published Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Curtain Call: Richard Tate works music around family life

Richard Tate first learned to play guitar in his teens but didn’t begin seriously playing in bands until his 30s. His latest group, Uncle Lightnin’, will release its third CD next month.
Richard Tate first learned to play guitar in his teens but didn’t begin seriously playing in bands until his 30s. His latest group, Uncle Lightnin’, will release its third CD next month.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Richard Tate

Hometown: Nashville

Family: Wife, Jenifer; children, Joel, Lauren, Manning and Owen.

Education: Brainerd High School and UTC.

Age: 58.

Vocation: Director of operations for Camelot Care Centers -- in-home services and case management for at-risk youth.

Richard Tate grew up in a musical family.

"I'd watch Beatle cartoons on Saturday morning and then Flatt and Scruggs in the evening," he said.

His father, a trumpet player, runs the music program at Grundy County High School. His uncle is a drummer who toured with Ferlin Husky.

"On my mom's side, they were the family that on Saturday night would unhook the tractor battery and hook it to the radio to hear the Grand Ole Opry," Tate said.

Tate didn't start playing an instrument until he was 12. While he devoted a little more time to playing the guitar around age 15, he didn't get really serious until he was into his 30s.

"I got married, moved away, then moved back to town, and I guess life happened," he said. "Even then, I was always doing something. I had a studio in my house and played, but it wasn't until my early 30s that I got into some serious musical endeavors."

Over the years, Tate has played in some of the more enduring, if not well-named, bands in the area.

His first serious band was Bend Sinister, which included Dennis Palmer, Bob Stagner and Terry Fugate. When Stagner and Palmer left that to form the Shaking Ray Levi Society, Tate co-founded Ton Ton Macoute. That group featured Jody Parks, Sterling Owen, Chris Ware and later Calvin Steele.

That band was together for almost six years and morphed into Don't Spook the Horse. Parks stayed and was joined by Mike Bales and Milton Hamrick.

"I'd known Milton since I was 18 or 19," Tate said. "We wanted to try a band with a pedal steel player and it was very Neil Young-influenced. David Schenk and Freddy Mayes played with us, too."

Eventually, that band split up also and Uncle Lightnin' was born. That was 18 years ago and the group is preparing for the release of its third studio CD, "Searching for Ted 'The Cowboy' Eisenhower," during a release party at Rhythm & Brews.

The first album, "Sunday Breakfast," was released in 1998 and "Urban Legend" was released in 2002.

The original lineup featured Tate, Millard Ramsey, Mike Crowder, Dan Myers and Chris Elmore. The current lineup is Tate, Ramsey, Bales, Myers, Hamrick and Andrew Heck.

Tate has been working in the mental health field since 1985 and today works with at-risk youth in rural areas.

"It is what I was meant to do, I believe," he said.

All of bands Tate has been in have had successes and yet all of them dealt with the normal issues that bands face. Bandmates come and go. People have relationships outside of the band. They get married, have children and, in most cases, have careers or jobs unrelated to music.

Those things can make keeping a band together a challenge.

"We were rockin' along and doing 80 or 90 shows a year. We were playing a lot, but working jobs, raising kids. John left to form Black Diamond Heavies," Tate said.

"We made the decision that having something like a real life was important, but we kept it going. People switched around on instruments to fill needs. Andrew is a pretty good mandolin player, but he has turned out to be a helacious bass player."

Ramsey devoted his time to getting a law degree, but after graduating he and Tate were at the Pickle Barrel restaurant when Tate invited him to join the band for a set at an upcoming show at JJ's Bohemia. It went so well, it reenergized the group.

Much of the energy and effort went into recording, or actually editing, the 17 songs on the CD. The tracks were recorded over a two-night session, but edited over the course of a year.

"We just started tweaking it and letting our imaginations run wild," Tate said.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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