Sounding like an amalgam of raspy-voiced soul brothers, David Ruffin and Otis Redding, Florida-born drummer-turned-singer Tommy Tate broke into Billboard’s R&B Top 30 in 1972 with ‘School Of Life,’ a beseeching ballad released on Johnny Baylor’s Stax-distributed label, Ko Ko. Sadly, despite a raft of seemingly strong follow-up 45s, Tate couldn’t replicate the success of ‘School For Life’ and his career experienced a downward trajectory to obscurity. Three decades later and Tate – who is now confined to a wheelchair after a stroke and lives in a nursing home – is feted by the soul cognoscenti as a cult hero while his records are eagerly sought-after by collectors. This stupendous 23-track retrospective fills in some of the gaps left by Kent’s recent overview of Tate’s Ko Ko tenure. The collection starts back in 1968, with a raucous version of Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me,’ which Tate cut with a group of Southern white guys called the Imperial Showband featuring Tim Whitsett, who provides fascinating background information on Tate in the liner notes (apparently the singer was afflicted with polio as a youngster and was a talented multi-instrumentalist). The song was one of several here originally cut as demos in Jackson, Mississippi at Malaco Studios during the late ’60s (most of the tracks are previously unissued though a couple got a release via the Musicor label). Although the songs were cut as demos almost forty years ago, the audio quality is fine and Tate’s declamatory voice oozes soul power on every track. The highlights include ‘I’d Really Like To Know,’ ‘Hold On (To What We’ve Got),’ and ‘I Can’t Do Enough For You Baby.’ If you’re a fan of the great Tommy Tate, you’ll need to acquaint yourself with this cracking cache of ultra-rare, antique Southern soul post-haste (it’s available from www.garryjcape.com).