Over the summer, we happened to drop in to a store in Tacoma that we'd visited years ago, and they had scores of one dollar CDs. Was I excited, because I finally found Howard Tate's Rediscovered (Private Music, 2003), where he was reunited with producer-songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, who died earlier this year.
It's an amazing record, as Tate sings with gospel fervor and restraint (he was a minister in New Jersey) over some decidedly secular and bluesy themes, most of them written by Ragovoy: The wise "Mama Was Right," "Don't Compromise Yourself," a Ragovoy-Elvis Costello collaboration titled "Either Side of the Same Town," and the funny-as-can-be "She May Be White (But She Be Funky)." There's also a terrific cover of Prince's "Kiss" (I've long thought that a band like the Fabulous Thunderbirds could do a great blues-rock version of "Kiss"). Rediscovered ends with a new version of "Get It While You Can," yet instead of trying to outdo his 1967 original, Tate vocalizes over Ragovoy's spare piano accompaniment, and it's so moving. Especially because we'll never hear an album like Rediscovered again, or an artist like Howard Tate.
Guitarist Hubert Sumlin (born 1931, Greenwood, Mississippi) made several albums in the past decade but is best known for his work on some of Howlin' Wolf's greatest recordings. He played with a sharp, muscular flair on way too many Chicago Blues classics to list here, but a few of them really got me as I was discovering roots rock music in my teens: "Spoonful" (1960), 1964's "Killing Floor" (which Led Zeppelin swiped and turned into "The Lemon Song"), and the riotous "Wang Dang Doodle" from 1960.
Even on a Wolf track where his guitar is not prominent, like 1957's "Sitting On Top of the World" (because drummer Earl Phillips' beat is so big), Sumlin's tough chording lets one know what the Rolling Stones would be doing several years later. Get out your Howlin' Wolf box set--or get one--and go to town with Hubert Sumlin's fantastic guitar playing, outstanding as far as solos or ensemble musicianship.
The music world will really miss Howard Tate and Hubert Sumlin.