Friday, July 18, 2008

Soul Enemy No. 1

Will someone stop Jon Tiven before he produces another soul album? His Betty Harris album Intuition lacked warmth, made her voice smaller than it is, and subjected her to sub-par material written by Tiven and his wife, Sally. Howard Tate's Blue Day just arrived, also produced by Tiven and sharing all the weakness of Harris' album. The material's slightly better - perhaps a result of collaborations with Dan Penn, Mike Farris, Ellis Hooks, Sir Mack Rice and others - but the trade-off is that Tiven plays most of the instruments, so there's not much groove.

Garnet Mimms' Is Anybody Out There? came in the same package, also produced by Tiven - evidently Evidence Records' house soul producer - and I don't have the heart to listen to it to hear another soul singer made average.


Soulmaven #1 said...

Everyone has an opinion.

Everyone has an asshole.

Not every opinion is valid.

Especially from an asshole.

mike said...

I believe that we all should be positive and appreciative of the fact that Howard Tate is singing and recording again. His voice is a national treasure, and his story of redemption is one that anyone in the music business, however they feel about a producer, should rally behind. See: This is arguably Howard Tate's finest recording since 1967's seminal "Get It While You Can." It's earned a four-star rating (the highest possible) from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Nick Cristiano (

JonTiven said...

I've been called worse, but those who are true Soul Men---Wilson Pickett, Little Milton, Don Covay, Bobby Womack, Steve Cropper, Felix Cavaliere, Garnet Mimms, Howard Tate to name but a few---call me Friend. And not just because I have brought them chart success, W.C. Handy Awards, Grammy nominations, great praise from most REAL critics--they recognize my interest in this music and my lifelong mission to bring greater attention to those who started it.

I stand by the HOWARD TATE album as one of the finest works I've ever been responisble for, right up there with my Pickett album. If you don't dig it, I feel sorry that you're prejudice against me and my work interferes with your ability to derive joy from great music, but that's your problem.

Now get a real job and stop being a killjoy to people who actually work for a living making music.

Disrespectfully yours,
Jon Tiven

JonTiven said...

Garnet Mimms, best known for the 1963 smash "Cry Baby," one of the landmark works in the emergence of soul, has been keeping busy with church work and singing gospel since he left the music business in the late '70s. The 74-year-old West Virginia native and longtime Philadelphian is pastor of the nondenominational Glory Land Ministries on West Cheltenham Avenue in West Oak Lane.

None of the 15 songs on Is Anybody Out There? (Evidence ***1/2), due Tuesday, would be out of place at Mimms' joyous Sunday services. As with most of his secular music, the performances are steeped in gospel feeling. Some, like "I Know the One" and "Thirty-Three," are overtly Christian. But many, such as "Keeping the Dream Alive" and "On Top of This Mountain," are more general tales of inspiration and uplift, often in the face of struggle and doubt, but without any sugarcoating.

Mimms recorded the album in Nashville with Jon Tiven, the producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind comeback albums by Betty Harris and Wilson Pickett, and the discoverer of the brilliant young Ellis Hooks. Tiven cowrote 13 of the songs (other writers include Southern-soul architects Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, country singer Marty Brown, and the late Little Milton and Johnny Taylor). He also crafted the classic soul accompaniment, augmented by the Heart for Christ Choir.

It's first-class treatment for a singer who continues to deserve it - Mimms possesses a strong, clear voice that exudes warmth and steady conviction, giving these performances a soul-stirring grace and power.

Howard Tate, 70, also made his name in the '60s, with immortals such as "Get It While You Can," and he too traveled to Nashville for the Tiven treatment. As with Mimms' album, Tiven not only produced the 15-song set but also provided much of the material and musical accompaniment, along with such usual collaborators as Dan Penn, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere.

Still, the towering Blue Day (Evidence ****), due Aug. 12, stands on its own in content and tone. That's evident from the get-go with "Miss Beehive," a slice of up-tempo R&B about retro-soul star Amy Winehouse ("Miss Beehive likes to misbehave"). "If I Was White" confronts racism head-on, while "Stalking My Woman" has an air of menace and "Back to My Old Ways Again" deals with substance abuse.

Like Burke and Mimms, the Georgia-born, Philadelphia-raised Tate, who now lives across the Delaware in Southampton, Burlington County, has worked as a minister. His gospel roots come to the fore on the rocking "If God Brought You to It," although he's backed not by a choir but by roots-rock singer Mike Farris (he and another excellent vocalist, Jonell Mosser, appear on several tracks).

Blue Day is a rousing portrait of a singer whose voice has lost none of its richness, and whose energy and attitude belie his years - "I used to be a heavyweight / I've still got the crown / Don't count me out / 'Cause I can still go a few rounds," he boasts on "Live Like a Millionaire." It's hard to argue the point: Tate still reaches deep down for the kind of incandescent feeling that left no choice but to give his music - and that of Burke and Mimms - the name soul.

Philadelphia Inquirer,
June 29, 2008

written by Nick Cristiano

mike said...

Here's what Nick Cristiano of the Inquirer said:

As with Mimms' album, Tiven not only produced the 15-song set but also provided much of the material and musical accompaniment, along with such usual collaborators as Dan Penn, Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere.

Still, the towering Blue Day (Evidence ****), due Aug. 12, stands on its own in content and tone. That's evident from the get-go with "Miss Beehive," a slice of up-tempo R&B about retro-soul star Amy Winehouse ("Miss Beehive likes to misbehave"). "If I Was White" confronts racism head-on, while "Stalking My Woman" has an air of menace and "Back to My Old Ways Again" deals with substance abuse.

Like Burke and Mimms, the Georgia-born, Philadelphia-raised Tate, who now lives across the Delaware in Southampton, Burlington County, has worked as a minister. His gospel roots come to the fore on the rocking "If God Brought You to It," although he's backed not by a choir but by roots-rock singer Mike Farris (he and another excellent vocalist, Jonell Mosser, appear on several tracks).

Blue Day is a rousing portrait of a singer whose voice has lost none of its richness, and whose energy and attitude belie his years - "I used to be a heavyweight / I've still got the crown / Don't count me out / 'Cause I can still go a few rounds," he boasts on "Live Like a Millionaire." It's hard to argue the point: Tate still reaches deep down for the kind of incandescent feeling that left no choice but to give his music - and that of Burke and Mimms - the name soul.

JonTiven said...

Betty Harris is probably best known for her 1963 rendition of Solomon Burke’s “Cry To Me,” a song she made all her own. She recorded several other memorable songs, including “Mojo Hannah” and “His Kiss” and several songs for Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn’s Sansu label, most notably “Bad Luck,” “Nearer To You,” and “Love Lots of Lovin’,” a duet with Crescent City legend Lee Dorsey. She also did a tour with Otis Redding, cut short due to Redding’s tragic death in late 1967, and made a few more recordings before retiring from the music business in 1970.

In 2001, her daughter found several fan sites on the Internet dedicated to Ms. Harris, which prompted her to join a soul mailing list to announce her whereabouts. One thing led to another and she was soon headlining a benefit at Hartford University, followed by an appearance at New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp, a Hurricane Katrina benefit in Melbourne, followed by the Poretta Soul Festival in Bologna, Italy. Now she’s back in the studio; with the able Jon Tiven at the controls, Harris has released Intuition, her debut solo recording for Evidence Music.

Intuition finds Ms. Harris in wonderful form, her vocal style and delivery as distinctive as it was some 40 years ago. The opening cut, the sultry “Is It Hot In Here,” is a wonderful vehicle for her, indicating that while there’s a definite nod to her past glories on the disc, Harris’ focus is strictly on the present. The title cut sounds different from anything else Harris has recorded, but she gives a great performance. The duet with Freddie Scott, “Since You Brought Your Sweet Love,” was actually recorded by each artist over a decade apart, but the production is seamless and sounds like they were actually in the same room.

One of the highlights of the disc is “You Do My Soul Good,” featuring a fine, understated performance by Harris, with an able assist from co-author Jonell Mosser on backing vocals and Tiven on sitar. “Who’s Takin’ Care of Baby?” is a nice slice of modern R&B and further evidence that Harris is more than comfortable tackling modern styles. Jerry Ragovoy contributed a couple of songs to the disc, including the soul gem, “It Is What It Is.”

In addition to producing the disc, Tiven had a hand in most of the compositions and played the majority of guitar, keyboards, and harp. His wife, Sally, served as composer and played bass. Other noteworthy guests include Mosser, Bekka Bramlett, Buddy Miller, Ragavoy, and Memphis Horn stalwart Wayne Jackson.

Intuition is an impressive release. It’s great to have a true soul voice like Betty Harris’ back on the scene. If you’re a fan of deep southern soul, you owe it to yourself to find this disc. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait so long for the next one.

--- Graham Clarke


JonTiven said...


Intuition (Evidence)

Betty Harris recorded only a handful of sides in the 1960s - including "Cry to Me," definitive in the deep soul canon, and the great soul duet "I'm a Fool for You" with James Carr - before turning her back on the music business. Now, 37 years later, she can be added to the growing list of long-dormant or disappeared soul singers who have re-emerged. Her new album is a collaboration between Harris and seasoned soul producer Jon Tiven, who produced it, played on it, and co-wrote almost all of the material. For the most part, he pulls Harris's soul in a blue direction that's smoldering and intense, full of honking horns and stinging guitars. But there's also an almost Rolling Stones circa "Exile on Main St." vibe on "Still Amazed," a great country-soul duet with the late Freddie Cole on "Since You Brought Your Sweet Love," and a remarkable tapesty of sounds and voices on the title track. That Harris is back is another great story; that she's back with something this good is astounding. [Stuart Munro]

JonTiven said...

from Ft. Worth Texas Weekly

Betty Harris is back. On her first recording in nearly 40 years — Intuition, her funky, New Orleans-style, traditional R&B and soul solo debut — she shares a mix of love and cautionary-love songs with convincing sass and little time for suffering fools who think the battle between the sexes is a game.

The last time Harris was caught on wax was 1969, with frequent collaborator Allen Toussaint on her single “There’s a Break in the Road.” Her biggest hit was the pop-R&B crossover “Cry to Me” with The Hearts in 1963. She toured and recorded with Big Maybelle, Lee Dorsey, Otis Redding, James Carr, and others before retiring more than 30 years ago to raise a family and sing in the church choir.

Past retirement age, she still has solid vocals — they’re often gritty and occasionally a bit fragile, notably as she conjures Tina Turner, Otis Redding, and her own past. The former hit-maker — back when singles, rather than albums, were the lingua franca of pop music — began performing again in 2005 after her daughter found several internet fan sites dedicated to her mother. Dates included New Orleans’ annual Ponderosa Stomp, a Hurricane Katrina benefit in Melbourne, Australia, and the Poretta Soul Festival in Bologna, Italy.

On the slinky “You Do My Soul Good,” arguably the album’s best cut, Harris is on the road and her lover’s on her mind. On the horn-laced “Still Amazed,” with harmonies and lead guitar by Buddy Miller, she scolds a cheating man while acknowledging she’s been a fool. On “Since You Brought Your Sweet Love,” a duet with Freddie Scott, she finds the right man. On “A Bible and a Beer,” she admits to needing a little bit of both to make life complete.

Producer Jon Tiven co-wrote 15 of the 16 songs, most with his bass-player wife Sally Tiven.

Intuition seems to be a throwback in more ways than just the sound. It’s a bit ironic that Harris’ original success came in the era of singles, and that her first album comes at a time, driven by internet technology, when singles are making a comeback. — Tom Geddie

Alex Rawls said...

I didn't know this post had kicked up such a ruckus until someone wrote me personally to agree with me. I've said my piece, so I'm not going to go into Missile Command mode, shooting down every attack. Two thoughts:

1) To Mike - I'm glad Howard's singing and recording again too, but he cut a live album last year and "Rediscovered" in 2003, so it's not like our only choices are Tate's absence or Tiven-produced product.

2) To Jon - the best rhythm section you could find was you? And the best songwriter you could find for Tate and Harris was you? Seriously?

Soulmaven #1 said...

The best writer you could find to write about Tiven was you? Seriously?

Pretending that someone agreed with you and then wrote to you rather than post it here is rather a shady tact to take.


tjmertz said...

I'm a huge Mack Rice fan and had mixed feelings about the Tiven project. It grew on me.

One of the reviews of one of the Tiven productions cites Exile on Main Street and I had arrived at the same touchstone for the sound on the Mack Rice.

Exile is a fvae in our house, but not the first set of sounds I'd want for Mack Rice. Still, it grew on me and I enjoy it. I also think it is better than the previous Mack Rice, which went for a kind of blue-boogie-soul a la the Alligator "Genuine House Rocking Music" sound.

Last word is that I think the Joe Henry and Pete Nathan productions on recent works by Soul legends are more the way to go.

JonTiven said...

At least that's civil, and not insulting.

The Sir Mack Rice record is 10 years old, and in my opinion still sounds pretty peppy---my original executive producer on the project was Keith Richards, who had to bow out to tour with his usual outfit. My coproducer was his engineer, Rob Fraboni, so if it sounds "Stonesy" I can only claim part of the credit.

The Tate record sounds very unlike it, and I will post reviews---favorable and not---in this space when they appear. Let the REAL critics judge, I stand by their decision.

Jon Tiven

JonTiven said...

You can judge for yourself about the Tate album---there are music samples available from the Web--and the record is still a week away from release...go to

In the meantime, the reviews are already in on the Steve Cropper/Felix Cavaliere album I cowrote/coproduced and here are just a few:

1)first off, from THOM JUREK in the allmusic guide

Nudge It Up a Notch is a collaborative effort by Booker T. & the MG's/ Blues Brothers guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper and former Rascals organist, songwriter, and frontman Felix Cavaliere. It was recorded at Jon Tiven's Hormone Studio in Nashville, and released on Stax. This trio co-wrote most all of the tunes together, then hired the great drummer Chester Thompson (who else do you know who could play drums with Frank Zappa, Genesis, and Frank Black?) and his pal, former Impressions bassist and musical director Sammy Louis "Shake" Anderson. Backing vocalists Mark Williams and N'nandi Bryant round out the band. David Z. mixed the sessions, which were co-produced by Cropper, Cavaliere, and Tiven.

So what's it sound like? It sounds like Felix Cavaliere fronting a completely killer Southern soul band! Their musical structures come from timeless sources of blues, R&B, gospel, and modern funky reggae. The opening cut, a steamy, gritty broken love song, simply choogles its way along a simple breakbeat-driven vamp in a minor key. Cavaliere's voice hasn't lost one iota of its range or its expressiveness since the Rascals disbanded 35 years ago. Here he offers a sultry, emotionally wrought call and response with his chorus. Cropper offers stunning blues fills and a solo above the B-3 and rhythm section. The tune is a signature in a sense, because the tunes themselves are solid, beautifully written, and smartly arranged. But it's not only the cookers that come off this way — check the very next track, "If It Wasn't for Loving You," which nods to "My Girl" for its verse melody, but it's pure Cavaliere in the tag before the chorus. It's a ballad with near doo wop backing vocals and Cropper doing his slippery chord riffs to center the tune. The bassline is a tight stroll along the snare line, and Cavaliere's organ soars above the top. The instrumentals come off seamlessly as well. Check the nocturnal gritty soul-blues shuffle of "Full Moon Tonight" for proof. Cropper gets to let the high strings cut and slither. The reverbed backing chords are all played in shimmering tension as Cavaliere and the rhythm section bubble and pop underneath.

Despite each of these songs being a gem, some production elements in the sound — in a couple of places — are a tad strange: on "Impossible" the seemingly looped tablas pull the listener's attention a bit from Cavaliere's gorgeous vocal. The hard funky loops and rap in "Making the Time Go Faster" would have been better served without a synth and using organic hand percussion on top of Thompson's breaks. "Jamaica Delight," a Caribbean-flavored instrumental, has slightly cheesy keyboards, but the tune works anyway because of Cropper's razored guitar inventions. Yet these are minor quibbles — this album is so groove-laden and loaded with honest, uncontrived songs that minor flubs hardly matter. Just before the record's end, "Imperfect World" uses a dubby, modern reggae cum R&B confection that's so infectious, lean, and punchy that it could make the Police turn green with envy. Nudge It Up a Notch is a top-flight collaborative effort by a veritable soul supergroup that is vital and astonishingly creative, and offers plenty of proof that soul music is very much alive as a force of 21st century musical expression. This set is one of the great surprises of 2008, and further evidence of Concord's genuine commitment to the revamped Stax imprint.

2)secondly from EDD HURT (who has given me his share of negative reviews in the past, but has never taken cheap shots--this time he finds merit)--the review ran in the VILLAGE VOICE last week:
Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere
Nudge It Up a Notch

At its best and most commercial, Stax Records combined earnest experimentation with a rigorous, down-home blues perspective. That air of sober discipline and workmanlike flair carries over into Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere's Nudge It Up a Notch, which carries the Stax imprint (Concord Music Group recently revived the label) but was cut in Nashville. With Jon Tiven joining the two stars behind the boards, the results skirt revivalism in spots. But the eager, slightly jazz-inflected voice of former Rascals singer Cavaliere massages the material, while longtime Stax maestro Cropper's guitar makes dirty slurs and high, bright comments on the action. "The coffee wasn't on/And you were gone," Cavaliere sings in the opener, "One of Those Days"; his organ answers, while the background vocals that threaten to turn Nudge into a modern New Orleans r&b record fill out the arrangement. Meanwhile, instrumentals such as "Full Moon Tonight" display Cropper's genius for structural guitar; he also makes something out of the trills that dominate his solo on "Full Moon," which Stanton Moore ought to take notice of next time he's looking for material. You could complain that this pairing comes across slick in places, but these pros have found a way to strain the grease and keep the flavor.

3)this from Steve Horowitz in POP MATTERS:

There was a time during the ‘60s when the highest compliment one could give a white musician was that he or she sounded black. The racist assumption that only a black artist could perform authentic soul music was so ingrained in the culture that there was even a term invented for white people who played African-American music: blue-eyed soul.

Among the most celebrated blue-eyed soul practitioners were Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere. Cropper, a founding member of Stax Records’ house band, Booker T & the MGs, played guitar on literally hundreds of great soul releases including Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (which Cropper produced and cowrote) and Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man”. Keyboardist and singer Felix Cavalieri fronted the Young Rascals and helped give the Rascals its signature sound of pained vocals and hard-driving gospel organ, playing on such hits as “Good Lovin’”, “Groovin’”, and “People Got to Be Free”.

Cropper and Cavaliere recently got together for the first time to write and record as a team. As one might expect, the result is a soulful stew of R&B-flavored tracks with a deep groove. Cropper’s guitar licks ripple like whiskey on the rocks trickling down the back of your throat while you smack your lips and say, “Aaah”. He makes every song sing when he takes a quick solo. Cropper never plays too long or overstays his welcome. He always knows when to say when.

Cavaliere is also in fine form. The urgency of his youthful vocals has been replaced by a more mature intensity. When he delivers a line like, “How am I supposed to live without you?”, it’s clear that Cavaliere has experienced enough of life that he understands how much it hurts to be without someone special. His keyboard playing lies at the intersection of church and jazz. Like Cropper, he’s wise enough to understate. He doesn’t go for flashy riffs as much as heavy ones that expressively reverberate.

The two men play together well. This can best be seen on the disc’s instrumentals, like “Full Moon Tonight” and “Jamaica Delight”, that work as slow burnin’ jams that never go out of control. The music flows like a river that moves mightily downstream after a rainstorm but never floods over its banks.

Joining Cropper and Cavaliere are drummer Chester Thompson (John Fogerty, Frank Zappa, Genesis), Shake Anderson (Curtis Mayfield) and two backup singers, Mark Williams and N’nandi Bryant. They keep things basic. There’s no special production tricks. Just the sound of player’s playing.

This is 2008, not 1968, and while there are some contemporary flourishes, like the rap leads on “Make the Time Go Faster”, most of these brand spanking new tunes would not have sounded out of place on the radio back in the day. The material seems fresh rather than dated because of the earnestness of the performances. Sometimes the music just seems to jump out at you, like Cropper’s guitar riffs that begin the lively instrumental “Love Appetite” or Cavaliere’s moan that starts off the haunting “One of These Days.” But to call this blue-eyed soul in 2008 would be wrong. This is just good soulful music.

I'm used to being controversial. But I will not take to being insulted or have my reputation sullied lightly.

psb said...


Mr. Rawls was not lying about someone emailing him. I did.

JonTiven said...


Some people will hear the music Howard Tate made over the last 40 plus years and conclude that he is a blues singer. However, it's probably more accurate to call the Macon, Ga. Native a southern soul singer. Still, as Tate's latest recording Blue Day shows, blues and southern soul could be called kissin' cousins. One of the similarities between a lot of southern soul songs and the blues is that they share the same harmonic structure. But then too, jazz, rock and a lot of other 20th Century Music are rooted in the blues at some level.
Besides, Tate's personal story is one that a lot of blues singers can relate to. Tate scored several soul hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but he left the industry and dropped off the scene. Unfortunately, he fell into a life of substance abuse and ended up in a homeless center before turning his life around in the 1990s. Tate worked as a counselor and became a minister before finding his way back into the music industry earlier this decade.

That personal story means Tate has the background as well as the vocal chops to carry off a song like "Miss Beehive," the opening tune on Blue Day which is an ode to Amy Winehouse. Tate can get down in the gut- bucket when singing about living high on the hog despite being broke on "Live Like a Millionaire." Tate moves with ease from the sacred to the profane while maintaining his sincerity. He can sing about divine guidance through the lean times on a song such as "If God Brought You To It," on one track while telling a story about back-sliding on "Back To My Old Ways Again."

Blue Day is filled with throw back music, and the sound might be a bit too earthy for ears of many modern fans. However, Tate knows how to work a lyric and tell a story, and he knows how to use a lived life in the pursuit of making some pretty good art.

By Howard Dukes

JonTiven said...

from: Colorado Biz Today

STEVE CROPPER & FELIX CAVALIERE Nudge it up a Notch (Stax)
HOWARD TATE Blue Day (Evidence)

With the purchase of Stax Records by the Concord Music Group, the acclaimed '60s label -- home to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and a long string of other soul greats -- is releasing new music along with all the compilations and reissues.

Nudge it up a Notch teams Stax icon Steve Cropper, famed guitarist for Booker T. & the MGs, with Rascals lead singer Felix Cavaliere. With help from producer and co-writer Jon Tiven, Cropper and Cavaliere deliver a dozen new songs (including a few instrumentals) that capture that classic groove but still sound contemporary.

The "stars" here, of course, are Cropper's signature guitar style and Cavaliere's soulful voice. (Note: Collector's Choice reissued Cavaliere's "Groovin'" early work last year via the first seven albums by the Young Rascals and Rascals from the '60s.)

Jon Tiven had an even bigger impact on the latest from Howard Tate, another classic soul and blues singer who has re-emerged in recent years after a long time in the wilderness. Tiven had a hand in writing all the songs for Blue Day (collaborators include Tate, Cropper and Cavaliere, Dan Penn, Hubert Sumlin and Joe Bonamassa) and led a house band featuring Sally Tiven on bass and Chester Thompson on drums. It's a great foundation for Tate's charismatic presence -- and an album that deserves to be compared to those great Stax records of old.

JonTiven said...

Ain't Miss Beehivin'After nearly self-destructing himself, Howard Tate makes fun of, prays for Amy Winehouse
By Edd Hurt
Published on August 07, 2008 (Nashville Scene)
"Miss Beehive" leads off Howard Tate's new full-length Blue Day with a Chess Records groove made humorous by Nashville producer Jon Tiven's riffing saxophones—and that's appropriate, since it's a funny song. "Everybody knows she's putting something up her nose / And she don't want to go to rehab," Tate sings. "Miss Beehive likes to misbehave." Tate, who turns 69 later this month, gives the song a sagacious, slightly sardonic lift, but "Miss Beehive" is more than a novelty tune about the well-known British singer whose stylized phrasing, trademark hairstyle and self-destructive urges amount to a strange new take on soul music.

Been There Howard Tate
Blue Day, Howard Tate (Evidence)"I saw her on the Grammy Awards where she did that rehab song, and I thought she was fantastic," Tate says of the song's subject, Amy Winehouse. "Looking at her picture, she's the cutest little thing you've ever seen, to be so out-of-control like that. You know, she wants to be so tough. I was laughing the whole time I did the song, and all the while I was praying for her." That might sound like an ambivalent statement, but Howard Tate's 40-year career brims with missed chances and the kind of critical acclaim any American musician would welcome. If success seems to impel Winehouse toward self-abuse, failure did the same thing to Tate in an earlier, less celebrity-obsessed era.

Born in Eberton, Ga., on Aug. 14, 1939, Tate moved with his family to Philadelphia as a child. In the early '60s he performed as part of doo-wop group The Gainors and toured with organist Bill Doggett. He began his long association with producer and songwriter Jerry Ragovoy in 1964 with "You're Lookin' Good," an amalgam of pop and soul that featured Tate's avid phrasing and uncanny falsetto. (Along with tracks by Irma Thomas and Dionne Warwick, "You're Lookin' Good" appears on the new compilation The Jerry Ragovoy Story: Time Is on My Side 1953-2003, which nicely encapsulates the producer's career.)

Working with Ragovoy, Tate recorded a series of late-'60s sides that combined Southern fervor with East Coast cool. "Stop" and "Get It While You Can" are among the greatest soul records, while Tate's reading of Little Johnny Taylor's "Part Time Love" outclasses the original. The records were brilliant, but Tate and Ragovoy parted ways for Howard Tate's Reaction and only reunited for 1972's Howard Tate, on which the singer covered Bob Dylan's "Girl of the North Country." He cut one more single with Ragovoy—1974's appropriately titled "Ain't Got Nobody to Give It To"—and that was it. After disappearing into a haze of cocaine addiction and homelessness, Tate wouldn't resurface for 25 years.

Now living in Southampton, N.J., Tate has made his way out of the black hole his truncated career created. Found by a New Jersey DJ in 2001, Tate started working again and made Rediscovered, another Ragovoy production. In 2006 he released A Portrait of Howard, an ambitious effort whose highlight is a superb version of Lou Reed's "How Do You Think It Feels."

Recorded in Nashville with a band that includes bassist Sally Tiven and drummer Chester Thompson, Blue Day recasts Tate as blues singer. (Vocalist Mike Farris proves himself a Tate disciple on their duet, "If God Brought You to It.") Jon Tiven writes or co-writes every song, making the collection a rocking blues record with dark undertones. "Miss Beehive" takes aim at Winehouse's pretensions with suppressed glee, while "Stalking My Woman" features an ominous motif played on guitar and saxophone and a lonely, weird piano part.

"I was able to handle 'Miss Beehive' because it was a reflection back on the time when I was there," Tate says. "I was determined to do that song, even though it's a novelty song. I had these songs sent to me by Jon for two years, had 'em laying around. I thought if I could put my vocal on it and handle these songs, we could come out with something. I was right."

Tiven says the Blue Day sessions went quickly, with Tate in magisterial control of the material. But the project's business machinations were more tortuous. "It took us forever to figure out how to do this record on the business level, because Howard is very loath to sign agreements with anybody," he remembers. "He came down here right before Christmas last year, and the very first thing that he said when he got off the plane was, 'I want my advance for the record that you owe me at this point,' and I said, 'OK,' and we went over to the bank." In soul music as in life, money talks, and from such fortuitous circumstances Howard Tate's art makes itself known to the world once again.

JonTiven said...

CD Reviews for Aug. 7-13
By NORTH COUNTY TIMES | Wednesday, August 6, 2008


A "Nudge It Up a Notch"

Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere


Next time you hear some middle-aged baby boomer music fan sigh and then toss out the time-worn complaint (echoing their parents) that "they don't make music like they used to," pop this disc into the stereo.

In Steve Cropper, the longtime house guitarist for Stax during the glory years of the 1960s and early '70s, the man who played behind Otis Redding, who helped write and play all those great Booker T and the MGs hits, who then found new fame as a member of the Blues Brothers, you have as good a guitarist as ever picked up a six-string, a man famous for never playing a wrong note.

And in Felix Cavaliere, lead singer for the Rascals, who co-wrote songs such as "Good Lovin' " and "Groovin'," you have a man who's never sung a wrong note.

This pairing has produced a magical album of near-perfection.

For starters, the two men write really well together (along with producer Jon Tiven, who co-wrote all 12 songs with them). Most of the songs find a common ground between Cropper and Cavaliere ---- marrying the hard-edged R&B of the MGs to the soaring, melodic soul of the Rascals.

Cavaliere's singing is, if anything, better today than 40 years ago. His voice has deepened some with the years, giving it a nice patina. And Cropper is playing better than ever ---- with that same muscular bite to his leads, but even more imaginative soloing and arrangements.

The best songs here equal the best work of either man. "Impossible" sounds like a lost Rascals hit, with Cavaliere's soaring soul vocals bracketed by a solid backing chorus. "If It Wasn't For Loving You" has the sound of an MGs set with a singer and backing vocalists added to the mix.

There are even a couple of instrumentals, which let Cavaliere remind us that he's always been a solid keyboardist as well as great singer.

The only drawback here is the mysterious decision by Concord Records not to issue this title on vinyl as well as CD. Because it's that kind of glorious, timeless music that a few pops and crackles would only enhance.

---Jim Trageser, North County Times (California)


JonTiven said...

from funky16 corners:

I’m going to take a minute this Friday to do something I almost never do, which is to plug a couple of new releases. Generally, my reluctance to do stuff like this has to do with both my being unwilling to deviate from a long running format, but also a lack of worthy product (or at least stuff that I think the Funky16Corners readership would be interested in). I don’t get a ton of review items, and often when I do it’s stunningly inappropriate for a blog that focuses on classic funk, soul, R&B and jazz.
However (big however) I recently had a couple of very interesting things drop through the mailslot, and I thought I ought to share them with you.
A while back I got an e-mail from a publicist who informed me that one of my all-time favorite soul singers, the mighty Howard Tate (profiled in this space many a time) had a new album coming out. I mailed them back, indicating that I’d be very interested in hearing it.
Well, not long after that an envelope arrived at the Funky16Corners compound, bearing not only a new album by Mr. Tate (‘Blue Day’) but another new release by an artist featured here but a short while ago, Mr. Garnett Mimms.
Both albums were largely written and produced by Jon Tiven, who had previously helmed career resurrecting sessions for both Arthur Alexander and Wilson Pickett. I was initially unsure that anyone (aside from Jerry Ragavoy) would be up to the task of creating an entire LP with Howard Tate. I shouldn’t have been.



Tiven’s songs provide a solid, timely showcase for Tate’s vocals (hardly diminished by the passing of four decades). There’s a fair amount of gritty soul, as well as some bluesier material, which if you’ve ever heard a tune like ‘Part Time Love’ (from Tate’s 1967 Verve LP) is right up his alley. Tate – an ordained minister – lays down some rocking soul (like the paen to Amy Winehouse ‘Miss Beehive’) as well as my fave track on the album, the slightly churchier (but no less rocking) ‘If God Brought It To You’.
The album by Garnett Mimms ‘Is Anybody Out There’ is a solid effort by a singer too long removed from the spotlight.
Mimms always had a huge helping of the amen corner in his voice, and it remains today. Much of the material on ‘Is Anybody Out There’ has a gospel edge, with lyrics edging closer to the sacred than the profane, and managing to avoid stylistic clichés. My favorite track is ‘Let Your Love Rain’, which sounds like an outtake from an early 70’s Memphis session (Both LPs feature guest appearances by folks like Steve Cropper, Little Milton, Felix Cavaliere and Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns).
Both albums ought to be required listening for anyone with even a passing interests in great soul singing. Though I’m inclined to think of Tate as a more definitive stylist than Mimms, both artists reveal themselves to be capable of truly moving performances that put much of what is offered up as contemporary “soul” singing to shame.
I find a lot of modern sessions by classic soul artists – or by modern artists intent on generating a classic sound – fall far short of the mark. Both the Tate and Mimms albums are exceptions to this rule, sounding neither overly (slickly) modern, nor slavishly retro. Tiven is obviously aware that the most important element in these recordings is the singers themselves. Instead of attempting to recreate their classic recordings by repainting a masterpiece, he allows their essence – the voices of Howard Tate and Garnett Mimms – to shine through and illuminate something new. I’ve included two reminders (above) of just how great these two giants are.

JonTiven said...


Produced by Jon Tiven
Blues man Howard Tate's collaboration with producer/writer Jerry Ragovoy, "Get It While You Can," was a criminally overlooked gem. While Tate's singular, soulful voice on a set of Ragovoy originals saw some success on the r&b charts, they were soon overwhelmed by covers from legendary artists (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt), completely eclipsing Tate's still formidable, definitive talents. Forty years later, after three "comeback projects" earlier this decade failed to do him justice, Tate is given material and production worthy of his strong-as-ever voice (Amy Winehouse tribute "Miss Beehive"; "First Class," contributed by Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere; "Hope Springs Eternal,"; "Live Like a Millionaire") and what, by all rights, should be hard-won recognition and respect.-GE

JonTiven said...

by Thom Jurek
On Blue Day, veteran soul and gospel singer Howard Tate lays down a set so utterly crackling with energy, vitality, and sheer grit one could be forgiven for forgetting that, at the turn of this century, he hadn't recorded in nearly 30 years and had been virtually forgotten and left for dead — a victim of his own excesses. Tate was quite literally rediscovered by his former producer Jerry Ragovoy and brought back into the recording studio to work his vocal magic on tracks written for him by a stellar cast of songwriters in 2003. In 2006, he recorded A Portrait of Howard backed by the Carla Bley Band as well as a host of guests including Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen band vocalist Perla Batalla, and cellist Jane Scarpantoni. But Blue Day leaves that record in the dust, quite literally. At the age of 70, Tate is in absolutely top form as a singer and song interpreter. Produced by guitarist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jon Tiven, and recorded at his Nashville studio with wife Sally Tiven on bass and all-star drummer Chester Thompson, the album also features a few choice guests like Jonell Mosser, Mike Farris, Dan Penn, Steve Cropper, Felix Cavaliere, and Joe Bonamassa. Tate is literally unleashed on these tracks, allowed the full range of his voice and his fierce, fiery persona. He is a preacher these days, and his blues and soul singing has been given great depth and dimension by his returning to the roots of his raising in the church.

Tiven wrote or co-wrote all 15 of these cuts, but without Tate's singing, they'd be merely good songs. He makes them great ones. The sound on this set is fat and warm, but it's spare, too — it feels live, close, and full of kinetics and heat. There is plenty of space for Tate to inhabit each line and literally soar above the backing band. The opener, "Miss Beehive," is an attention-getter because it's about Amy Winehouse, her gift, and her self-destructive tendencies. It can be interpreted as tongue in cheek, but it's actually an empathic response to the demons that haunt her — ones Tate knows only too well. Tiven may have written the tune, but the compassion in its grain lies firmly with the singer, and the arrangement recalls everything from Stax to Motown (the backing chorus and horn chart arrangement evoking those on "Heatwave" is a nice touch). But it's on "40 Days" where the deep well of Tate's soul origins comes pouring from his voice. It's a hard-luck tale of lost love where you become ensnared inside the singer's world and can't extract yourself. On "If God Brought You to It," the raucous wail of Delta blues and the gospel of the Southern black church come roiling up from the body of this duet with Farris. Essra Mohawk provides a killer backing vocal and Billy Block provides the crushing four-on-the-floor drumbeat. The shuffling soul-blues of "First Class" features Cavaliere's keyboards, Cropper on guitar, and Mosser on backing vocals, and this track is a standout. The hunted minor-key blues of "Buried Treasure" may have been written for Tate, but you can hear traces of the voices of both Syl Johnson and Al Green in it as well. The bottom line is this set is all killer and no filler. Tate is at the absolute top of his game at 70; he's making up for lost time with a vengeance.

JonTiven said...

and as for the Garnet Mimms cd, Thom Jurek has this to say at the same site, ALLMUSICGUIDE

Review by Thom Jurek
At 75, Garnet Mimms is singing better than ever. The proof is all over Is Anybody Out There?, produced and arranged by Nashville's Jon Tiven. Tiven wrote or co-wrote 13 of the album's 15 tunes. He recorded the set in his home studio with wife Sally Tiven on bass, pianist Mark Jordan, and a host of drummers, including Chester Thompson. For his part, Tiven played guitar, saxophones, sitar, and harmonica. Jonell Mosser, Wayne Jackson, choirmaster Shake Anderson, Greg Morrow, Billy Block, Patti Russo, Felix Cavaliere, Buddy Miller, Little Milton Campbell, and P.F. Sloan all guest. But the real story is Mimms. The material is all retro soul-gospel and leaves his previous solo gospel outing in the dust. His calling these days is one of a preacher who counsels prisoners, and in the grain of his beautiful voice is the world-weariness of a man who has traveled many of life's roads but whose hope is unvanquished; in fact, it's firmly intact. Tiven is clearly not interested in having Mimms sound like a museum piece. He goes to great lengths to place his voice in songs that are deeply rooted in Southern soul, blues, and gospel. That said, sometimes it feels like his production goes to extremes. While there are no samplers or drum loops, playing near baroque sitar on some of the album's best songs — like "Let Your Love Rain" — can initially be a jarring experience, where it feels as if an alien presence has invaded the recording. Thankfully, Mimms' voice brings the listener right back and shows that everything is basically where it should be.

This doesn't feel like a retro record because Tiven's ideas about how to make soul records have changed substantially since he worked with the late Wilson Pickett. There are times when he feels as if he's channeling T Bone Burnett and Jeff Lynne simultaneously, but there is enough grit in his studio sound to shake any perceived excesses. Mimms responds, and that's all that matters. Listen to his voice on "Sweet Silence," where he hits every note, accentuating the drama in its narrative, and reflects on what is essential in gospel music: the sense of joy and gratitude, of worship that is rooted in the soil and dust but aspires to the glory of heaven. Check the scorching funky blues riffing in the title track and the way Mimms scales the wall of noise to express the tension in the narrative. This is a modern psalm in a time of trouble, and Mimms is the modern day David whose heart is heavy but holding close to the rock of his faith. In "On Top of This Mountain," Mimms gets into a wildly expressive upper register atop a veritable wall of backing voices and reverbed guitars and percussion. It's a hymn but it's also a proclamation of strength, grace, and devotion that knows the very heart of what he's singing about. The funky horns in "Love Is the Reason," which follows it, portrays Mimms effortlessly reaching deep into his belly to let that aforementioned joy become a question, one that only each individual listener can answer. With Is Anybody Out There?, Reverend Mimms, aided by Tiven and his coconspirators, has offered up one of the great surprises of 2008, an album so skillfully wrought and deeply expressive that it cannot help to inspire nearly otherworldly emotions in the listener