Johnny Pate, who now resides in Las Vegas, will be celebrating his 80th birthday. Born in Chicago in 1923, Pate's illustrious career has spanned seven decades. Although renowned as a composer/arranger and conductor, one must not forget he was also an accomplished bassist. Beginning in the forties he worked with the innovative pre-bop jazz violinist Stuff Smith. By the fifties he had his own group and recorded "Johnny Pate Live at the Blue Note" (1956). And with his quintet in 1958 scored a hit with "Swinging Sheppard Blues" which climbed to number 17 on the Billboard R&B chart. One of the great jazz records to come out of this period is James Moody's "Last Train from Overbrook" (1958). Johnny played bass and tuba and also arranged the album.
However, it wasn't until the sixties (during the early 60's he played bass on records by the Staple Singers and Sam Cooke) that his musical savvy paid off. Pate's bass playing had led to arranging, and he was hired by Okeh Records to do arrangements for artists like Major Lance and Walter Jackson. Johnny later moved to ABC Paramount. His career really took flight when he began working with Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. A milestone for Pate during this time was when he produced "B.B. King Live at the Regal." This recording is considered by many to be one of the definitive blues albums. The same year (1965) also saw him arrange/produce "Travlin' Light," vocalist-pianist Shirley Horn's last album before she drifted into semi-retirement so she could raise her daughter. In 1969 he worked with altoist Phil Woods on the "Round Tree" LP containing the classic "Fill the Woods with Laughter" which Pate wrote.
In the seventies we see Johnny go to Hollywood where he produced three soundtracks. The best of which was "Shaft in Africa" (1973) featuring the Four Tops on vocals. "Bucktown" followed in 1975, and "Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde" in 1976. During this period Pate also worked with the Bee Gees, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Muddy Waters, Natalie Cole, Wes Montgomery, Monty Alexander, Gil Scott-Heron, and again B.B. King.
By the eighties and nineties Johnny has slowed down. But he is still conducting, producing and arranging artists such as Jimmy Smith, Peabo Bryson, Natalie Cole and Joe Williams.
Even into 2002 we find Pate as creative assistance for Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson's "Mean't To Be." And know this about an ageless artist and the new millennium... a hip hop driven British band called "The Herbaliser" (formed in 1995) cites Johnny Pate as one of their major influences. Says one band member "I particularly love Johnny Pate's Shaft in Africa -- it's an all time favourite". Now that's legendary longevity!
by Richard J. Bianchino
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