This interview was originally broadcast on October 27, 2003.
Soul singer Howard Tate, who rose to prominence in 1967 with the hit "Get It While You Can," died on Friday. He was 72.
Tate made a comeback in the past decade, after disappearing for nearly 30 years from the music industry; he'd been living on the streets doing whatever he needed to feed his drug habit. But Tate got sober, found religion and started recording again with Jerry Ragovoy, the first producer and songwriter he'd worked with in the industry.
In 2003, Tate and Ragovoy — who died in July of this year — joined Terry Gross for a wide-ranging conversation about their careers in the music industry. Highlights from that conversation appear below.
Jerry Ragovoy On Tate's 30-Year Disappearance
"Howard sort of disappeared around 1972, and I just accepted that as a fact of life and didn't do anything about it. In the early '80s, I started getting phone calls from various club owners across the country. In fact, some even in Europe were calling, looking for Howard Tate to book him in clubs. And I said, 'Well, I'll try to find him for you,' and that went on for I would say close to 10 years. ... And one day, I got a call from a journalist in London, England, who told me that he's doing an article about Howard Tate in one of the magazines there, and would I mind answering some questions, such as, 'What was it like to work with Howard in the studio?' And I happened to comment — I said, 'Really?' I said, 'You know, I've been looking for Howard for about 10 years.' And the journalist replied, 'Oh, really? I spoke to him yesterday.' And it was like, 'What?' Anyway, I got Howard's number and I called him. And soon, we were talking about the possibility of recording again."
Tate On His Early Years Collaborating With Ragovoy
"I thought we could set the world on fire. And our very first record was a hit, 'Ain't Nobody Home.' And the second one was a hit and 'Stop' was a hit, you know, but it was hard to cross over back then, of course, but we were tearing the charts up."
Tate On His Song Being Covered By Janis Joplin
"I never heard Janis sing ['Get It While You Can'] until I came back. Of course, when I left the music industry, I just completely cut myself off from it ... and I didn't listen to radio or anything like that. And so when I heard the story and how her record was such a hit, and I heard her sing it when I came back, I was amazed."
Tate On Leaving The Music Industry In The '70s
"I walked away from the music industry altogether, because I might have been a little high-strung and might have misinterpreted some things at that time, as we all do, and I — it was financial issues, and I might have misunderstood some facts back there, and I'm sure I did. And so I walked away from it, very bitter. You know, right or wrong, I was very bitter and, you know, that's what happened."
Tate On His Drug Addiction
"I would walk miles to make $20 and run right back to the dope man. And then I'd walk another 20 miles if I had to, till I got that next $20. I'd do that from morning to night for almost 10 years of my life to support that habit."
Tate, On Singing For The First Time In 30 years
When I opened my mouth and I stepped up to the mic, I knew it was a miracle. And Jerry didn't know it, of course, but I was thanking God, you know, with all my heart and soul that he had blessed me to still have the voice."