The Cate Brothers
ARKANSAS SOUL SIBLINGS
Arkansas' enduring Cate Brothers kick off this retrospective set with a slamming version of the Bobby "Blue" Bland classic, "Yield Not To Temptation". Here the Cates deliver a more uptempo take on the song, a minor chart hit for Bland in 1962. Earl's sharp guitar lines and Ernie's atmospheric vocal lead the way here; the Brothers later recorded the song on their 1977 eponymous release on Asylum.
The Cate Brothers bio
Earl and Ernie Cate were born on December 26, 1942, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a college town located in the northwest part of the state, about thirty miles east of the Oklahoma border and around twice that far south of the Missouri state line. They started their musical careers in their late teens and by the mid '60s, as the Del-Rays, were building a reputation in their hometown, location of the main campus of the University of Arkansas.
Beginning as a "cover" band, featuring Ernie on keyboards and vocals and Earl on guitar and vocals, the Cates started to work in original material into their sets by the late '60s and, by dint of tireless touring, they built a regional following in Arkansas as well as in such nearby states as Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas and Tennessee. Word of their popularity reached Huey Meaux, who dispatched Moody to take them into the studio.
Nine of these recordings made for Crazy Cajun appeared in 1977 on the album The Friendship Train (CCLP-1025). Though they represent the Cates’ first serious sessions, by the time of their release, the group was nationally known through their debut album for Asylum Records, an eponymously-titled record that yielded the hit single, "Union Man" early in 1976 (# 24 on the pop charts).
"Union Man" and a follow-up single, "Can't Change My Heart" (# 91) were both produced by Memphis legend Steve Cropper, famed as a member of the Bar-Kays and as co-writer of such soul classics as "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay", "Knock On Wood", "Soul Man" and "In The Midnight Hour". Cropper enlisted such luminaries as Timothy B. Schmit, Nigel Olsson, Klaus Voorman and his Memphis mate Donald "Duck" Dunn to help out on that album, resulting in the Cate Brothers only charted longplayer.
Though their commercial success on a national scale began and ended with that first album, the Cates made three additional records for major labels, two more for Asylum and, in 1979, the Tom Dowd-produced “Fire On The Tracks” for Atlantic. Undaunted by their inability to remain in the national spotlight as headliners, Ernie and Earl continued to perform on a regional basis until 1981 when Levon Helm, a longtime friend from the same part of Arkansas, chose them to open shows for The Band. By the next year, Ernie, Earl and two of the Cates then sidemen joined forces to fill the long-departed Robbie Robertson slot and thus became members of The Band in time to tour the U.S., Canada and Japan in 1983 and 1984. Additional touring followed as support act for Crosby Stills & Nash in 1985.
Once back home the Cates returned to their roots to again play regionally, thrilling their followers in the midwest and south central states. They released a collection of singles on an EP produced by John Ware and issued on RSVP Records in 1989 but, due to the label's poor distribution and scant promotional resources, that project failed to regain the national spotlight for them. Once again they resumed making the regional rounds.
In 1992, the election of Bill Clinton as U.S. President again returned them to the national spotlight as they were featured performers at the 1993 Presidential Inaugural Ball Blue Jeans Bash party, along with what was then left of The Band, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Stephen Stills and others. The group was invited back in 1997 to perform at a similar event to mark Clinton's second inauguration.
“Radioland”, the Cate Brothers first full-length album in sixteen years, was released by Blue Sun/Icehouse/Priority Records in 1995 but that effort also failed to earn them national exposure. Again, the lack of label support ultimately doomed that project to little more than regional exposure. Thus, The Cates again became a regional act.
In 1997 Ernie and Earl decided they had had enough of major and minor labels so they released their next album “Struck A Vein” themselves, using the proceeds to help augment their steady touring income. Then, in 1998, the brothers decided to document the live show which has, after all, been the basis for their enormous local and regional popularity. Thus, in January of 1999, they issued “Cate Brothers Live”, an effort that clearly shows why they have been able to remain together, retain their status as a major regional club attraction and make a living for well over thirty years. (Orders for those two records may be made through their website, found at http:://www.catebrothers.com).
Today, as we prepare to enter the New Millennium, Earl and Ernie Cate continue their musical journey that, since the late '60s, has delighted hundreds of thousands of show attendees and at least one U.S. President The tracks on this package present the cuts that began their musical odyssey, a tuneful trip that we all hope will continue for years to come.
~John Lomax III, January 1999
Notes on the Recordings
"Friendship Train", title cut from their 1977 Crazy Cajun album, is a good example of the Cates' skill at crafting and delivering driving fusions of rock and soul. Their refrain of "harmony is the key of sisters and brothers" is a recurring theme throughout their recordings, then and today.
The fellas deliver another slice of Arkansas soul in the following "God Gave Me A Woman", distinguished by a cool intro and some excellent close harmony singing. They slow the tempo down a bit here, enabling them to more clearly showcase the black music influences on their sound.
"We All Got To Help Each Other", another self-written Cates song that appeared on the Crazy Cajun release, again shows the brothers' desire for universal peace and love. Though these tracks were doubtless cut in the early '70s, the Cates' worldview belonged more to the '60s "hippie" philosophy than to the go-go materialism of the '70s decade.
Next we return to the Bobby "Blue" Bland songbook for a fine take on another classic, "Don't Cry No More". This version is faithful to the 1961 original, a 1971 pop charter for Bland. The band kicks right along and Ernie and Earl harmonize nicely on the choruses. This cut was also found on their Crazy Cajun release.
The brothers stay in BBB mode with "You're Worth It All", giving this Bland staple a soft and dreamy reading with Earl's guitar taking the bulk of the instrumental focus. Ernie's vocal floats along beautifully, wrapping the song soulfully.
Earl delivers mysterious, snaky guitar lines to kick off "Rescue Me", another Cates original that asks for help from a "gypsy with a crystal ball", who tells them, "you better watch out, 'cuz trouble is all I see". The group's stylistic similarity to The Band is most evident on "Rescue Me", a selection that kicked off side two of their Crazy Cajun LP.
Ernie's organ gorgeously embellishes "What Makes The World Turn", another Cates original that evinces a decided Bland influence. Earl makes use of some tasty wah-wah guitar which meshes artfully with Ernie's organ and customary soulful vocal. There's a more stately tone here than on any of the previous tracks.
The Cates next move over into Ray Charles territory with "Yes Indeed", with Earl's zesty guitar leading the way on this staple from the songbook of "The Genius". A warm female chorus mimics the Raelettes' fiery call and response and Earl's guitar rides to the close.
"Born To Wander", another selection from the Crazy Cajun album, marches right along in a midtempo vein as the Ernie tells us, "I was born to wander, hitchhike down the road. Ain't got no money, one suit of clothes". While there may be some autobiographical elements in the song (The Cates have surely travelled all over), the fact is they still live near their birthplace of Fayetteville. Some nice falsetto harmonizing near the close sets "Born To Wander" apart from the other selections included here.
"Let's Start All Over" is perhaps the finest love ballad of the set. The timeworn theme of making a fresh start and trying again has rarely been expressed so eloquently in words and music. Ernie's piano and organ gets the spotlight here and both shine gloriously. This superb song is ripe for a contemporary cover by a male or female soul crooner.
The recording world is full of lousy versions of the Beatles chestnut, "Let It Be" -- fortunately this reading is solid and soulful with a fine fuzztone guitar ride by Earl distinguishing it from many inferior versions. Ernie's impassioned singing and keen, restrained backing vocal touches also embellish the Cates' cover. "Let It Be" was also found on the Crazy Cajun album.
The Cates insert a decided funk element into "Living On A Country Side", a tune which must be drawn from their own lives. There is more "bounce" in this paean to chopping wood, fishing and "air that is fresh and clean". They speak of wanting to "live life slow and easy so I can keep my soul satisfied", a sentiment as compelling today as it was over twenty years ago when they wrote the song.
"Can't Live Alone" explores a more mellow side, kicking off with Ernie's soft piano touches. The song, another Cates original, also graced the Crazy Cajun record. Ernie's smooth vocal and the uplifting overall tone of "Can't Live Alone", make it one of this reissue's best selections.
Northwest Arkansas determinism spices "I Made Up My Mind" as we hear of a bad woman: "you hurt me. . . then you desert me" who has been allowed back into a man's heart for the last time. This is a bit of a departure for the brothers as the songs so far have mostly exhorted undying love and other uplifting themes.
"Always Waiting" returns us to a more familiar lyric territory as we listen to the brothers sing of undying devotion in another fine example of mellow Arkansas soul. Earl delivers nifty phased guitar lines and takes a rare lead vocal on this original that talks about "always giving and never asking why".
Ernie's organ is a highlight of "Can't Change My Heart", another song dealing with love's constancy. Earl's guitar takes us on a clever turnaround during this understated love ballad. A later version appeared on their 1975 The Cate Brothers album for Asylum and briefly charted in 1976, reaching # 91.
"When Love Comes", like the previous cut, was later recorded by the Cates on one of their Asylum releases. Earl's guitar work again stands out, a hallmark of this set. This selection dips into a bit of a funk bag and shows off some good brotherly harmonies. Good advice -- "when love comes, you gotta take it".
The Cates return to another of their consistent themes, that of honoring the Golden Rule, in a song that could well be titled, "Love Your Neighbor". Here they tell us, "it seems to me the thing we need is some good old-fashioned kindness. Push aside your foolish pride and selfish hate that blinds us. Love your neighbor, help him when you can. Reach out with love in your heart and think about your fellow man", words we would all be wise to heed.
Blasting trumpets and burping saxes contribute mightily in adding fresh textures to "I Got To Be Your Man", a snappy selection that also features some snazzy guitar runs by Earl. These additions of brass sure makes the listener wish the horn section had been invited to participate on plenty more tracks on the set. Again, Ernie's soul-drenched vocal stands out on this tune espousing a willingness to love unconditionally. ~John Lomax III, January 1999