Arising star of the 1960s R&B culture, Howard Tate withdrew from the music scene soon after the release of his third album in 1970. During the next ten years he produced and recorded three new singles, then vanished mysteriously. More than two decades passed before Tate, now the head of an outreach ministry in Willingboro, New Jersey, resurfaced in 2001 after a chance meeting with an old colleague. After a reunion with his original songwriter, Tate made a surprising comeback, releasing a new album, Rediscovered, in 2003.
Born on August 14, 1939, in Macon, Georgia, Tate was the son of a Baptist minister. He spent a few years in Eberton as a toddler, then moved with his family to Philadelphia, where his father took a job as an assistant pastor. With his father's encouragement, Tate made his performance debut at the church when he was only eight years old. Encouraged and inspired by the experience, Tate expanded his repertoire by listening to singers like Mahalia Jackson, along with musicians like Sam Cooke, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf.
By the time he was ten Tate had formed a trio with two nephews, and later joined a group with R&B/soul singer Garnet Mimms, whom he met at the church. The Mimms group—originally a quartet consisting of Mimms, Tate, Sam Bell, and Willie Combo—was known as the Belairs. When the group caught the ear of a recording executive from Mercury Records, they were signed to the label and renamed the Gainors. The group released three singles from 1950–1960, then went to Taly Ho records in 1961, where they released another two singles. Tate left the group soon afterward, and toured the United States with Bill Doggett's Band for two years before launching a solo career.
Fame came swiftly for Tate, a versatile stylist with a memorable falsetto. When his first hit single "Ain't Nobody Home" soared to number one in Detroit and other markets, he quit his job mixing mortar to bask in the limelight of instant celebrity. On orders from his promoter, Bill Fox, Tate flew to Detroit for a live appearance at the Twenty Grand club with headliner Marvin Gaye. Tate, who didn't even change out of his dirty bricklayer's clothing for the trip, arrived with his pockets crammed full of hundred-dollar bills.
After being introduced by disc jockey Georgie Woods of Philadelphia, Tate teamed up with songwriter and producer Jerry Ragovoy. In 1967 they released Get It While You Can on Verve. The album had three hit singles, each of which broke into the R&B top 20: "Stop" peaked at number 76 on the pop chart after rising to 15 on the R&B chart; "Ain't Nobody Home" and "Look at Granny Run Run," each peaked at number 12 on the R&B chart and made inroads into the top 100 on the pop charts. In 1971, when Janis Joplin recorded the title track, she covered both the arrangement and the vivid intensity of Tate's original version, resulting in a classic hit.
A subsequent album, Howard Tate's Reaction, appeared in 1969. Produced by Lloyd Price and issued on Turntable, the tracks were originally recorded in Jamaica for the Coasters. Displeased with the Coasters renditions, Price offered Tate an opportunity to redo the vocals at a studio in New York City. Tate agreed, and the album was released as his own. Among its more memorable songs are a stylized version of the Sam Cooke classic, "Chain Gang," which provides a soulful testament to Tate's talent.
Tate released a third, self-titled album on Verve that year, including interpretations of "Where Did My Baby Go," "Jemima Surrender," and Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country." By that time Tate had risen to the peak of his career, and all indications pointed to even greater success in the offing. In the early 1970s, however, Tate began to withdraw. By the early 1980s he had vanished without warning or explanation. He re-surfaced on New Year's Day 2001 after more than two decades of silence.
The Lost Years
Initially reluctant to discuss his lost years, Tate later revealed that he and other popular recording artists of the 1960s had never earned royalties from their managers and record companies. With a large family to support, he'd become discouraged and had abandoned show business to return to Philadelphia to live with his wife and six children. He sold insurance for a living until a fire destroyed his home in 1976, killing his 13-year-old daughter. The grief, loss, and resulting collapse of his marriage left Tate devastated, and he plunged into substance abuse for more than a decade.
In 1993, with Tate's whereabouts still a mystery, his Bob Dylan cover, "Girl from the North Country," found its way onto Rhino Records' Black on White, a compilation of classic R&B covers. Two years later, in 1995, Mercury Records reissued Get It While You Can on compact disc. Against the backdrop of this limited revival, some assumed that he had died in obscurity. Others, however, yearned to know exactly what had happened to him.
Tate, unaware of these developments, was at Camden's Buttonwood Hospital, where he was being treated for crack addiction. He rededicated himself to Christianity in 1994 and soon afterward established Gift of the Cross Church. He embarked on a new life of ministry, spending much of his time as a volunteer chaplain to nursing homes.
Disc jockey Phil Casden of WNJC in New Jersey spearheaded the hunt to discover Tate's whereabouts in the late 1990s, using his weekly radio show to encourage listeners to unravel the mystery. As a result of Casden's search, Tate was spotted at a grocery store by Ron Kennedy, a former member of Harold Melvin's Blue Notes. When confronted by those who knew him and who recalled his fleeting career, Tate revealed that he'd endured an odyssey of homelessness, despair, and, ultimately, redemption during those years of anonymity.
For the Record . . .
Born on August 14, 1939, in Macon, GA; son of a Baptist pastor; divorced; six children.
Sang at church as a child; released Get it While You Can, 1967; released two more albums before withdrawing from music industry; 1980s-1990s; released comeback album Rediscovered, 2003.
Addresses: Record company— Private Music (Windham Hill Records) c/o Sound Delivery, P.O. Box 1862, Woodland, CA 95776-1862, e-mail: [email protected] com
It would have surprised no one if Tate's voice had deteriorated after decades of disuse (and outright abuse), but the opposite proved true. His singing was as powerful and expressive at 60 as he had been some 40 years earlier. His former partner Ragovoy agreed to rekindle their professional association; despite some apprehension over past inequities, Tate was willing as well. With his secular music career resurrected, Tate appeared at both the New Orleans Heritage & Jazz Festival and New York's Village Underground in 2001 and performed at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 2002. A new album, Rediscovered, was released on the Private Music label in 2003, at which time Tate revealed plans to write a memoir and film a documentary.
Get It While You Can, Verve, 1967.
Howard Tate's Reaction, Turntable, 1969.
Howard Tate, Verve, 1970; reissued as Koch, 2001.
Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions, Mercury, 1995.
(with Next Level) No Other Level, Baytown, 1999.
(with Next Level) Levels of Change, Baytown, 2003. Rediscovered, Private Music, 2003.
Billboard, August 11, 2002, p. 52; July 26, 2003, p. 11.
Rolling Stone, December 28, 1995, p. 125.
Sacramento Observer, September 26, 2001, p. E2.
"Artists," Private Music, http://privatemusic.com/artist/artist.jsp?id=410709 (August 26, 2003).
"Howard Tate," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 26, 2003).
"Howard Tate Interview," Perfect Sound Forever, September–October 2003, http://www.furious.com/perfect/howard tate2.html (September 10, 2003).
"Howard Tate: The Return of a Soul Music Master," Gadfly Online, http://www.gadflyonline.com/10-22-01/feature-ho wardtate.html (September 10, 2003).
"The Soul Star Who Became a Homeless Man," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/09/25/wkd.howard.tate.ap/index.html (September 25, 2003).
Additional information was obtained from National Public Radio's All Things Considered on August 5, 2003.
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