Get It While You Can

Tate, Howard

album cover

A Phantom Classic of Soul

Between 1966 and 1968, the singer Howard Tate and songwriter-producer Jerry Ragovoy developed a sound that stands slightly apart from everything else happening in R&B at the time. They featured horns just like Otis Redding and others in Memphis did, but deployed them with more restraint. They borrowed from the blues, but in tiny doses. Recording mostly in New York, they emphasized the preacher-like determination of Tate's voice, creating a suave, upmarket soul. These efforts were embraced by musicians—B.B. King, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix all covered material from this set—and mostly ignored by the public. Get It While You Can generated three songs that reached the Top 20 on the R&B charts and then disappeared quickly. Adding insult to injury, it's been reissued haphazardly, making it another of the phantom classics of soul singing.

The indifference took its toll on Tate. After cutting singles for several labels, he dropped out of sight in the early '70s, fell victim to drug and alcohol abuse, and spent time homeless on the streets of Camden, New Jersey. Following a religious awakening, he slowly put his life back together, and was working as a minister when, in 2000, a radio DJ sought an answer to the question, Whatever happened to Howard Tate? Ragovoy didn't know; he'd told friends he thought Tate was dead. Eventually the singer reemerged, renewed his collaboration with Ragovoy, and recorded a sturdy comeback (Rediscovered, 2003). When he performed in England, Tate was greeted with a hero's welcome.

Get It While You Can inspires that kind of reverence. Its songs are short, most under three minutes, and driven by Tate's at once casual and urgent entreaties. Everything he sings is intensely rhythmic, but in a low-key way; where the big shots of soul leaned on their rhythm sections to provide spark, Tate creates it all by himself, at times pushing the musicians with snappy drill-sergeant declarations. These are Tate's only showy moments: Never terribly fancy or super-athletic, he rarely lets loose with an Otis Redding–style shout. Instead, Tate brings exactly what the songs need, and nothing more. He puts heart behind every line, trusting that his plainspoken delivery can, in the right setting, be just as persuasive. This is the right setting.

Genre: R&B
Released: 1966, Verve
Key Tracks: "Ain't Nobody Home," "Glad I Knew Better," "Stop," "Get It While You Can," "Look at Granny Run Run"
Catalog Choice: Rediscovered
Next Stop: James Carr: You Got My Mind Messed Up
After That: Solomon Burke: Rock 'n Soul
Book Pages: 763–764

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Comments:

#1 from carneham, Spain - 07/08/2009 8:20

Well, this record is a hidden treasure. The voice is dressed with satin, the songs are intense and beautiful. A jewel that ranks with the best of Redding or Carr.

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