seriousness. After the Chicago police beat up demonstrators outside
the 1968 Democratic Convention, Vice President Hubert Humphrey defended the
police actions by saying, `The obscenity, the profanity, the filth that was
uttered night after night was an insult to every woman, every mother, every
daughter. You'd put anybody in jail for that kind of talk.'

But that was a more innocent age. There may still be a lot of people who are
disturbed by the tide of ambient vulgarity that was loosed in the 1960s, but
nobody's really shocked by it anymore. It's been quite a while since you
heard profanity denounced as subversive, much less as an insult to American
womanhood. And in a more enlightened age, we don't put people in jail for
talking dirty. It's more expedient simply to allow the FCC to fine
broadcasters who air language that the agency deems indecent thanks to the
1978 Supreme Court decision that grew out of a daytime broadcast of Carlin's
routine by a Pacifica station in New York.

Carlin himself never stopped speaking blue to power. He kept reworking the
routine over the years to increasingly universal acclaim. That testified both
to his elevation to cultural icon and his perceived irrelevance in a world
that was awash in apolitical raunch.

After his death, he was even paid tribute by the director of the Parents
Television Council, the watchdog group that was set up to orchestrate a deluge
of e-mail to the FCC whenever Detective Sipowicz spoke his vernacular mind or
when Diane Keaton let slip an unacceptable modifier on "Good Morning America."

But then, the battle lines are drawn very differently now. In its next term,
the Supreme Court will be taking up broadcast indecency for the first time
since its 1978 decision. Only this time around, the case pits the FCC against
Rupert Murdoch's Fox Broadcasting, and the offenses involve expletives that
Cher and Nicole Richie dropped during the Billboard Music Awards.

It's sad to think that we'll never get to hear Carlin go to work on a lineup
like that one, but I've got a pretty good idea which side he would have come
down on in the end.

BIANCULLI: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist who teaches at the School of
Information at the University of California at Berkeley.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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