Jam brings musicians, people together
Tate, 59, can be found most Mondays at the VFW Club, where for more than a year he has hosted a blues jam for a diverse group of musicians and people.
“It’s not just run-of-the-mill blues,” Tate said. “It’s top notch.
“My mission is to make everybody aware of the blues and coming together. And music has always brought people together,” Tate said.
“When it comes to blues, I don’t mind the struggle. It’s all good.”
The music is free. Tate passes a donation cup, but proceeds mostly pay for the free food he puts out with the help of other patrons.
Tate was born in Columbus, Miss., Muddy Waters’ birth state. He was born on a cotton plantation, the youngest of nine children.
“Being out in the fields and world, humming in the sun, humming a tune, got me through the day,” Tate said.
The kids worked to support the family.
“School was kind of second choice at times.”
Tate’s church got him singing. He’d tune to the Nashville radio stations, which played country during the week and blues on the weekends.
“I guess I was always exposed to the blues,” Tate said.
But his real lessons came after he moved to Madison in 1968, working at the Nitty Gritty Restaurant & Bar as bartender. There, he met blues great Luther Allison, and the two became fishing buddies. Allison eventually hired Tate as his soundman, and Tate toured with Allison for 17 years.
Tate used to stutter, and his confidence grew as he first introduced the band and then opened Allison’s acts.
“Music’s been a big part of me becoming Tate,” he said. “It took a long time to become just Tate.
After Tate returned to Madison, he hosted a blues jam for 13 years at the O’Cayz Corral. He also fronted Tate and The Million Dollar Band, playing clubs all over the state and working with such well-known area performers as Clyde Stubblefield, Westside Andy and Paul Flipowitz.
Three years ago, he moved to Janesville to be with his longtime girlfriend, supporting himself with odd jobs and running Tate’s Lawn Care.
But he wanted to share his love of the blues and is grateful to the generosity of the VFW Club members.
“The VFW offered me something that is very dear to me,” Tate said. “They offered me a home. I have a place where I can play music, where I can promote music.”
“Keeping the blues alive is a big part of the reason we preach for the blues,” he said.
“Music is like being part of beautiful art.”
Blue Mondays, including the food, are a Mississippi and Alabama tradition, Tate said.
The food is a collective effort. He might grill chicken, barbecues ribs or cook a ham. Others bring side dishes.
On Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, VFW members will fry blue gills. Tate hopes to schedule a “Blues Festival on the Hill” sometime next summer.
“Music is the one thing that makes my heart smile,” Tate said.
“I try to let people know that having the blues is not a sad situation.”
IF YOU GO
The Monday Night Blues Jam is held from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. most Mondays at the VFW Club, 1015 Center Ave., Janesville.
The jam is not held the second Monday of each month.
Host James Earl Tate also has formed a new band, James Tate and the 008 Band, and is playing at area clubs.