Earl and Ernie Cate celebrate their 50th birthday at the Little Rock Theater

Sean Clancy

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An Arkansas rock ‘n’ roll institution returns to Little Rock for a special concert on April 30.

The Cate Brothers Band, made up of twin brothers Ernie on keyboards and lead vocals and Earl on guitar, will perform a career-spanning set on Saturday during the latest edition of the Central Arkansas Library System’s Arkansas Sounds series at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock.

Alongside the brothers will be longtime bandmates Terry Cagle (drums), John Davies (bass) and Dave Renko (saxophone).

“You can’t really talk about Arkansas music without talking about the Cate Brothers,” says CALS entertainment coordinator John Miller. “The stuff they released is legendary, vital and important. It just flows through them.

A 50th anniversary show has been delayed due to the pandemic, so the Saturday show is something of a belated celebration of the Cate Brothers’ five decades as a band.

The Cates actually attempted to retire around 2006, but instead of completely hanging up their instruments, they cut back on touring and settled into a more relaxed performance rhythm.

“It’s not like we play every week, although here in the spring we have several shows lined up,” says Earl, who was preparing for a concert in Fort Smith later that evening with his other band, Earl and Them. .

Earl and Ernie were born on December 26, 1942 in Fayetteville and grew up in Springdale. (Earl has eight more minutes.) They immersed themselves in the fertile music scene of northwest Arkansas, and their first band was called the Del-Reys, according to the Arkansas Encyclopedia. They did covers of R&B tracks and were influenced by rockabilly wild man Ronnie Hawkins, the Huntsville native whose backing band, The Hawks, featured Phillips County native Levon Helm on drums.

While the Hawks were recruited by Bob Dylan to be his band after going electric in 1965, Helm returned to Arkansas and started playing with Earl and Ernie. When The Hawks, who later became The Band, signed a recording contract, the drummer and singer joined them in Woodstock, NY, but not before recommending his teenage nephew, Cagle, to take his place behind the kit with the Cates.

The brothers developed a smooth hybrid of rock, country, R&B and blues, highlighted by Ernie’s soulful vocals and Earl’s guitar.

“They have their own thing,” Miller says. “There are so many facets to the Cate Brothers, and then there’s the weight of their catalog and the nuances that come from playing together for over 50 years.”

They signed with Asylum Records and released their self-titled debut album that year. Produced by guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the MGs, the album featured the track “Union Man,” which spent 20 weeks on the Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 24.

They hit the road in support of the record and even spent some time opening for Queen.

“We were on the same label, and they were about to release ‘Night at the Opera,’ and our record had just come out,” Cate says. “At first it was a bit shaky, but later it went well and it helped our record. It puts us in the Top 40.”

Over the years they have done shows with Fleetwood Mac, the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead, Jason Isbell and others. They were also part of the Absolutely Unofficial Blue Jeans Bash during Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration along with Dylan, The Band, Stephen Stills, Hawkins and others.

Two more albums followed on Asylum, and they also recorded one for Atlantic. In the 80s they played with Helm during his solo career and later joined Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel in a cover of The Band without Robbie Robertson.

The Cate Brothers Band began recording more in the 90s, releasing several albums on independent labels over the years. In 2020, the brothers were the subject of “Arkansas Rock and Soul Royalty”, a documentary by director Benjamin Meade.

“We didn’t really know what would be in there,” Cate said. “He recorded us in Kansas City and a few other places and did interviews with people, but we didn’t know what it was until we saw him. It’s really cool.”

Copies of the documentary will be on sale at the show, Miller said.

After all this time, acting still brings joy and rush, says Cate.

“Even though we’ve had the same members for a long time, the music has somehow evolved to become even more personal than it was in the 70s. The fact that we don’t do it every night makes it fresh for us, and it seems like the songs are turning out a bit different after all these years.



Arkansas Sound:

The Cate Brothers Group

WHEN — 8:30 p.m. April

WHERE – Ron Robinson Theatre, 100 River Market Ave., Little Rock

COST — $20

INFO—501-320-5715; cals.org

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