Perfect Sound Forever

Howard Tate

Interview by Jason Gross

PSF: So how did you hook up with Turntable Records after that?

I was complaining that I couldn't get my money. There was a guy down in Philadelphia who used to drive for the Spaniels, Ricky Burton. He said 'I know somebody who can get you money- Lloyd Price.' Being so young and naive, I didn't ask him how and who they were or look into their background. One of the worst things I ever did in my life.

So he took me up to New York. I met Harold Logan and he said 'I'll get your money for you.' The guy seemed like he was alright, he seemed like a gentleman to me. I didn't know how to evaluate people, I didn't know what to look for. I was just green. I was a construction worker in this big, fast world that I was now in. I wasn't surrounded with, other than Jerry, very good people that could take care of me. That's not the case now and that won't be the case anymore. But I was with guys that called themselves my road manager and they didn't know their way out of a wet paper bag.

So I wound up with Harold Logan and that was one of the worst mistakes I ever made. I did that album and they had recorded the Coasters and they didn't like the way the Coasters did it. So they said 'try this song "These Are the Things".' I did that well and I'm glad I did that. It was a good album, at least some of the songs there were. But it wasn't in the bag with Ragovoy's stuff.

PSF: So you knew that the Turntable people were involved with the mob?

Yes, that's what I'm talking about! I didn't even know none of that. I could have lost my life up there, hanging around that joint (ED NOTE: they ran a New York nightclub also called Turntable). This guy, I found out that he was a hoodlum. I had no knowledge of that. When he got killed at the club, it scared me so bad. That's when I stopped- I'm not getting my record royalties and then I'm getting hooked up with this group.

PSF: How did you get back to work with Jerry and Atlantic Records?

I called Jerry up and said 'You know, I never really had a problem with the material and things you produced. I thought we were great. There were money problems but let's put that behind us for now and do another album.' He was happy about that and I was too. So we did the Atlantic album.

PSF: How did you like that album?

I thought we had a hit with "Eight Days on the Road" and "She's A Burglar" and "It's Your Move." Atlantic put the worst one on that album- "Keep Cool." They just completely BLEW that album. And yet they knew how great that album was. Jerry Wexler called Jerry (Ravogoy) up from Muscle Shoals, Alabama at three o'clock in the morning. Wexler said that they were listening to our record and they thought it was a great album. And yet they blew it. But Wexler wasn't in charge at Atlantic no more.

PSF: Do you think by then that your style had changed since you'd been at Verve?

No, my style hadn't changed. Jerry was trying to take me to a little broader market. But he never had to do that. All he had to do was stick with what he had at Verve. That's Howard Tate.

PSF: After the Atlantic record came out, what were you doing?

I was working dates on my own. I was booking myself- I was with an agency that wasn't worth a nickle.

PSF: So Atlantic wasn't doing anything for you?

Not with dates, no. They wouldn't pay either. They just didn't pay back then. They're re-releasing the Atlantic album now, it's coming out in September and the guy who's doing the liner notes is calling me tomorrow.

PSF: So you were on your own, taking care of yourself?

I was out there and I wasn't surrounded by people who were good advisors at all. I wasn't around people that had Howard Tate's interests at heart. The only people I had around me was guys that I knew from Philadelphia that didn't know anything about music or management. I should have been overseas fifty times. I went to number one in England several times. "Ain't Nobody Home" was number one there but I never went. How is that possible? When you're surrounded with the wrong people. The booking agency I had there, they stuck me down south on that Chitlun circuit where they threw a microphone on the stage and put two big boxes in the corner and put 20,000 people in there and told you to go for yourself, scream 'til your head fell off. They'd give you $500 and said 'see you next year.' (laughs) That was the truth.

They never booked me overseas. You know why? 'Cause they could put me on the tour with ten acts and you know who made all the money. Once they paid the headliner, the rest of us got peanuts. Who made the money? The big booking agencies.

That's why you have to have people around you, looking out for you. Had I reached out to Jerry back then, I'm sure I could have done much, much better. We made good music but I wasn't a very good entrepreneur.

PSF: You did some singles after the Atlantic album too, right?

Yes, we did a single for Epic. Jerry was fighting with them (Atlantic) night and day 'cause they blew that album. "She's A Burglar" is a smash hit record. I wrote a song on that album called "The Bitter End"- it sounds like Joe Tex and that was a smash hit song. Atlantic blew it and that's a company that could have brought that in. I don't know why.

So we did a song on Epic. That was a great record too. But I was disgusted so I left. That was a mistake- I shouldn't have left. But I was young. I'd been to college and I had a degree- I should have been a better business man 'cause I majored in business. I'm an industrial management major. I went to Villanova and Temple. I should have knew better.

But I've always had a problem with mixing business with friendship. It can hurt you. You have people hanging around you and you like them and they can become friends and you try to give them these positions but they're not qualified for it.

PSF: When did you stop performing?

I stopped around... '79, '80.

PSF: What did you do after Epic single?

I produced a single on my own record label (HT) called "Pride" and "Sexy Mama" around 1976. I produced another song on my label called "Sweetness," which was a pretty good record. But by then, the music business had changed so much. This was around '82, '83. It was impossible to get record play unless you were hooked up with the big giants.

PSF: So after that record, that's when you decided you had enough of the music business?

Yeah, that's when I said 'enough is enough.' I decided to get a job, go to work and enjoy my children and live a family life. I went to work for Prudential, sold securities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

PSF: Was it strange to go from being a signed act and touring and then going to a new kind of lifestyle?

I was comfortable with it for one reason. I knew artists didn't get their money back then. I knew that we made millionaires of people because Ragovoy had bought two studios, a home in Long Island. One day when I got my check, the woman told me that this man was a multi-millionaire, he had seven band accounts there. I didn't even ask her for that information- she was just telling me this. Everybody got rich and I didn't get a dime.

PSF: During that time, you had a tragedy with your oldest daughter.

We had a fire in our around '76 and I was asleep. Howard Jr. ran through the house, yelling that the house was on fire. I tried to get her out but I couldn't. I jumped over the girls' twin beds and I got her in my arms but she was panicky. She was a little retarded. She ran into the corner while the other children ran out of the room. I had my arms around her but when I tried to jump, she was so heavy that I fell through the floor. That's the last thing I remember. The next thing, my son had dragged me out. So we lost her. But she's with the Lord. She was young, only 13. So God knows things- he's in control of everything.

PSF: During your post-music years, I've heard that you were homeless at one point. Is that true?

Well, I wasn't exactly homeless. We all have our up's and down's. I had a divorce (1981) and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. I just didn't go around my family. So I was labeled as being 'homeless' but I really wasn't homeless. I could have went home to my family. But I just roamed and stayed here and stayed there with so-called 'friends.' Just hanging out.

PSF: During that time, did you totally lose all interest in music?

I had alleviated myself from the music business altogether. I didn't talk about it. Nobody knew who I was. I never mentioned it. I had such a bad experience with not getting money until I just... It's a known fact that it wasn't just me. Look at what happened to the Temptations. Look at what happened to all the Supremes other than Diana Ross. Look at what happened to the Miracles other than Smokey. They took the money and they could have paid us. They just didn't want to.

PSF: In 1994, you had a big change in your life.

Well, I was on my knees and I always had these religious roots from my parents. It always stayed with me through it all. God took care of me through it all. Lord knows when I was up there fooling with that hoodlum in that Turntable nightclub, oh... I could have lost my life up there. I didn't even know what I was dealing with in there. I'm walking into that place and they could have shot that place up. I didn't even know they were gangsters.

Anyway, I was on my knees praying and I heard a voice, just like I'm talking to you. It said 'I want you to go preach my gospel.' I said 'Lord, I can't go. Not me. I don't want to be no preacher.' And the voice said 'You'll go or else.' So I knew that was an ultimatum. I said 'how am I going to go? I haven't been to seminary or anything.' They said 'I'll teach you what you need to know when all the apostles walked with me and when my disciples walked with me and all those that I called- there was no seminary but I thought them what they need to know. And I'll teach you.' That was the calling that I had. I said 'Lord, I'll go.'

I could tell you some things about how he's taught me the scriptures diligently. Sometimes when someone's talking to me that's been in the seminary and have doctorate degrees in theology, I can question them and they can't even answer the questions I ask them. So it's attributed to God.

PSF: What kind of ministry work have you done since then?

I've housed the homeless and the mentally ill and with drug addicts, we try to rehab them. We try to take the drug addicts out of the environment that they're in. Homeless people, they got a problem or they wouldn't be homeless in the first place. We try to bring them into a spiritual environment where they are housed and fed. They get physical food and spiritual food. We try to rehab them. Therefore, we prepare them to go back into the main culture because they've dropped down into a subculture. This is what I've dedicated my life to doing. I go to hospitals and pray for the sick. Some people can't see God or reach out and touch him but it takes me to tell them that they can feel him if they reach out for him.

PSF: What's your actual title then in the church?

Apostle. I say 'apostle' because I had two callings. The calling I told you about first was God sending me to preach. But I had another calling when I was on my knees praying at another time. He told me that 'You're no longer to be called by that title 'Reverend.' You're to be called 'apostle.' I run into a lot of static about that. You have those who say that the apostles are dead and gone. I'll have you know that he chose me to be one so all of them are not dead! (laughs)

PSF: In 1995, when Mercury came out with that compilation of your work, did you know anything about that?

I was in church preaching and my cousin who lives in New York came down to visit. He said 'Howard, you got a record out in the stores in New York.' I didn't pay him any attention. A few months later, I was preaching again and someone said 'there's a record of you on Broadway on CD!' I said 'how is that possible?' But he was right, it was. I didn't think much of it at the time. I just thought it was an old record or something.

PSF: So you didn't know at that time that people were trying to find you?

I didn't. Somebody even called my ex-wife's house around '96, looking for me. My son took the call and he told me 'Dad, somebody called here looking for you about music.' I burst out. I thought it was a hoax, somebody playing a joke.

PSF: So how did you eventually get 'found' by the music biz at the beginning of this year?

I was in church in New Jersey and a guy named Ron Kennedy came back and said hello. I knew him from back in the day- he used to hang around the nightclubs where I was singing. He sang with the original Bluenotes back in the '50's but not with Teddy Pendergrass. He said 'they're looking for you, you got money coming.' I gave him my number but I didn't call him and follow up with him.

Then on New Year's Day, I went to the supermarket. Ron came in the door and said 'Howard, these people are looking for! You got money coming from your records.' Then it started dawning on me that this guy's not kidding. I gave him my number again and he gave me his number. So he said that he was going to call this (disc) jockey that was looking for me- that was Phil Casden. He did that and he said that he was in Florida but he'd be back and he was going to get him to call me.

He did that in one night and Phil was on the phone. Once I gave Phil my phone number, the phone started ringing off the hook from France, from England, from Sweden and all overseas. These promoters wanted to book me and do interviews and things like that because Phil was on the Internet and he had put it out that I had been found. That's where it started at. (laughs)

PSF: So you did get some royalties back?

Phil knew from the Internet this lawyer who represents Dolly Parton and all of them, down in Tennessee. Phil wanted me to meet this lawyer. So I called the lawyer up and talked to him and he said he'd represent me and my money for me. I hired him and in fact, he's my attorney now. I've had a great relationship (with him) and he's starting to get me some of the money. There's a lot still around from my publishing company- I never got a dime for a song I wrote for Atlantic, "The Bitter End." You know they must have sold some albums.

PSF: How did you meet up with Jerry Ragovoy again?

I was talking to Paul Mooney from England. He did an interview with me and he knew Jerry evidently and knew that Jerry had been looking for me. Paul called Jerry and said 'we found Howard Tate.' Jerry had been looking for me for 10 years. The next day I went to the store and when I came back and one of the guys who rent off me here said 'Reverend, some Jerry called you.' I don't know but one Jerry. 'Jerry, Jerry who?' He didn't say but the guy said that he'd call back. By then, the phone was ringing again and you know who that was.

Well, we were elated to have met and hooked up again. We talked and talked. We immediately decided that we were too good of a team not to do some more music for the world to enjoy. So we decided to do another album. We've been working on it for a few months now. I would hope it would be coming out by the end of the year. It's such a strong record. Jerry theorized, and I think he's right, that we want to top any album that we've ever done.

PSF: How would you describe the new material?

Back to the old Howard Tate on Verve. That's what the people love and that's what they want to hear. Jerry said that's the worst mistake he made when he changed my style a little bit, when I went to (do) the Atlantic album. I don't know where it's going to come out with but we're going to be with a major (label). We've got people chasing us down now.

PSF: Understood. Now that you've come back to your musical career, how does it feel to be singing these songs to audiences after all these years?

It feels great because the audiences are just so great. To be able to stand up there and just pour your heart out to them and the appreciation that they show you, it's worth it all. It's rewarding. To be able to say 'here I am, I know you were probably looking for me, you couldn't find me but I'm still alive and I'm going to sing for you tonight.'

PSF: When I saw your show in New York, your outfit and your mannerisms made me think 'hey, this really is a religious guy.'

Yes, I'm religious. God is first in my life. I'm not the type of minister though that's a brow-beater or that's going to force anyone into accepting Jesus Christ as their savior. I'm glad you mentioned what you mentioned because that's my whole thing- to preach without opening my mouth- by the way I live, by the way I look, the way I carry myself. Somebody might say 'what is it with this guy? I want to know more about him.'

PSF: Howard, as an old fan, I have to ask you this. Will you please promise that you won't disappear from us for another 20 years?

(laughs) Never disappear! I'm here to stay!

Also see some of Howard's favorite music

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