Howard Tate
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Howard Tate


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Howard Tate @ Staples Auditorium

Conway, Arkansas, USA

Conway, Arkansas, USA

Howard Tate @ Long's Park Amphitheatre Foundation

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

Howard Tate @ Howard Tate Tour of France

Marseille, Not Applicable, France

Marseille, Not Applicable, France

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The best kept secret in music


He was lost, but now is found
How could a Philly soul-music sensation fall so far from grace he was thought to be dead, only to rise again, nearly 30 years later, his voice still wondrous? "It has to be a miracle," says Howard Tate.
By Tom Moon
Inquirer Music Critic

Sarah J. Glover / Inquirer Suburban Staff

Howard Tate in his backyard in Vincentown. In his musical heyday he sang and wrote hits, some covered by legends.

There's one miracle that stands above the rest for Howard Tate.

The Philadelphia-reared soul singer - who had his first hit during the rhythm-and-blues explosion of 1967, and vanished from the music business without a trace by 1975 - considers it a blessing that he survived the rough years at all. He spent a decade homeless, addicted to crack, wandering the streets of Camden, and almost as long trying to climb back.

He's genuinely shocked that, after so much time, people remember his butterfly-wing falsetto and the urgency of entreaties such as "Get It While You Can" and "Stop" and "Ain't Nobody Home."

But what really lays him out is that God spared his voice. Nearly 30 years after last entering a recording studio or doing any serious performing, Howard Tate sounds very much the same.

Maybe even better. His tender tenor has softened, mellowed and deepened like single malt scotch. Hear Tate, at 62, on Rediscovered (Private Music ***), a just-issued disc of new material that's generated a boatload of adoring press, and it's impossible to detect any neglect. He sounds as if he just popped from a time capsule buried in the days when Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke were running things.

He sings forcefully, drenched in conviction, the way everybody did back then. And even for someone as humble as Tate, it is impossible not to attribute the richness and nuance of his instrument to a divine force.

"With everything I did, all that I went through, it has to be a miracle. I don't know what else it is," Tate says, shaking his head.

He's sitting on the couch in his small Vincentown, N.J., home, recalling his record-release party a few nights earlier at the Village Underground in New York. There, performing before a rapt crowd, he experienced the disbelief he's had at every performance since his comeback began in 2001.

"I'm up on stage, hitting those notes and sliding so natural into the falsetto, and every time I say to myself, 'How is this possible?' I mean, lots of the people I came up with, big superstars - and I won't mention any names - they've been working straight through all these years, and their voices are gone, plain and simple.

"Me, it's like my voice was on hold for 30 years."

Howard Tate lives in a quiet neighborhood along Rancocas Creek, in a rural section of Burlington County not far from Fort Dix but removed from the ubiquitous South Jersey strip malls. He says he has great success fishing the creek, snagging widemouth bass. He likes the tranquillity of this secluded place, which looks more like Georgia, where he was born, and as he talks, he exudes the serenity of one who has finally squared his karmic accounts.

The singer, songwriter and preacher, who grew up around 13th and Norris in the area now dominated by Temple University, recounts the circumstances that reconnected him with a part of his life he thought he had given up long ago.

"You have to understand," Tate says, peering through thick, gold-rimmed glasses. "I was bitter, completely disheartened. Here I was working sometimes 110 dates straight, and had songs on the radio that were hits, and they [the people at his label, Verve Records] were telling me I wasn't making any money. I know it wasn't personal from talking to so many black artists: Everybody had the same experience - you just didn't get paid."

The work had to be its own reward. Tate recalls the education he got doing "chitlin circuit" shows around the time of his 1967 release Get It While You Can. (In 1971, the album's title cut became a signature song for Janis Joplin, who was faithful to Tate's interpretation.) There would be 10 acts on a bill, everyone from Joe Tex and B.B. King to Aretha Franklin and the Drifters, and each got 15 minutes to captivate often-rowdy crowds in ramshackle theaters and cotton warehouses.

"With all those great artists, you had to learn fast, because they had the heat on you. It taught you how to get the crowd in the first eight bars of the song."

Tate lived well in those years, he says. And like so many R&B musicians, he was oblivious to his exploitation because the label used what he terms "reverse psychology" on him. He'd get a Cadillac, or a mohair suit. He remembers always having a pocketful of money - $600, $700. But there were no royalty checks. And though he wrote or cowrote some of the songs, there wasn't any publishing revenue. When the - Tom Moon

Some people remember the spring and summer of 1968 for the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the coast-to-coast riots, the burning cities and the anger and alienation that settled in where hopes and dreams once thrived.

A lucky few also recall that time for the melting, smoky falsetto vocals of a gifted black man, heard on scratched, beer-stained, blue-labeled Verve 45s and LPs.

It is a voice that haunts us to this day.

While soul music was swelling toward its late ’60s crest of popularity, Howard Tate was balanced atop a wave (sporting what must be called the most ambitious pompadour in all of music history), because he had the voice to make it in the big time.

Teamed with writer-arranger-producer Jerry Ragavoy, he sent three tunes to the top of Billboard’s Top 20 Rhythm & Blues chart. The pair — singer and producer — did it all hand in glove, and they did it literally overnight.

Then, seemingly as quickly as he arrived, Tate was out of the business, driven away by disillusionment and personal demons.

But in an amazing tale, he resurfaced a couple years ago — some thought he was dead — and reconnected with Ragavoy, his primary collaborator from the salad days. Tate’s comeback album, Rediscovered, was released July 1 to significant critical acclaim.

In a recent interview, Tate, now 63, recalled his early days. His first single — aptly named “Ain’t Nobody Home” — had hit No. 1 simultaneously in Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

“I was doing construction work, with mortar all over my face, and I came home and there’s a limousine at my house and a guy says: ‘You can’t go in there — you’re playing Detroit tonight,’” he said.

“It broke open — wide open — and I had to go to Detroit and play the Twenty Grand with Marvin Gaye and the Five Stair Steps. And I closed that show. Do you know what it means to close a show like that?”

The hit was followed by two more. An album, full of Ragavoy-Tate tunes, with a curiously prescient title taken from its lead single, “Get It While You Can,” was not far behind.

It was clearly a creative partnership that worked.

“Somebody brought him to me,” Ragavoy said of his first meeting with Tate. “I heard him sing and fell in love — like love at first sight. It was raw talent. An incredible voice, but he didn’t know what to do with it. So I sort of gave him a style. But style’s no good if you can’t execute. And he can execute.

“It’s called talent. For many, many years, I’ve tried to analyze it, but you can’t. You can’t see it, touch it or smell it. It goes in your ear and gets you in the gut — from the ear to the viscera.”

Tate describes his style as “a combination of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, but added that he’s “flexible like Ali. He could do it all. He could punch and he could box, and that’s what I attribute my success to.”

Ragavoy’s vision

Ragavoy could teach a doctoral course on the inexplicable in popular music. At age 71, the Philadelphia native now can look back on a stunning career that includes writing one of the Rolling Stones’ earliest hits, “Time Is on My Side,” under the pseudonym Norman Meade.

Janis Joplin loved his work enough to lay down blistering versions of “Get It While You Can,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder).” She asked for one more song, just for her; he responded with “I’m Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven.” Sadly, though, she died weeks before he could get the demo to her.

Ragavoy credits part of his success as a writer to being a very good editor — knowing what to throw away and what to keep. And for decades, he kept Howard Tate’s voice as his own personal muse.

“I’ve worked with Bonnie Raitt, Dionne Warwick, Garnett Mimms, The Pointer Sisters, Diana Ross, Maureen McGovern, Chaka Kahn and Bette Midler,” Ragavoy said. “But his voice is the one in my head. He is singularly the most outstanding soul singer. He is great. He is a cut above.”

As is Ragavoy’s work as an arranger and producer.

That seminal first album with Tate served as a touchstone for an entire genre of music. Before it was even released, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records told Ragavoy that his own Muscle Shoals studio band, including Steve Cropper — who backed Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett on their early hits — was already citing the album as “The Bible.”


For starters, when Tate recorded in the studio, Ragavoy’s handpicked musicians were right beside him; very few tracks, if any, were laid down after the sessions. Ragavoy orchestrated an impeccably timed litany of horns, rhythm and vocals to punctuate tunes he’d already arranged in his head, transferred to paper and then worked mightily to produce into something that many now regard as nothing short of magic.

“The rhythm was on one side, the horns were on the other side, and Howard was in the middle,” Ragavoy said.

Tate said Raga - Mike Welton

A hot R&B singer in the sixties, he vanished for three decades. Where has he been?

By Jason Fine

A little after noon on New Year's day 2001, the Rev. Howard Tate was standing in line at a ShopRite grocery store in Willingboro, New Jersey, waiting to buy a bottle of barbecue sauce, when he ran into an old friend. "I was surprised to see him," remembers Ron Kennedy, a former singer with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, with whom Tate had toured in the Sixties. "I told him, 'Howard, there's people trying to find you, man. I think they owe you some money."
For the previous few months, Phil Casden, a DJ at a Philadelphia oldies station, had asked listeners to call in if they knew of Tate's whereabouts -- or if he was still alive. Though never a major star, Tate is one of the masters of Sixties soul, "the missing link between Jackie Wilson and Al Green," as Elvis Costello has put it. His 1966 debut, Get It While You Can, is a spectacular showcase of suave, muscular, gospel-powered singing, heavily influenced by Sam Cooke, with a joyous, shrieking falsetto that became Tate's trademark. The record produced three radio hits, and B.B. King, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix all covered its songs. But it didn't sell well, a fact that Tate's producer and co-writer, Jerry Ragovoy, blames on releasing it on the jazz-oriented Verve label. Tate's second album, Reaction, got an even more limited release, in 1969. Tate and Ragovoy recorded together again in 1972, but that album flopped worse than Get It While You Can.

Then, not long after the 1972 release, Tate vanished. For the next twenty-nine years, he never contacted anyone associated with his music career -- not Ragovoy, nor his record labels, nor any of the musicians he recorded and toured with. He worked for a while selling life insurance, then slid into drug abuse and homelessness. When Tate ran into Kennedy at the supermarket, Tate had no idea that his music -- and his mysterious disappearance -- had made him a cult hero. By the mid-Eighties, says Ragovoy, when people called looking for Tate, "I'd tell them, 'I've tried to find him. I wish I could help you, but I have a feeling that maybe he died.' "

During those ruinous years, the worst of which Tate spent on the streets of Camden, New Jersey, he says he did nearly die several times. But in 1994, he had a religious epiphany, cleaned up and devoted his life to helping other drug addicts get straight. He took a job as the minister of a small church in southern New Jersey and says he never contemplated a return to singing. "I walked away from the music business so long ago," Tate says, sitting on a battered, floral-pattern couch in the living room of his two-room bungalow in rural New Jersey. "I just couldn't take it anymore. After I left, I didn't ever listen to records or the radio. If I walked into a store that was playing music, well, I just walked back out."

Word of Tate's reappearance spread fast, and a week later he got a call from Ragovoy, now seventy-three, a heavyweight producer who worked with many of the finest Northern soul singers and wrote some classic songs, including "Time Is on My Side," made famous by the Rolling Stones. The two met for lunch in New York and decided to try making another record. "I didn't know exactly what to expect," Ragovoy says. "But as soon as he started to sing, I nearly fell off my chair. That voice was all there. I thought, 'This guy's amazing,' and I told him so."

Even after all these years, it seems, Tate and Ragovoy still rely on each other. "I always loved Howard's voice," says Ragovoy, "and when I was writing other songs, not knowing where he was, somehow I'd hear Howard's voice in my head. I guess you could call him my muse."

In July, Tate released Rediscovered. Some of Ragovoy's compositions stray into corny territory, but for the most part the album is a formidable return from one of the last great original soul men. Tate's voice is bright, expressive, shaded with warm, smoky textures. His delivery has mellowed over time, but it's also more confident, charged with electricity and emotion. Even with age, the falsetto is all there. He nails ballads and midtempo grooves best, especially "Either Side of the Same Town," co-written for Tate by Costello, and "Don't Compromise Yourself," which Tate sings with the heartbreaking sincerity of a man who knows what happens when you do.

When Tate decided to make a nonreligious album, the church kicked him out and evicted him from the large middle-class home it had supplied as part of his salary. Last year, Tate and Tiger, his three-year-old tabby cat, moved to this cramped, thin-walled cabin on the Rancocas Creek, where Tate fishes for catfish and bigmouth bass. "I catch some big ones back here," he says, sitting on a wooden platform above the slow-moving brown water with Tiger at his feet.

Tate is dressed in black polyester slacks, a white undershirt and scuffed dress shoes. He wears large gold-fr - Jason Fine


Rediscovered - 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


The saga of Howard Tate is, in the truest sense of the word, inspirational. Spanning sixty tumultuous years; rich with triumph and tragedy, popular acclaim and bitter betrayal, it is, simply put, the stuff of legend.

But, like any great story, it’s only as good as its ending. Fatefully, for Howard Tate, and no less then the millions of true believing blues fans across the country and around the world, his life has all the satisfying resonance that comes from just rewards attained, long delayed promises fulfilled and a genuinely happy-ever-after future.

That future begins with Rediscovered, his thrilling new album on Private Music / Arista Associated Labels and the first new release by this quintessential blues vocalist in over three decades. What happened to Howard Tate in all those long intervening years not only makes for a breathtaking testament to the tenacity of the human spirit; it, in itself, is the spirit that adorns these twelve beautiful and moving new tracks. This is the music of a life fully lived; of a talent tempered and tested and of the sort of divine intervention that rekindles faith and reaffirms the simple truth that Somebody up there loves Howard Tate.

If that name rings a familiar bell in the back of your brain, give yourself credit for a bit of canny bluesology. Those who know their stuff will recall that Tate was one of the brightest lights of the mid-to-late Sixties R&B scene, a golden age for young, ambitious artists just emerging from the giant shadows cast by the great originators. Even among such conspicuous competitors as Otis and Percy and Wilson, Tate stood out. It was a reputation due in large part to an incendiary live show, his landmark 1967 debut album, Get It While You Can and a creative partnership with producer and songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, the man behind such blues and R&B perennials as “Time Is On My Side,” “Piece Of My Heart” and scores of others.

Yet even as a string of Top 20 hits -- including “Look At Granny Run Run,” “Stop” and “Ain’t Nobody Home” -- were followed up by second album in 1974, a chapter depressingly familiar to many black music stars of the era was beginning to unfold. Unscrupulous promoters, unrelenting tour schedules and unconscionable royalty payments conspired to suck the pleasure and profit out of Tate’s career. By the mid-Seventies he had walked away from it all, leaving behind an unfulfilled musical destiny and a legion of disappointed fans.

It is here that Howard Tate’s story takes a dark and dangerous turn, tinged by self-destruction and tragedy. Returning to his native Philadelphia, he began selling insurance to support his wife and six children, one of whom – a thirteen year old daughter – perished in a house fire in 1976. The overwhelming grief of his loss brought his world down around him, ending his 19-year marriage and eventually robbing Tate of his very purpose for living. A slow-motion descent into drugs and alcohol landed him on the mean streets of his hometown, where he lived hand to mouth until, in 1994, he reached bottom and found God waiting for him there.

“It scared me to death,” Tate recalls of the morning in 1994 when he heard a voice telling him to go into the world and preach the gospel. “It felt like God had me out in infinity. I wasn’t asleep and I wasn’t awake. I really didn’t want to preach, but I didn’t have a choice. So I got busy.”

Forming the itinerant Gift of the Cross church, meeting in the living rooms of his small but fervent congregation, Tate took on his new mantle with a dedication and devotion that turned his life around, freeing him from drugs and alcohol and giving him an abiding compassion for the homeless and hopeless in whose company he had spent so many years.

But the miracles in the life of Howard Tate were only beginning. Even while he tended to his flock, his longtime producer Jerry Ragovoy had embarked on his own quest to find this same artist whose extraordinary potential had been cut short. “Ever since the late Seventies I had been getting calls from promoters and club owners wanting to book Howard,” Ragovoy recalls. “I tried everything I could think of to find him, but it was as if he’d dropped off the face of the earth.”

But Ragovoy wasn’t the only fan that kept the flame burning for Howard Tate. Philadelphia area DJ Phil Casden had at the same time launched a one-made crusade on his radio show for information leading to the whereabouts of the blues legend. “I grew up on his music,” Casden enthuses. “Anyone who can listen to ‘Get It While You Can’ and not be emotionally moved had better check their batteries. They might be dead.”

It was a conclusion many had already reached about Howard Tate, even as interest and demand for the brilliant blues of this once-forgotten prodigy grew following the 1995 re-release of Get It While You Can. The liner notes of album referred to the artist in the past tense.

But as Mark Twain once quipped, reports