Hailing from Cleveland, OH, The Valentinos were made up of the Womack brothers (Bobby, Curtis, Harry, Friendly Jr, and Cecil). Curtis and Bobby were discovered as young teenagers in 1956 by Sam Cooke while the brothers were singing gospel music. Four years later, Cooke had the group travel to California where he signed them to his SAR record label. The group initially wanted to record only gospel material, but their gospel debut flopped. Thanks to an arrangement with Cooke, the group agreed to branch out into the world of secular music, although their powerhouse singing never lost its roots in the church.
After a few years of minor r&b hits for Cooke's label, the group found that The Rolling Stones caught wind of their new single "It's All Over Now" either shortly before or immediately upon its release in 1964 and The Stones wanted to cut the record themselves for a single release. Initially, Bobby was adamantly against the Stones covering the song, but he eventually allowed them to cut the song (which became their first US hit). The Valentinos original take is raw, rough and frankly lacked the ability and chance to cross over to the pop charts. This assesment is not a slight whatsoever, as the record is magical in its earthy groove with those fabulous brotherly harmonies driven along by a drummer that takes some serious chances with beats and fills but keeps it hot and danceable amidst sounding as though it can fall apart at any second.
Tragically, shortly after the release of this single, Sam Cooke was murdered, and Bobby found himself embroiled in a scandalous relationship with Cooke's widow, in which they were married perilously close to Cooke's death. In the last years of Cooke's life, Bobby was a member of Cooke's touring band (on guitar).
During this era, the group released more records as a group, and Bobby also began striking out on his own for solo relases. The group was signed to Chicago based Chess records in 1966, which is where they cut their masterpiece, "Sweeter Than The Day Before". The song was written by Cecil Womack and Mary Wells, who by this time became his wife. The wikipedia entry for the Valentinos has a mistake in which they list the year of this release as 1968 on Jubilee records, which is well after Bobby left the band. I am quite certain that he is lead singer of this track, which is a Northern Soul staple. The record is a swirling, stomping raver which is completely inspired, from the strong backing track to the brothers vocals which keep climbing higher and higher into the soul stratosphere.
Bobby was definitely out of the band by 1967, and the group carried on for a bit before breaking up in 1968. With the help of brother Bobby's massive early '70's success, The Valentinos reformed in the early 70's, only to fall apart again thanks to another love triangle story, this time involving Mary Wells, Cecil and brother Curtis. My last offering, 1968's "Tired Of Being Nobody", shows off Curtis' lead vocals in a brilliant track that has lyrics which can be interpreted as being about a love affair or even possibly an analogy to the civil rights movement with its message of overcoming strife. Tragically, brother Harry died in 1974; Bobby's excellent (albeit incredibly sad) 1973 track 'Harry Hippie" details his brothers' decline into drug addiction hell. If one were only to look at the negatives and lack of deserved success that the brothers faced through the years, it would make for quite an American tragedy. However, all one needs to do is give a listen to these glorious records to hear the real success is in the grooves.