Howard Tate -1970 – Howard Tate’s Reaction
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Review and research by Edd Hurt
Rip, posting and adittional info’s by Nikos
As far as I can determine, Howard Tate was born on Aug. 13, 1939 in Elberton, Ga., a town about 90 miles from Macon. Most accounts of Tate’s life place his birthplace in Macon, but Tate told me in 2006 that he was born in “Eberton,” a Georgia town that does not seem to exist, and which, I suppose, is an alternate pronunciation for “Elberton.” I interviewed Tate a couple of times during the last years of his life, and met him when the great soul singer visited Nashville in late 2006. Having recorded his A Portrait of Howard with arranger Steve Weisberg and a group of high-level session musicians, Tate appeared in Music City with Weisberg backing him on piano. The gig–a record-store performance–showcased Tate’s amazing voice, and the singer took several minutes to expound about his religious beliefs to a somewhat bemused audience.
Tate was an elusive, damaged man–by the time I talked to him for a No Depression piece I was writing on him, he had gone through the wringer several times. (I would later interview Tate again, when he came to Nashville to record 2008’s Blue Day with producer Jon Tiven.) The music business had not been kind to Tate, but his great, soaring falsetto and perfectly wrought phrasing remained intact. One of the greatest soul singers, Tate left Elberton before he was five years old, and began his career in Philadelphia. Influenced by gospel, soul and pop, Tate made a series of brilliant singles for producer Jerry Ragovoy that stand as Tate’s finest work. His Verve singles–“Stop” and “Get It While You Can” among them–are classics, and true collaborations between producer and singer, even if Tate didn’t always see it that way.
If you don’t have Tate’s Verve singles, get them while you can. (Mercury’s 1995 reissue of the Verve sides, Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions is now out of print, as is Hip-O-Select’s 2004 edition of the Verve material, Get It While You Can: The Complete Legendary Verve Sessions.) Meanwhile, we’re focusing here on 1970’s Howard Tate’s Reaction, a kind of stopgap record that nonetheless shows off Tate’s vocal chops and ability to lend himself to almost any musical situation. Along with Reaction, we’ll take a look at the second-best Howard Tate album, 1972’s Howard Tate, which found the singer working once again with Jerry Ragovoy. If part of the Tate story is his inability to crack the pop charts or achieve the kind of momentum that would have translated into a viable career, Howard Tate illustrates Tate’s classicism along with the nagging sense that Tate could’ve been as popular as Al Green in the ’70s. After a long period underground, Tate enjoyed a comeback in the last decade of his life, releasing several albums and performing regularly for appreciative audiences. He died on Dec. 2, 2011.
A1 Question 2:17
A2 Have You Ever Had The Blues 2:25
A3 Plenty Of Love 2:40
A4 That’s What Happens 2:42
A5 Little Volcano 2:35
A6 It’s Too Late 2:25
B1 Hold Me Tight 2:25
B2 Come Into My Heart 2:28
B3 What’ll I Do 2:45
B4 Chain Gang 2:56
B5 My Soul’s Got A Hole In It 2:49
B6 These Are 2:20
By 1969, Howard Tate was dissatisfied with his lot as first-rate soul singer with second-rate promotion. Consigned to the endless grind of crowded package tours through the South, Tate had even more pressing money issues. It could have been that Verve simply didn’t know what to do with Tate, and that Ragovoy held too much control of Tate’s career. At any rate, Tate recorded a full-length for Lloyd Price’s Turntable label. Tate said in later interviews that the entire situation surrounding Howard Tate’s Reaction was strange, with some participants boasting possible mob connections, and some of the backing tracks originally intended for a Coasters comeback album.
Nonetheless, Tate acquits himself well throughout Howard Tate’s Reaction. If the arrangements lean a bit too heavily on banal pop-soul clichés, Tate rides over the top of the background singers and sometimes busy horn arrangements with admirable cool. His remarkable falsetto makes an appearance during “That’s What Happens,” while “Little Volcano” is a Luther Dixon pop-soul readymade that could’ve given Tate a hit, had the production been a bit sharper. (Lloyd Price did a version of the song around the same time.)
“Little Volcano” and the easy-swinging “My Soul’s Got a Hole in It” may be the record’s best tracks, with Tate’s vocals his usual well-conceived blend of geniality and suppressed angst. Still, the production was somewhat dated for 1970. Tate does well with “Chain Gang,” which sports a subdued arrangement. Meanwhile, “Plenty of Love” is a perfunctory funk number that manages to succeed as a pop confection–Tate’s vocals go from cocksure to pleading, and he uses his falsetto in a surgical way, just as he did on his classic Verve sessions of a few years earlier.
Overall, Howard Tate’s Reaction is a record for connoisseurs of soul vocals, not fans of the kind of production and songwriting savvy Ragovoy brought to the table. “These Are the Things” made it to #28 on the r&b charts in 1969, while “My Soul’s Got a Hole in It” struggled to #31 the following year.
Howard Tate – 1972 – S/T
Dissatisfied once again, Tate called up Ragovoy, who produced and wrote songs for Howard Tate. Using a cast of great players that included drummers Bernard Purdie and Rick Marotta and guitarists Eric Gale and David Spinozza, Ragovoy came up with slinky, understated tracks for Tate. “8 Days on the Road” is an exemplary early-’70s funk song, and when Tate sings, “There ain’t no rest tonight“, you believe him.
A1 He’s A Burglar 2:44
A2 8 Days On The Road 2:39
A3 You Don’t Know Nothing About Love 2:33
A4 When I Was A Young Man 2:21
A5 Girl Of The North Country 3:42
A6 Where Did My Baby Go 2:25
B1 Keep Cool (Don’t Be A Fool)2:45
B2 Jemima Surrender 2:29
B3 Strugglin’ 2:35
B4 It’s Heavy 3:14
B5 It’s Your Move 3:40
B6 The Bitter End 2:44
“She’s a Burglar” and “8 Days” riff on Tate’s persona, and he underplays them perfectly. Once again, the combination of assertion and sweetness is perfectly managed, while Tate’s technical prowess allows him to finesse both his vibrato and his falsetto. Ragovoy’s “You Don’t Know Anything About Love” is a vehicle for a melancholic Tate vocal–the formalist tendencies of Ragovoy’s conception make an effective counterpoint to Tate’s emotionalism.
If Reaction takes Tate back to the soul styles of the late ’60s, Howard Tate gives the singer a framework for the ’70s, even though Tate would cease recording all too soon. Howard Tate may peak with two songs: Bob Dylan’s “Girl of the North Country” gets a superb reading, with Tate’s rendering of the word “traveling” in the first moments of the song a testament to his artistry. Tate makes Dylan’s song a worldly-wise, sardonic account of love and memory.
Meanwhile, Tate’s own “Bitter End” finds the singer going downtown to “Stand in the Welfare line“. He never sounded more alert to the good times he should have had, or more aware of the way the necessities of life can be suddenly taken away. It’s about love and loyalty–listen to his rap about fair-weather friends and next-door neighbors and a good woman, and the artistry with which he slides from speaking to singing. Tate should have had more moments like this, but it’ll do.
Welcome Edd to FMS Family. This is a fine contribution and we hope for some more in the future. Bless you.
Edd Hurt is a music journalist who lives in Brentwood, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville, and a Tennessee native with a strong interest in soul and r&b. For a decade, he lived in Memphis, where he soaked up the Bluff City’s musical heritage. He has contributed to No Depression, Village Voice, American Songwriter and Paste, and contributes regularly to Nashville Scene. He has written extensively about soul and r&b, and also writes about country music, Americana, and anything else that tickles his fancy.