Thursday, December 08, 2011

R.I.P. HOWARD TATE

Soul singer Howard Tate died last week at the age of 72 following a bout with cancer.

I loved the man's music.

I'm not sure what it was back in the summer of 1975 that led me to buy that LP by a soul singer I'd never heard before in the bargain bin of some Albuquerque discount store. The singer's cool pompadour probably had something to do with it. And the 79-cent price tag sealed the deal.

But I bought that album by Howard Tate and it quickly became a favorite. At the time I didn't even realize that this was original version of Janis Joplin's swan song, "Get it While You Can." There was no copyright date, so I mistakenly assumed he was covering Janis.

There were some songs I associated with B.B. King — “Every Day I Have the Blues, ” “How Blue Can You Get?” and “Ain’t Nobody Home” as well as other electric blues like the song “Part Time Lover.”

But the basic sound was horn-driven, gospel-rooted soul. The Georgia-born, Philadelphia-raised singer had more in common with Sam Cooke than B.B. There were funny tunes like “How Come My Bulldog Don’t Bark” and “Look at Granny Run Run." And there were powerful soul-on-fire pleas like “I Learned It All the Hard Way” and the title song. The primary songwriter, as well as producer, was Jerry Ragovoy, whose songwriting credits include the classic tunes “Time Is on My Side” and “Piece of My Heart” as well as “Get It While You Can.” (Ragovoy died earlier this year.)

Around the same time I discovered Tate in the cut-out bin, Tate had said goodbye to the music industry and was about to embark on a decades-long descent into the shadows.

Here's what I wrote about that in my review of his 2003 comeback album Rediscovered:

Frustrated with his lack of success, Tate turned to selling insurance for a living about that time. For years none of his old friends in the music industry knew what had happened to him. Ragovoy tried to locate Tate in the early ’80s because European promoters wanted to book him.

As recently as 1995, a CD reissue of Get It While You Can put it this way: “Sometime in the 1970s, he disappeared into legend.”

Disappeared into hell is more like it. Tragedy struck the Tate family in 1976. There was a fire at his home, and his 13-year-old daughter was killed.

A few years later he was divorced and, in his own words, “started hanging out with the wrong crowd.” Years of drugs, drink and destitution followed.

Those hellish years continued until 1994, when Tate found religion. Eventually he started his own ministry in Philadelphia, The Gift of the Cross Church.

It wasn’t until 2001 that Howard Tate was rediscovered. Ron Kennedy, one of Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, saw Tate at a supermarket in New Jersey. Seems that a local DJ, Phil Casden, inspired by the CD release of Get It While You Can, had periodically been asking listeners to help find Tate. This fortunate encounter led to the new album. Tate hooked up with Casden and reunited with Ragovoy, and the Internet helped spread the good news.
So Howard got his comeback. He never became a household word like Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, he  made some fine records in his final years. I'll play some of those on a tribute Sunday on Terrell's Sound World.

Here's a nice piece in the great Funky 16 Corners blog.

And enjoy the videos below.

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