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Howard Tate is back, and he's on a mission
BY TED DROZDOWSKI
Howard Tate is a man on a mission. Actually, two missions. The first is to bring back the glories of American soul music ó the kind that flowered in the í60s and early í70s, when African-American singers lit dynamite with their falsetto cries, heart-pounding shouts, and up-from-the-gut testifying.
In his first career ó one that lasted for just five years and two classic albums ó Tate was among the finest practitioners of soul, a vocalist on par with Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, O.V. Wright, and Al Green. Listening to "Get It While You Can," "Part Time Love," "You Donít Know Nothing About Love," "Stop," and "Ainít Nobody Home" is like watching a high-wire act. His screaming and begging can put your heart in your throat even as the ease and the warmth of his flexible tenor trumpet his talent.
Now Tate, who plays the House of Blues this Saturday, has taken a step toward accomplishing that mission. Heís made his first album in decades with the producer and writer of many of his classics, the great soul-music helmsman Jerry Ragovoy. "This CD is so powerful, it may be more powerful than the Verve album," he says, comparing his new Rediscovered (thatís the tentative title) to his 1967 debut, Get It While You Can. Since Tate and Ragovoy have yet to choose a label for Rediscovered, theyíre keeping it under wraps. But itís worth noting that when the hardened session crew at Muscle Shoals studios ó the musicians whoíd cut classics with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett ó heard the master tapes of Get It While You Can as Ragovoy and Tate were completing it, they nicknamed the album "The Bible."
And itís the Bible that relates to Tateís other mission. He returned to performing almost two years ago to raise money for a religious sanctuary that he wants to build in the farmlands of southern New Jersey. For Tate, the road away from music ó which he began traveling when a series of career frustrations culminated in the 1970s with the gangland-style murder of his manager ó led first to selling insurance and then to his current profession, the ministry.
"I was praying one day in 1995," he recalls, "as I do quite often to maintain a strong prayer life, and a voice spoke to me. I donít know if I was awake, but I supposed that I was awake because I was praying. It was as though God had taken me out into infinity and spoke to me. He told me that he wanted me to go into the world and spread his gospel. It scared me so bad, hearing God speaking like that. I said, ĎI donít want to be a preacher.í That was the last thing I wanted to be. I said I couldnít do it. I didnít have the proper training. And he said, ĎYou go or else.í He said, ĎThose that I call, I qualify. When my servant Moses, whom I prepared at 80 years old, and Jeremiah the prophet were chosen, there was no seminary. But I was with them as Iíll be with you as you go.í So I said, ĎWell, Lord, then Iíll go.í And Iíve done that."
Indeed, Tate spends his days as an apostle of the Gift of the Cross church, traveling from his Willingboro (New Jersey) office to hospitals and homes, aiming to provide spiritual comfort and counseling. "We donít have a sanctuary yet, so we are fellowshipping in private homes." He aims to make money from his recordings this time, and he plans to use his music-biz earnings to purchase land and build a church, a rehab center, and houses for the homeless there.
With the music business in such disarray and this artistís gripping style not to be found on major-label menus, the prognosis might not seem good. But Tate is a man of faith, and itís said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. One thing thatís certain is that his talent is undiminished. When the 62-year-old last performed at the House of Blues, in 2001, every bit of his wide vocal range was intact. As he soared through his set with graceful charisma, it was obvious why Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, and Aretha Franklin had dipped into his catalogue for songs. For this show, heíll be backed by the Uptown Horns and music-biz legend Al Kooper on organ. And heís likely to prove yet again that heís able to provide spiritual comfort from the stage as well as from the pulpit.
Howard Tate plays the House of Blues at 10 p.m. this Saturday, February 22. Call (617) 491-BLUE.