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'American Woman'

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews American Woman, the new novel by Susan Choi.


Other segments from the episode on October 27, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 27, 2003: Interview with Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy; Review of Susan Choi's novel "American Woman."


DATE October 27, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy discuss Tate's comeback
to the music industry after having disappeared for nearly 30 years
and their collaboration together

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Howard Tate, is a soul singer who's making a comeback after
disappearing for nearly 30 years. Many fans, deejays and music journalists
figured he was dead. They were almost right. He had been living on the
streets doing whatever he needed to do to get money to feed his drug habit.
He put some of the blame for his downward spiral on a fire that destroyed his
home and killed one of his children. Now Tate is born again and has been a
minister since 1994, and he's recording again. In fact, he's teamed up with
the songwriter and producer he first worked with, Jerry Ragovoy. Ragovoy
wrote the song "Get It While You Can," which Tate recorded in 1967 and was
later covered by Janis Joplin. Joplin also recorded Ragovoy's songs "Try,"
"Cry Baby" and "Piece Of My Heart." The Rolling Stones recorded Ragovoy's
"Time Is on My Side." Before we meet Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy, let's
listen to a song written by Ragovoy from Tate's new CD "Rediscovered."

(Soundbite of song)

Reverend HOWARD TATE: (Singing) Sorry, wrong number. Ain't nobody here by
that name. No use reminiscing, because this time I just won't listen. Don't
need the pain, oh, no. I'm sorry, wrong number. Baby, you're just, just
wasting your time. I made myself forget you, oh, and I'm not about to let you
back in my mind, oh, no. There was a time I lived only for you. You said our
love, oh, our love couldn't die. And then one day...

GROSS: That's Reverend Howard Tate from his new CD, which is called
"Rediscovered." And the album was produced by Jerry Ragovoy, who's also
featured on keyboards. Howard Tate, Jerry Ragovoy, welcome both of you to

Rev. TATE: Thank you.

Mr. JERRY RAGOVOY (Songwriter/Producer): Nice to be here, Terry.

GROSS: Howard Tate, this album marks your return to music, a return to music
after kicking drugs and alcohol and after being homeless for a while. Is
there anything you feel like you're trying to do that's different this time

Rev. TATE: Yes. This time around, I have a goal in mind. I'm trying to
build a rehab center and buy houses to house the homeless. Having been there,
I know what it's about, and I feel as though who better to participate and do
that than I?

GROSS: Jerry Ragovoy, I understand that when Howard Tate was kind of missing
in action, nobody really knew where he was, that you had been trying to find
him. Is that right?

Mr. RAGOVOY: Well, yes and no. 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 after a while, since I
couldn't find Howard anywhere, I presumed that maybe he'd passed away, which
is certainly not unlikely, you know, given Howard's age and so forth.

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. So I brought him down to
Atlanta just to hear what he sounds like. Before I pursued any recording, I
wanted to be sure that the voice was still there. And I tried Howard out on
a song--don't remember which one it was--but in any event, I heard his voice,
and I was in total shock. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

GROSS: Howard Tate, how does it make you feel to hear Jerry Ragovoy say that
he'd basically given you up for dead, that you had disappeared, no one could
find you, and so he started to assume the worst?

Rev. TATE: Well, it was surprising to me that not only he but many writers
had given me up for dead, and they just didn't know where to look, of course,
you know.

GROSS: Did you have a sense that people were looking for you or that people

Rev. TATE: Terry, I had no idea. I didn't even think anybody cared. I never
thought they even cared anything about my music or anything. I was totally

GROSS: So when you started to hook up again with Jerry Ragovoy, what did you
think about the idea of recording together again?

Rev. TATE: Well, I knew when I met Jerry back in the '60s, there was
something about his range and I knew I was an exceptional singer, and I
thought that he could--with the combination, 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 R&B--we were tearing the charts up.

GROSS: Let's hear another track that you recently recorded together. And
this is a duet. Jerry Ragovoy, you're at the piano. Howard Tate, you're
singing. And it's a song that you did together many years ago that, Jerry
Ragovoy, you wrote, and a lot of people will also know this song from Janis
Joplin's version of it. And the song is "Get It While You Can." Before we
hear it, Jerry Ragovoy, what inspired the writing of this song?

Mr. RAGOVOY: I wrote that in the middle '60s with Mort Shuman, and we simply
just wrote it because we thought it was a message that was very powerful and
almost universal and almost surely have longevity. And that was one of the
reasons we wrote it.

GROSS: And how did Howard Tate end up singing it?

Mr. RAGOVOY: Well, we thought it came out so terrific, in our own opinion, I
decided to do it with Howard and in an arrangement, and we recorded it, and
several months later, Janis Joplin recorded it.

GROSS: Had she heard his version? Is that what happened?

Mr. RAGOVOY: Oh, absolutely. That was the reason she recorded it.

GROSS: And, Howard Tate, how did you feel when Janis Joplin not only recorded
it but had this huge hit of it; like it was a song that was more associated
with her than with you because more people had heard her version than yours?

Rev. TATE: Well, I never heard Janis sing this song until I came back. Of
course, when I left the music industry, I just completely cut myself off from


Rev. TATE: ...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.

GROSS: When was this? Was this like recently, like...

Rev. TATE: Well, it was two years ago, close to three years ago.

GROSS: That's amazing to me that you'd be so disconnected that you wouldn't
even know she did...

Rev. TATE: I didn't even know she did it.


Rev. TATE: Yeah. I didn't know B.B. King did "Ain't Nobody Home." I didn't
know Jimi Hendrix did "Stop," you know--Roy Crowder, I didn't know he did
"Look at Granny Run," but they were covering these songs all over the place.

GROSS: Oh, Ry Cooder.

Rev. TATE: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Rev. TATE: Ry Cooder, yeah.


Rev. TATE: Yeah. Because I just walked away from it, and I didn't listen to
the radio. I didn't want to hear anything about it, and I just isolated
myself from it completely.

GROSS: OK. Well, let's hear the new version of is "Get It While You Can,"
the duet version that you, Howard Tate, recorded with Jerry Ragovoy on piano.
And again, Jerry Ragovoy wrote the song. This is on the new Howard Tate
album, "Rediscovered," and it's really good. Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of is "Get It While You Can")

Rev. TATE: (Singing) I want to tell you a little bit about myself. Once, I
had a good woman, but I didn't count my blessings. Oh, I wish she could hear
me. You see, oh, I've learned a bitter lesson. When someone comes along and
gives you genuine affection, get it while you can. You'd better go on and get
it while you can. Ooh, better get it while you can. Don't turn your back on
love. I want to say it one more time. Hey, get it while you can...

GROSS: That's is "Get It While You Can," written by guest, Jerry Ragovoy,
sung by my other guest, Reverend Howard Tate, on Howard Tate's new album
"Rediscovered." And it teams up Ragovoy and Tate, who first worked together
in the early '60s. And Howard Tate disappeared from the music industry for
many years and was recently rediscovered.

Howard Tate, let's talk about how you ended up disappearing for so long from
the music industry. First of all, when did you and Jerry Ragovoy stop working
together? You're such a great match, as we just heard.

Rev. TATE: Well, after we did the Atlantic LP, "Howard Tate," after that
record, we separated. 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.

GROSS: Jerry Ragovoy, what's your version of that story?

Mr. RAGOVOY: Well, there's very little to contradict. He simply disappeared,
and I never knew what happened to him.

GROSS: Didn't say goodbye, didn't say, `Our collaboration's ended'?

Mr. RAGOVOY: No. No flowers.

GROSS: And were you aware of what Reverend Tate was just describing, that he
was feeling very bitter about his financial standing within the music

Mr. RAGOVOY: He sort of disappeared virtually overnight, and I never had the
opportunity to discuss why Howard went. It just happened, period. He was

GROSS: So where'd you go when you were gone?

Rev. TATE: Well, I went back, then I sold insurance for a while, but I was so
depressed until I fell into the drug scene and I couldn't get it out of my
mind that I hit so fast when we came out of the stall. We came out and they
released "Ain't Nobody Home" and I was working. I came home from work one day
and a big limousine was sitting in front of the door and they said, `You've
got to get in here right away.' They gave me a thousand dollars. They said,
`You've got to get a suit. You're playing with Marvin Gaye tomorrow night.'
That's how fast I hit it. And right behind that, "Look At Granny Run" and
"Stop," and so that kept flashing back in my mind, because this must be so
many thousands of artists that cut records, millions, and they can't hit. And
I came out the chute and hit, you know, big-time. And so that flashbacked
through my mind, and I thought drugs would alleviate that depressed feeling
that I had, which was a crucial mistake; it only led to destruction,
homelessness and all of that. And that's what happened.

GROSS: What was your drug of choice?

Rev. TATE: Cocaine.

GROSS: An expensive choice.

Rev. TATE: Expensive choice, and it'll completely destroy you. And it
destroyed me. It's a miracle that I'm sitting here and I'm back. So that
title of this newest CD, "Rediscovered," is the proper title.

GROSS: OK, so first of all, I'm having a hard time picturing you selling
insurance. OK. So you're selling insurance for a while. And then there was
also something else that happened in your life; your house burned down.

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: And I think that was a turning point for you also.

Rev. TATE: Yes, that was something else to depress me. I lost a daughter, 13
years old, in a house fire. And behind that, behind the music industry and
the house fire, my marriage was--I went through a divorce. And so it was just
a devastating period for me. And of course, I thought the more drugs I did
that, you know, that would be the answer. But it wasn't the answer.

GROSS: Well, part of your bitterness with the music industry was that you
didn't feel you were making the money that you should have been making. So
how could you afford an expensive cocaine habit? What did you do to get the
money that you needed for that?

Rev. TATE: Well, it's a funny thing that junkies find ways to get money. You
know, they'll get a hustle going. And of course, you know, I did yard work; I
would do odds and ends. I would walk for miles and whatever. I never robbed
anybody or I never was a stick-up artist or anything like that, thank God for
that. But 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 and to support
that habit.

GROSS: My guests are Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy. More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Rev. TATE: (Singing) And when I find her, I'm gonna get down on my knees.
Oh, she gave me everything a man could ever need.

GROSS: My guests are soul singer Howard Tate and producer/songwriter Jerry
Ragovoy. Tate's new comeback CD is called "Rediscovered."

Howard Tate, this is an odd question, so forgive me for asking it, and if it's
too personal, don't answer it. You're missing a tooth.

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: Is there a story behind that missing tooth?

Rev. TATE: Yes. And I never told this before, but I was picking up drugs one
night in Camden, New Jersey, and a young guy tried to take the drugs--there
was three or four of them--and they hit me with a brick, knocked me out, took
the drugs. And when I come to, there was a Spanish fellow standing over me;
he says, `I wasn't going to leave you, Mister. I wasn't going to leave you.
I was going to stay here till you came around.' And that's what happened,
yes. It just goes to show you how dangerous the drug scene can be and that
people shouldn't get mixed up in drugs; they should definitely stay away from

GROSS: Did you ever say to yourself--did you ever look around at the other
people who were doing what you were doing to feed their habit and look at the
drug dealers who you were buying from and look at the other homeless people
who you knew and say to yourself, `What am I doing here? I'm Howard Tate.
I'm a recording artist. I'm a terrific soul singer. What am I doing here?'

Rev. TATE: Well, there was times when I would, within myself, remember who I
was and where I'd come from and the success I had had. But cocaine, those
drugs destroy your very will. They destroy everything about you, your pride,
everything. And I lived for the drug. There wasn't many times I realized I
had fallen into that subculture, with that subculture, and I was trapped
there. At least that's what I thought, because I never thought I'd make it
out alive.

GROSS: Did you sing at all during that period?

Rev. TATE: Never...

GROSS: I don't mean performing; I mean just singing to yourself.

Rev. TATE: Never sang a note. I never sang a note all those years. In fact,
when I met Jerry in New York and he says, `I'm gonna send you a couple of
demos. You learn these songs, I'm gonna have you come to Atlanta to see how
you sound on them.' He sent me the demos, and the truth about the matter,
Terry, I never once opened my mouth to sing those demos, not once. I could
not bring myself to listen to the singer that he had on the demos for me to
learn the songs, and I could not bring myself to sing those songs. I only did
it when I got down to his studio and stepped up to the mike and opened my
mouth, and it was all there.

GROSS: Well, you were afraid of what would come out?

Rev. TATE: I really was, yes. I wasn't sure I could sing anymore. I just
didn't know.

GROSS: Did you feel like you hadn't done your homework when you showed up at
Jerry Ragovoy's studio and you hadn't even heard the songs you were supposed
to record?

Rev. TATE: I knew the words and I knew the melody, but I knew that I had not
done my homework. That was your question. I know I had not done my homework
because I hadn't tried to sing 'em.

GROSS: Oh, I thought you hadn't even listened to them.

Rev. TATE: Oh, I listened to them hundreds of times.

GROSS: Oh, oh, oh, OK.

Rev. TATE: Yeah, I knew the words, but I was afraid to open my mouth and try
to sing the songs, 'cause I thought the voice was gone.

GROSS: Well, what went through your mind after so many years singing those
notes for the first time?

Rev. TATE: I was completely--when I opened my mouth and I stepped up to the
mike, 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.

GROSS: So, Jerry Ragovoy, I want to hear more about your first impressions
when Howard Tate sang and if you had any clue that he hadn't sung until that

Mr. RAGOVOY: I didn't know that part of the story where he hadn't sung at
all. However, when he was there and when I did hear him sing, I was truly
amazed by what I was hearing. The Howard I knew from 35 years ago compared to
what I heard at that time was virtually identical. The only difference that I
saw or heard, rather, might be that his voice was a trifle darker. But beyond
that, the same voice. And I thought the darkness, I should add, added a
little more character.

GROSS: And then, Jerry Ragovoy, did you try to convince Howard Tate that he
should return to recording and performing?

Mr. RAGOVOY: It did not take much convincing. We both knew it, and both of
us knew we were going to go forward.

GROSS: Howard Tate's new CD, produced by Jerry Ragovoy, is called
"Rediscovered." They'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


(Soundbite of music)

Rev. TATE: (Singing) Stop. Baby, can't you see that I can't take it no more?

GROSS: Coming up, more with singer Howard Tate and producer and songwriter
Jerry Ragovoy. And Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel "American Woman."

(Soundbite of "Stop")

Rev. TATE: (Singing) That's what's gonna happen, baby. Never knew how good a
love could be. Love has gone and made a fool of me. Everything is hazy. One
more kiss and you'll drive me crazy. Baby, stop. Hold on up a minute, 'cause
I've gotta catch my breath. You know what you do to me, baby. Stop. Every
time you squeeze, you scare my heart half to death. That's what you do to me,
baby. I thought I was captain of my ship. Oh, your lovin' made me lose my
grip. Everything is hazy. One more kiss and you'll drive, drive me crazy.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guests are soul singer Howard Tate and producer/songwriter Jerry Ragovoy.
They've collaborated on Tate's comeback CD, "Rediscovered." They first
worked together in the late '60s. Ragovoy wrote Tate's R&B hit "Get It While
You Can," which was later recorded by Janis Joplin. Tate disappeared for
years while he was addicted to drugs and living on the street. When we left
off, Ragovoy and Tate were talking about meeting again in 2001 after Tate
cleaned up and deciding to record again.

Howard Tate, this meant changing your life a lot. Now we neglected to mention
that after this period of homelessness and drug addiction, you had a spiritual

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: ...and lived in a shelter for a while...

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: ...joined a church, started your own ministry and became Reverend
Howard Tate. So starting music again meant giving up some of that new life
that you'd created, right?

Rev. TATE: Yes, it meant giving up some. It didn't have to mean giving up
some of it, but we had a split in the church, you know, and...

GROSS: About whether this was a good thing or not?

Rev. TATE: Whether it was a good thing, yes.

GROSS: Well, that must have been odd having other people kind of voting on
what your future should be.

Rev. TATE: Right.

GROSS: So what was the pro and the con side about?

Rev. TATE: Well, the pro side was that, you know, this could be a good thing
because I could go all over the world and reach so many people with the life I
live, you know, and have so many people, you know, that I can see and talk to
and reach. And the con side was, well, you can't have it both ways, you know.
Either you're going to do the work of the Lord or either you're going to serve
the devil, and that was the con part of it. You know, and I'm one to
believe--and I prayed a lot about this--that you can't put God in a bottle or
a box, you know. And the Lord answered me and said that, `I gave you that
voice, you know. And when I set you free from being a junkie all those years
and brought you back and kept you alive, you know, when you were druggin' out
there, you could have got your throat slit, you could have got a couple of
bullets in the back of your head, walking the streets all night as you did. I
took care of you. So if I choose for you to use that voice secular, you know,
and spiritual--'cause you can certainly sing some spiritual records, too--you
know, who's to question me?'

GROSS: Had you been singing in church at all?

Rev. TATE: No, I had not.

GROSS: And what about the other people in the church? Did they have a clue
about your past, or was this news to them?

Rev. TATE: They didn't know. It was totally new to them. They didn't have
an inkling that I had ever made a record in my life.

GROSS: Well, why didn't you tell them?

Rev. TATE: It was something I walked away from and I swore by God that I
would never, ever go back to it and that I never wanted to even--anybody to
know I was associated with the music industry.


Rev. TATE: I was so bitter. I hit so fast coming out of the chute, like I
said, and it was fast. And we went to number one in all the major cities on
the radio, the R&B radio station. Back then in that day, R&B, I mean, the AM
stations were the stations and R&B, but crossing over was awfully hard to do,
and I was riding on top of the charts in all the cities. And as far as I was
concerned, I was selling tons and tons of records and I couldn't see no money.
So I thought, you know--and I just got bitter over it. I was totally bitter.

GROSS: Didn't you want to say to the people in the church, `You see me now
as, like, an addicted homeless person, but I have a gift, I have a voice, and
I was somebody in the performance world, too'?

Rev. TATE: I didn't want to do that. I was ashamed of the music business,
and I was ashamed to say that I had had those hit records and had to walk away
penniless. So I think there was a certain amount of shame that I could get
caught up in that and be so ignorant that I didn't get, you know, lawyers and
things like that to protect me back there. And so...

GROSS: Now you said that the church basically voted on whether...

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: should be singing secular music or not.

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: So who won the vote?

Rev. TATE: Well, they gave me an ultimatum, that either I would not come back
and record and sing secular music again or I would be cut off from my salary.
And they cut me off from my salary and I had to move out of the home, the
rectory that they had provided. And so I had to do that, and so I wanted to
build a rehab center and buy houses to house the homeless in the state of New
Jersey, and I knew I'd need a lot of money to do this. And I said to them,
`Well, you're not able to give me the kind of money I'm looking for.' I think
the Lord is leading me with all that has happened--they re-released the "Get
It While You Can" album in Europe and it took off and sold all over the
place, and that's how I was rediscovered. And so if God is opening up this
avenue for me to get the money to help others to escape the prison I was in,
the drugs and the homelessness, then I'm going to take that route. And so I
gave up the pastorship and became pastor of Gift of The Cross Outreach
Ministry on the path to that. And I decided to record the CD.

GROSS: OK. Well, you were talking about how your life had changed so
suddenly after, like, you made your first recording and it immediately became
an R&B hit and suddenly you were given money by the record company, you were
on tour, and it was like overnight.

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: Why don't we hear that recording...

Rev. TATE: OK.

GROSS: ...that first recording that hit. And I think this is the one that
you're referring to, "Ain't Nobody Home."

Rev. TATE: "Ain't Nobody Home," right.

GROSS: OK. And, Jerry Ragovoy, you wrote the song...


GROSS: ...and produced the record.


GROSS: What year are we talking?

Mr. RAGOVOY: I believe it was 1967.

GROSS: All right. Let's hear it. This is Howard Tate.

(Soundbite of "Ain't Nobody Home")

Rev. TATE: (Singing) How many times I begged for you to come home. But you
laughed at me and said, `Let me alone.' Through my burning tears, I saw you
walk away. Now you beg me to forgive you, but this time, baby, it's your turn
to beg. Ain't nobody home, no. Ain't nobody home. Girl, I used to love you,
placed no one else above you, gave you everything that I own, baby. Yeah.
Girl, you can't come back here; ain't nobody home. Once upon a time, when you
went on your way...

GROSS: That's Howard Tate, recorded in 1967. And after many years of having
disappeared from the music industry, disappeared so much no one knew where he
was because he was homeless and addicted for several years, he has been
rediscovered and he's recording again. His new CD is called "Rediscovered,"
and it's produced by Jerry Ragovoy, who used to produce Howard Tate back in
the '60s and who also wrote the song that we just heard, "Ain't Nobody Home."

Jerry Ragovoy, did you write this song specifically for Howard Tate...


GROSS: ..."Ain't Nobody Home"?


GROSS: And what was it about the song that seemed to you like it would work
for Howard Tate's voice?

Mr. RAGOVOY: In our business, we never know. If we knew the answer, what was
going to be a hit, we'd have more money than Bill Gates, I suppose. But I
felt that Howard could execute what I had in my mind, one of the few singers
that sort of inspired me to some form of artistic license, as it were. And
Howard had the broadest range, and there was a lot of things that he could do
that other singers could not, in terms of my particular concepts.

GROSS: How did you both start working together? And then we're talking about
the--What?--early '60s here.

Rev. TATE: Yes.

Mr. RAGOVOY: Well, just briefly, an artist I was working with at the time,
Garnet Mimms, who also I was fortunate and had a few hits with him as well,
introduced me to Howard Tate, told me about a singer he knew and he thought I
should hear him, which I did.

GROSS: Howard Tate, you'd been singing with Garnet Mimms, right? Yeah.

Rev. TATE: Yes, that's right.


Mr. RAGOVOY: Yes. And, yes, I forgot about that. But in any event, I
listened to Howard on tape and I found it very interesting and I wanted to
pursue it further. And after hearing Howard personally, just sort of nothing
special, just banging around on the piano and having Howard sing, personally I
realized something very important was before my very eyes, and I decided this
artist should be recorded.

GROSS: Howard Tate, when you started working with Jerry Ragovoy producing
you, did you start doing anything different? Did he give you suggestions of
doing things you hadn't thought of before?

Rev. TATE: Well, I came out of the church, and I always was a falsetto
singer, you might say a sweet singer, because some of my idols were Sam Cooke,
and Sam, you know, he'd use--he was a versatile singer, and Ira Tucker and the
Dixie Hummingbirds and Clarence and the Blind Boys out of Alabama. They're
still around, by the way. And Claude Jeter with the Swan Silvertones used to
sing a lot of falsetto, and I would listen to him and I'd practice that
falsetto. And I perfected it as good as he did, I was trying to imitate him
note for note, and I think that's how I really came about using the falsetto.
But when I got to Jerry Ragovoy, I was--you might have compared me as a
basketball player such as Allen Iverson who came out of college, raw with lots
of talent, but had to be fine-tuned. And that's where Jerry came in. He
taught me how to fine-tune the falsetto and where to use it at and the finesse
of using it and how to capture people with it. And so that style I attribute
a lot to Jerry Ragovoy.

GROSS: My guests are soul singer Howard Tate and producer/songwriter Jerry
Ragovoy. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music; applause; crowd sounds)

GROSS: My guests are soul singer Howard Tate and producer/songwriter Jerry
Ragovoy. They first worked together in the '60s. They've teamed up on Tate's
new CD "Rediscovered," his comeback recording after a long period of addiction
and homelessness.

Now, Howard Tate, you started singing in church. Your father was a

Rev. TATE: That's right.

GROSS: a Baptist church.

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: You grew up in Macon, Georgia. You were born in Macon, Georgia, and

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: a boy, moved to Philadelphia.

Rev. TATE: That's right.

GROSS: So what kind of preacher was your father?

Rev. TATE: He was a Baptist preacher and folk preacher, you know. And I
started singing in his church, I guess, at about seven or eight years old.
And I sang in his church; I'd bring the sermon--he'd bring the sermon, rather,
and I'd sing before he'd bring the sermon. And about 14, 15, another group
visited. Garnet Mimms was the lead singer of that group, and they were called
the Belairs. And we sang before the Belairs sang, and they heard me singing.
And they kind of freaked out over my voice singing that falsetto, and they
approached me, they said, `Garnet sings all this hard gospel stuff like Ira
Tucker with the Dixie Hummingbirds, but we need somebody like a Sam Cooke or a
Claude Jeter with the Swan Silvertones. Would you be interested in joining
our group? If you are, come over to the rehearsal tonight.' And I went over
and we just fit like hand and glove, and that's how Garnet and I started
singing together.

GROSS: How old were you then, about?

Rev. TATE: I was probably about 15, 16 years old.

GROSS: What was it like for you when your voice changed?

Rev. TATE: My voice never changed.

GROSS: It never changed?

Rev. TATE: It never changed.

GROSS: You sang in a falsetto as a boy?

Rev. TATE: Yes.


Rev. TATE: Yeah. It never changed.

GROSS: And it still hasn't changed. I mean, it still...

Rev. TATE: It still hasn't changed.


Rev. TATE: Amazing.

GROSS: So when you made that transition from singing in church to singing on
stage, what were some of the changes you had to make?

Rev. TATE: Well, just to learn the melodies, and that was really the only
thing because the voice was there and I used the same technique and approach
to the songs. So that basically was the only changes I had to make.

GROSS: And what about in your image, your look?

Rev. TATE: Well, that had to change a lot. I had to grow a pretty high
pompadour back there.

GROSS: Oh, well, I have a great record right here from your first album, the
"Get It While You Can" record.

Rev. TATE: Right.

GROSS: Your pompadour looks like about four inches high.

Rev. TATE: Yes, it was pretty high. And of course, you know, Joe Tex taught
me how to dress when I went on the road, because the very first show I did out
in Detroit at the 20 Grand, I didn't know how to dress, and I was playing
with Marvin Gaye, and he looked like a million dollars--no, he looked like $5
million--and I just didn't know how to dress until Tex pulled me aside and he
said, `Look, man, here's where we get our suits made,' and they booked me on
the tour with him shortly thereafter. And I went up in New York and had a
half dozen suits made. And he showed me where to buy the shoes and all that
kind of stuff, and we'd buy those 300-dollar patent leather shoes. And so
that's how that came about. And so my image was changed as far as the attire
went and as far as the hair went.

Mr. RAGOVOY: Yeah.

GROSS: What color were the suits and the shoes?

Rev. TATE: Well, we wore a lot of suits, green, red, blood red, violet,
yellow, white. We always wore loud suits out there on the road, you know.

GROSS: What effect do those colors, did that loud clothing have on the

Rev. TATE: It had a tremendous effect because when we'd walk out, I mean, the
whole house would just come down. I mean, in other words, we would go,
they're running and screaming and trying to get--they'd have to have a line of
policemen up the front, you know. They'd have to have a hundred police
officers up there holding hands to keep them away from you, 'cause they was
literally trying to get at you to rip those clothes off you to get a piece of

GROSS: Now here's the kind of thing I can't help but wonder. When you were

Rev. TATE: Yes.

GROSS: ...and you were living on the street and addicted to cocaine, did you
let yourself think about those moments when you're in your bright green suit
on stage and, you know, women are going crazy?

Rev. TATE: No, no, I'd never let my mind go back to reflect upon that. It
was something that I just completely erased from my mind, and I never thought
about it until I was miraculously rediscovered and when Jerry Ragovoy called
me that day. Then my mind began to go back to those years. And I'd sit down
on the sofa in the living room and I started thinking, you know, something's
happening in here; do I want to go back? I really had to think about it then.
But prior to that, no, I never thought about those days or anything like that.

GROSS: You know, you had talked a little bit about your period of being
homeless and being addicted, and then I know there was some kind of spiritual
awakening or being born again. What exactly happened?

Rev. TATE: Well...

GROSS: What exactly was the religious side of this transformation?

Rev. TATE: Well, Terry, the truth is I never thought I would escape the
subculture of drugs. That is a prison that any hard drug such as cocaine,
heroin or anything like that, and once you get hooked on that, usually the
only way out is death. I seriously thought I would end up dead. But it took
me down so low, I was homeless for all those years. And I just called on the
name of the Lord one day. It had done me so bad, I was at such a low, and I
just said, `Lord, help me.' And when I said that, I was being attacked--I
wanted it; the urge was hitting me, and I couldn't get away from it. But when
I said that, it left me. And that's what made me realize, to make a long
story short, 'cause I know we don't have a whole lot of time here, but only
when I would say that, `Lord, help me,' would that urge leave me. I would
come under attack. I would really be under attack. I would want that drug so
bad that, I mean, you know, I would walk 30 miles to get $20. I would beg
people, `Let me clean your garage. Let me wash your car. Let me cut your
lawn. Let me clean your gutters,' just to get $20. Only when I called on the
name of the Lord did that urge leave me. And I started realizing something's
happening in here, and if I want to ever escape this, I'd better seriously
call on the Lord and ask him to completely set me free, and that's what
happened. He set me free.

GROSS: So what happened after that? How did you meet the people from the

Rev. TATE: Well, when he set me free, I was so happy. I didn't have a Bible.
I went up to the Catholic church--I was walking and I passed a Catholic church
and I went in. I asked the priest, `Could you give me a Bible?' They gave me
a Bible. I still have that Bible today. And I started going around to find
churches because I would read the Bible all day long, all night long, and I
would visit different churches because I knew that was the only thing that had
helped me. And I shared my story with some of the churches, and some of them
would come and get me and, you know, take me to Bible studies and different
things like that. And that's how I started fellowshipping with other
churches, 'cause I found when I was around the Christians, when I read the
Bible, that when I prayed, I could stay free of the drug. When I didn't do
that, I relapsed. And I had a couple of relapses, but I got right back to
doing that. And when I continued to do that, it didn't happen again.

GROSS: Do you worry about relapses now?

Rev. TATE: Yes. I worry every day, 'cause I know I'm no farther from that
crack pipe and the coke table than the minute I stopped calling on the name of
the Lord. So I call on him all the time and I say to him, `It's me again. I
know I'm worrying you, but I don't have anybody else to worry.' And he keeps

GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.

Rev. TATE: Thank you, Terry.

Mr. RAGOVOY: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: And congratulations on the new CD.

Rev. TATE: Thank you.

GROSS: Singer Howard Tate and producer/songwriter Jerry Ragovoy collaborated
on Tate's comeback CD, "Rediscovered."

(Soundbite of "Get It While You Can")

Rev. TATE: (Singing) Get it while you can. I want to tell you tonight, you
better get it while you can. Ooh, get it while you can. Don't turn your back
on love. Don't turn your back on love.

GROSS: Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel "American Woman."
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Susan Choi's novel "American Woman"

Susan Choi's first novel, "The Foreign Student," won the Asian American
Literary Award for fiction. She's just published her second novel, called
"American Woman," which is loosely based on the Patty Hearst kidnapping case
in the '70s. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.


So far, this year in books has exhibited a wildly irregular rhythm. Late
winter, spring and summer were sort of sluggish. Then fall arrived, and
suddenly one wonderful book after another has been speeding off the assembly
line. I feel like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory, trying to stuff
these bonbons of fiction, biography and narrative history down my gullet as
fast as I can while still remembering to chew.

I've just finished Susan Choi's remarkable novel "American Woman," published
last month. It's a story that makes a reader slow down and pay attention, no
matter how frenetic the pace of one's routine. "American Woman" is set in the
mid-1970s, and it's inspired, but not constricted by, the Patty Hearst
kidnapping case. Choi must have been a toddler when that odd episode
occurred. But the real evidence of her imaginative gifts is the fact that
this novel focuses not on the Patty Hearst figure, here called Pauline, but
on a minor player, a Japanese-American woman named Jenny Shimada who's by
temperament and training an unlikely radical. Jenny has been living
underground for a couple of years when Pauline's kidnapping takes place.
She's on the lam for setting off a bomb in a San Francisco office building as
a protest against the war in Vietnam.

In part one of this novel, a fellow radical seeks Jenny's whereabouts and
discovers her burrowed into an old dowager's mansion in Rhinecliff, New
York. With her small hands that were so dextrous at making bombs, Jenny has
been earning a living of sorts restoring the mansion's elaborate paintwork.
Choi's description of Jenny's submerged life in upstate New York is lulling in
its precision. We learn about Jenny's careful avoidance of daily routine in
the town and about how she listens to the Watergate hearings on a transistor
radio as she furiously scrapes old paint off a ceiling.

It's almost painful to watch her yanked out of this soft, solitary
imprisonment and pulled back into active revolutionary duty. But her hard-won
knowledge of how to survive underground is needed by three fugitives, one of
them Pauline, who've just escaped a blazing police shootout in California.
Jenny and the fugitives retreat to an isolated farmhouse and, in the following
sections of the novel, the narrative perspective widens out to include
flashbacks to Japanese-American internment camps during World War II as well
as to the emergence of the second women's movement and anticipations of
identity politics coming out of the crumbling of the new left. We also enter
the minds of all the characters in hiding, including Pauline, whose kidnapping
and subsequent well-publicized embracing of radical violence mystifies the
outside world.

Here's a fragment of a passage in which the narrator describes Pauline's
conversion process and her feelings towards her new comrades in arms. `She'd
possibly fallen a little in love, not because they were the comrades she'd
sought before knowing quite what she was seeking, not because they had words
for the frightening world, lists of reasons and crucial solutions; just
because she was 19 years old and might have fallen in love with any collection
of beings devoted to lofty ideals.'

Generally speaking, American writers tend to stay away from explicitly
political subjects in their literary fiction, maybe because of the daunting
challenge of how to make a political novel smart as well as lyrical and
moving. Of course, there are exceptions; E.L. Doctorow, Todd Gitlin and
Philip Roth have mined this new left territory in their fiction. So did Marge
Piercy before she surrendered herself to poetry. Susan Choi is a fresh
voice among these sonorous scribes of the '60s, but she more than holds her

When Jenny's flight from the feds inevitably ends in capture, Choi makes
readers feel a grief that ripples out from the personal to the political to
the universal and timeless. It's not that you're mourning the end of Jenny's
misguided violence, but rather the idealism that prompted it. Here's how
Choi's narrator puts it better. `The loss of Jenny's freedom, of these years
of her 20s, ended up being nothing next to the loss of her confidence in the
choices she'd made.'

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "American Woman" by Susan Choi.

I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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