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Howard Tate CD review of Rediscovered (his 2003 album) and an interview with producer Jerry Ragovoy

Originally published on Deep Column, Soul Express 2/2003

Howard Tate
Jerry Ragovoy, a producer whose name will always be connected to some of the greatest soul sides ever, first worked with Howard Tate in the mid-60s. He’s the producer of Howard’s Get It While You Can album, where it says that Jerry and Bill Fox (Howard’s manager at that point) found him in Philly, working for a local cab company.

Jerry: ”That’s not true. Someone brought a tape and I listened to it. It seemed like he had a wonderful voice and I wanted to meet him personally. We went through a few songs, I made some records. I made records prior to the Get It While You Can album, but those records I didn’t like and I never really bothered with them. I don’t know how the heck Verve got them. Verve did a CD re-issue of the original album (Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions in ’95), and those songs are on there.”

After about thirty years Jerry and Howard got back together again. ”I had calls from all over the United States and even some from Europe. They were asking me, where they could find Howard Tate, because they wanted to book him. So I thought I would try to reach Howard and tell him about the calls and just to let him know that people were looking for him and perhaps there would be an opportunity for him to make some extra money. No matter, where I called or who I called, no-one could find him. After about ten years of trying I thought he had died.

”About a year and a half ago I got a call from a journalist in London, who asked me what was it like to work with Howard in the studio, and I commented ’you know, I’ve been looking for Howard for ten years’. He said ’really, I spoke to him yesterday’. So I got Howard’s phone number and I called him - a friendship call, only for the purpose to see how he was doing. We got to talking, and Howard was regretful that he didn’t continue with me and he told me that he ran into some bad times.

We got to talking about recording, and I said ’well, let’s give it a try’. I brought him down to the studio, not knowing how he sounded, and when he opened up his mouth I went ’my god, it’s still all there’. That is quite amazing, because the physical reality is, when you get older you lose your voice, but Howard’s voice for some reason has remained intact.” Howard Tate

On the new CD you can listen Howard bursting into his trademark falsetto many times and with the same ease it used to be in the 60s.

Ragovoy’s producing and writing career started in 1953, when as a young helper in a Philly record store he met with a group called the Castelles and contributed to them making a record My Girl Awaits Me for Grant Records. ”Then I got a job with Chancellor Records. They had Frankie Avalon and Fabian. I went there as an A&R person and also as an arranger. I didn’t do that much recording. I was hired as an arranger.”

Jerry’s first big ”own” hit was with the Majors on a song called A Wonderful Dream on Imperial in 1962. ”Someone brought them around to me to listen to. I had this idea for a song, I recorded it and it turned out to do very well.”

All the real soul music lovers remember Jerry best for his magnificent, heavily orchestrated and almost gospelly records by Garnet Mimms, the late Lorraine Ellison and Howard Tate in the 60s. ”People brought Garnet over, I met him and I thought he was very good and I wrote a song for him. I haven’t spoken to him for many years, but what I did hear is that he is now a minister in church. Lorraine happened the same way. Someone played a tape, I thought she was wonderful, I met her and made some recordings with her. After Howard I was doing different artists. I did Bonnie Raitt, Lou Courtney - I recorded a lot of different people. I have never retired. If I’m not recording, I’m writing new songs.”

In the 70s Jerry was involved with Warner Brothers and Loma. ”Loma wasn’t my label. It belonged to Warner Brothers. For about seven or eight months I worked for them. In the 80s I was writing a lot of songs, some of which appear on Howard’s new album”

Howard Tate’s new CD, Rediscovered, was released the first of July in 2003 on Private Music (RCA/BMG affiliated). The set was produced and arranged by Jerry and he also wrote or co-wrote all the songs with the exception of Prince’s Kiss. ”All is live. This is the real thing, no drum machine. There were an average about ten players, five in the horn section. On the background it’s really one singer that I overdubbed many times. Her name is Lola, and she’s a terrific singer. I recorded in my studio, in my home. I live in Atlanta. I moved to New York from Philadelphia in 1962 and I spent thirty-two years there. I’m staying mainly in Atlanta for now, but I intend to be moving back to New York as soon as I can.”

The first three songs - a swaying mid-tempo romp called Mama Was Right, a slow moaner titled Show Me The Man and a mid-funk named Organic Love (100 % Natural) - all have a blues tinge to them. ”It’s more like r&b rather than blues. But there is a mixture of blues. R&b and blues are very much involved with each other. Those songs are brand new. Nobody has recorded them earlier.” Among the brand new songs there are also a bluesoul beat ballad called Don’t Compromise Yourself, a slow bluesy swayer titled Don’t Need No Monkey On My Back, funky She May Be White (But She Be Funky) and a heavy mid-pounder named Eternity.

Of the covers, together with Jerry Irma Thomas first cut a great country & soul ballad called Sorry Wrong Number in ’88 as well as the title slowie of that album, All I Know Is The Way I Feel, which was first put out by the Pointer Sisters a year earlier. ”Kiss was my idea, because I always liked the song. I thought it was a great record by Prince, so I just did my own arrangement of that song.”

Howard Tate
Either Side Of The Same Town is a strong, plaintive soul ballad. ”That's a brand new song that I wrote with Elvis Costello. Elvis and I met in San Francisco, where Howard was appearing in one of the clubs. Elvis came in to see Howard. Elvis has always been a serious Howard Tate fan. I didn't know that. He came to my show, we became friendly and we wound up writing a song together for Howard”.

The biggest surprise of the CD waits at the very end, where Howard delivers a slow, and almost spiritual reading of Get It While You Can. ”That was my idea. It's only Howard and me on the piano. I play piano on the whole record. A lot of people mention that song to me. They just love the track. It’s very pure. You can’t get more pure than vocal and piano.”

Heikki Suosalo

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