The last week has seen the passing of two great soul stylists – HOWARD TATE and DOBIE GRAY. TATE died on Friday, December 2, while GRAY passed on Tuesday, December 6.
HOWARD TATE was born in Macon, Georgia in 1938 but his singing career only took off after relocating to Philadelphia where he teamed up with GARNET MIMMS in the GAINORS. He then worked with organ grinder BILL DOGGETT before coming to the attention of JERRY RAGOVAY who recorded him for a number of labels. His biggest hit was ‘Get It While You Can’ (1966) but he never really made the major leagues remaining something of a cult figure. Personal problems – relationships, addiction, business conflict and other issues – saw him drop off the radar till 2003 when he teamed up with RAGOVAY again for the ‘Rediscovered’ “comeback” album’. Though it was Grammy nominated, it failed to reignite his career. He was nevertheless embraced by soul purists and even managed to win back royalties from Verve with whom he’d enjoyed his moderate 60s success. By then TATE had cleaned up and, he said, “found his God”.
He was found dead at his Burlington, New Jersey apartment on Friday 6 December and the Coroner later confirmed that he’d died of natural causes. He’s survived by three children.
DOBIE GRAY was born in Brookshire, Texas in 1943 and there’s some conflict regarding his given name. Some suggest he was born LAURENCE DARROW BROWN, while others say he was LEONARD VICTOR AINSWORTH. Whatever, he moved to Los Angeles in the early 60s to break away from his family’s share-cropping poverty and seeing music as the way forward he came into contact with SONNY BONO who suggested a name change to DOBIE GRAY – after a then popular US sit com character – DOBIE GILLIS.
In 1965 he recorded his breakthrough hit – the truly anthemic ‘In Crowd’ but despite the glory and his adoption by the UK Northern soul fraternity (who avidly collected his more obscure sides), DOBIE veered to musical theatre spending two and a half years in ‘Hair’.
In ’72 he resurfaced as a solo recording artist. Working with MENTOR WILLIAMS, he recorded the wonderful ‘Drift Away’ and ‘Loving Arms’. The engaging mix of country and soul made them huge hits and the singer decided that for him, at least, country music was the way forward and he relocated to Nashville. Sadly he failed to score anymore hits as an artist but his songs were regularly recorded by others.
In later years GRAY suffered from cancer, though after his passing on Tuesday, December 6, no cause of death was given.