Howard Tate picked up the telephone on the other end; his speaking voice flowed as smoothly, in a slightly elevated tenor, as that terrific singing voice that might remind R&B music fans of Al Green.
Only, Tate came before Al Green. None other than Elvis Costello has deemed him the link between Jackie Wilson and Green.
For two decades, it was a missing link. Then, through R&B and blues fans, Tate was rediscovered in 1999. They made that the title on his return-to-big-time CD in 2002, and critics hailed Tate’s re-emergence.
“It’s good to be back,” he said.
Tate and his 10-piece band will perform Saturday, Oct. 30, at Hendrix College’s Staples Auditorium in yet another impressive event sponsored by the school’s special events board. In recent years, they’ve brought in such eclectic music acts T-Bone Burnett and Sam Phillips and Pere Ubu.
Showtime is 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“We think we have the best show in the road today in what we do, soul music and blues, and that’s not just my opinion but the reviews all over the world,” Tate said. “We expect to put on a dynamite show there.”
In his second career, Tate has played at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena. But starting out in the 1960s, the Macon, Ga., native who grew up inspired by the gospel of Ira Tucker and Sam Cooke and eventually settled in Philadelphia played shows in Little Rock and Pine Bluff.
“It’s almost like coming home again,” he said. “I also can’t think of any place I’d rather play than on a college campus and exposing young people to this sound. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
Today, Tate carries his band and his blues and soul around the world, but just a few years ago, he figured he’d never perform again. Tate walked away from the music business in the 1970s, disgusted with what he saw as unfair business practices on the part of record companies with regard to royalties. Then, in late 1999 people began looking for Howard Tate again.
“What happened was, Verve re-released the [1967 debut] ‘Get It While You Can’ album and it sold very well in Europe, very well,” Tate said. “Writers went to looking for me. They didn’t know if I was dead or what. I was found.”
He was reunited with his producer from the 1960s, Jerry Ragovoy. “We decided we wanted to do another record, if I could still sing. I hadn’t sung in 30 years.”
He said the day he walked away from the business, he didn’t sing another note, not in church or anywhere. Tate had gone into the securities business when he quit music, but he also got involved for a while in drugs.
The pair found the voice was still there after all.
“It was as if I just went to sleep one night and woke up the next day and started singing,” he said. “I was astonished, and Jerry nearly fell out of the chair. It was just a miracle.”
“Rediscovered” was a two-and-a-half year process. Tate toured during that time as well. “We were just getting back and I wasn’t up to where I wanted to be, I wasn’t at the level that I am now,” he said. “It took some time to get back in shape, to do those high-powered shows.”
Tate is finally beginning to see some return from his earlier days. The re-release of the album “Get It While You Can” means he gets paid royalties from 1995 to present. “But any of that back in 1967, I get none, none at all.”
Yet, Tate seems to get as much satisfaction in seeing some of the songs he first recorded later being covered by such artists as Janis Joplin (“Get It While You Can”), Jimi Hendrix (“Stop”), Bonnie Raitt (“Ain’t Nobody Home”), Bob Marley (“Look at Granny Run Run”) and Lucky Peterson (“She’s a Burglar”).
“When they rediscovered me, they told me I was a cult artist, and I didn’t know what the word meant,” Tate said. “I was honored they were listening to my music.”