"We had two shows that night," says Bobby Womack, recounting a recent concert in Houston. "It was a small theater, about 5- or 6,000 people. The second show, I was just out of it; they had to take me to the hospital."
It was a serious scare for the 68-year-old singer-songwriter — who has also lived through drug addiction and the deaths of two sons — and it didn't end that night.
"After I got back to L.A.," Womack tells NPR's Laura Sullivan, "they started naming: 'You had walking pneumonia twice. You have heart failure. You have sugar diabetes. You've got prostate cancer. You've got colon cancer.' "
Months later, Womack is cancer-free and back on tour, supporting the new album The Bravest Man in the Universe. It's a collaboration with Damon Albarn, frontman of Blur and mastermind of Gorillaz, as well as Richard Russell, producer and CEO of the British label XL Recordings. (You can read much more about the making of the album at NPR's music news blog, The Record).
Womack is a soul singer with an open mind: Over a 50-year career, he has made forays into gospel, doo-wop, rock and even country. On Bravest Man, Albarn and Russell use Womack's raw, rugged vocals as source material, threading them through modern hip-hop and electronic production — which, the singer says, threw him at first.
"When they would sample my voice and put it back on, I couldn't figure who is that? He said, 'It's you,'" he says.
Still, Womack says his relationship with Albarn has provided him with some much-needed perspective, especially as he begins to consider the thought of his songs outliving him.
"We went on the road," Womack recalls, "and I remember him telling me one time on stage, 'Bobby, you see those young kids out there? We're the luckiest people in the world because when we're long gone, they'll still be wanting to hear our music.'
"Before me, there was a higher and stronger supreme being that put me in the position to have that talent," he adds. "I've seen [drugs] take away my friends, from Wilson Pickett to James Brown to Michael Jackson, and I can just go on naming. I say, if I'm still here, God must still have a purpose for me."
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