A Portrait of Howard
Solid Ground Productions
It's likely that you've never heard of soul singer Howard Tate. He merits no mention in Peter Guralnick's overview Sweet Soul Music, and his smooth, lush sides recorded for Verve (not exactly a label known for its gritty Southern style) are out of step with the tough brand names like Atlantic and Stax, known only to the most fervent of Northern soul collectors. While the songs Tate recorded with producer Jerry Ragovoy remain obscure, the fans who revered him are not. Ry Cooder, B.B. King, and Hugh Masekela covered him, and Tate echoes throughout some of the '60s' biggest names: Jimi Hendrix and the James Gang expanded on his classic side, "Stop," while his version of "Get It While You Can" became the blueprint (and showstopper) for Janis Joplin. Presumed departed from this earth, and with his fine Verve collection Get It While You Can woefully out of print, Tate's reemergence in 2001 was a cause for jubilation among aficionados. Tate is living history, one of the finest treasures of the era still intact. Despite time spent as a homeless drug addict, the man can still reach those tear-rending falsetto heights with tremulous, honeyed, yet resoundingly deep pipes, as his forthcoming A Portrait of Howard proves. Expertly arranged by Steve Weisberg, the album shows the respect the soul man garners, with Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, and Lou Reed contributing to a mix of originals and smooth covers of Randy Newman and Burt Bacharach. Tate turns 68 on Monday, so get him while you can.