"Let me ask you one question," says Bobby Womack, the instant he speaks to me from Los Angeles.
"What's the weather gonna be like?"
Over his 69 years, the soul icon has overcome terrible poverty, drug addiction and – only a year ago – a brush with colon cancer. But the prospect of a Glastonbury mudbath can trouble even the hardiest soul.
"I'm used to running in snow, it's freezing, whatever," he continues. "I can play anywhere, because my mind is always set … but I sing better in the heat."
The good news for Womack, and anyone else heading down to Pilton this weekend, is that the forecast looks fine. Rain clouds are unlikely to intrude on Womack's Sunday night headline set on the West Holts stage, where he will be joined by acts including Damon Albarn to run through the highlights of a career that has taken him from 1968's Fly Me to the Moon to last year's moving comeback, The Bravest Man in the Universe.
Womack has agreed to share some life lessons taken from that 45-year career. But before he gets on with the business of imparting his pearls of wisdom, he has another question.
"Does it get real muddy?" he asks, tentatively. "Really? Oh man." He sounds momentarily dejected before perking up: "Shit, the only thing I know to do is … get muddy! You can get muddy and get funky at the same time! They'll say: 'He sure had a lot of mud on him but he never quit!'"
My last album helped me beat cancer. I think that had a lot to do with it. It's like, before you had the album, you are yesterday's news, and even though you are still breathing, it's harder to breathe, 'cos what keeps you alive is people noticing you're still doing something.
Stevie Wonder knew how to open a show. When I first started recording, years ago, I opened up for Stevie in Los Angeles. I took the attitude that this was my shot, so I went for it. But then Stevie did something I never saw him do – he came out and played opera for about an hour on his keyboard. No, not that long! But for about 15 minutes … and then as people were trying to figure out where he was coming from, he broke into [sings intro to Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours]. Some guys wait 15 minutes to cool it off before they go on. But Stevie came right out and started playing classical music … I never forgot that.
I've played on the Pyramid stage, but the size of the stage don't matter. It's the people there that matter. I was with Gorillaz when they headlined Glastonbury in 2010. The stage can be ever so big but I like smaller stages. You get closer to the people than you do singing somewhere where people are just watching you on TV.
I used to do some crazy things onstage. One time I jumped off the stage on to a platform below. But it was a fake platform. I went right through that thin cardboard and into a garage somewhere. I was wearing a white suit and when I came out that suit was black. It scared me to death, though. I remember them bringing me back on … I had broken my ankle or something, it wasn't time to try and be cool! The people just rolled laughing. They were saying: "Look, he went downstairs to change clothes!"
The Rolling Stones are survivors, like me. I know so many artists I grew up with in the music business that are no longer here. Yesterday I found out that a guy I really admired, Bobby Bland, passed away. It upset me because it's hard to get used to seeing somebody one day and the next day they're no longer here.
I won't be walking around the crowd at Glastonbury. It's disrespectful to who's performing. They'll say: "Hey, look at Womack, oh man!" Then they come and start asking for autographs. You're distracting the audience from whoever is up there performing. I'd never do that.
Marvin Gaye never got complacent. He said to me once: "Bobby, I like recording, but I don't like performing … when I walk out on stage I don't care how they react, if they're cheering or whatever, I can't relax for the first two or three songs." I said, well, that's a good thing, because you can go to sleep. I've seen it happen with a lot of cases, professional boxers, whoever … they get too confident and get knocked out.
I always say: "They throw me on stage and they throw me off!" I get so carried away, I carry on singing … once I played for two and a half hours. I always say to my guy, please let me know I gotta get off 15 minutes before, because I hate to rush. Give me a flashlight or something. Because I never want to get into a place where they say: "He wouldn't come off!"
Mick Jagger hasn't slowed down. I don't think he ever will. You gotta take care of what keeps you going. If he slows down, he'll slow out.
I will never miss a show again. Once I was somewhere in the south and had to catch a cab to a show that was about 100 miles away. I said: "Do you think you can get me there to perform?" He was driving like a crazy person because I paid him quite a bit of money to get there on time. I remember when he pulled up, I could hear the band playing the opening song. I said: "Open the door! Let me out!" and I ran right out of the cab and up on stage.
The toilets at Glastonbury don't worry me. When I put on my outfit and leave the plane station, I come to work. I'm open to anything. There ain't nothing else that distracts me other than the feeling that I gotta go on stage.
The toughest crowd I ever played was in the days after Sam Cooke passed away. I was Sam's guitar player, and after he died I married his wife. I thought: "OK, if I'm going to be there all the time to be his guardian angel, I might as well marry her and give him a reason to talk." But people went nuts. They went nuts! I used to get so many letters and so many threats. I came into Chicago for one show, and the crowd wouldn't applaud. They wouldn't do anything – they just sat there. I thought: "Why did they come to see me?" but they were just very curious and very upset. That bothered me the most because I highly respected Sam Cooke and I loved him. If anything had kept me away from being a musician it would have been this … but I never stopped. I kept moving on, and as I moved on I learned that things change. Now, I get people coming up to me and saying: "I love you, and I'm a big Sam Cooke fan."
When you've been doing something 50 years, you don't get nervous. (Laughs) You really don't, you just gotta try and keep your interest in what you gotta do because once you lose interest in that, it's time to quit. But I've been doing this a long time, I'm way past getting nervous. The only time I get nervous is when I've got no work. When they say: "Well, nobody called about no date" … that's when I get nervous!
I walk on stage as curious as the people. You never know what might happen and that's how I like it. Every time I breathe it's a new day.
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