OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: The Cates found their lives in music and shared it with Northwest Arkansas and beyond

Brothers’ performances renowned throughout state, region

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/AMELIA PHILLIPS
Ernie (left) and Earl Cate photographed at Ernie's home in Springdale.  The Cate Brothers are retiring from their regular band gigs, but will still do special events and write and record songs.  012907
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/AMELIA PHILLIPS Ernie (left) and Earl Cate photographed at Ernie's home in Springdale. The Cate Brothers are retiring from their regular band gigs, but will still do special events and write and record songs. 012907

Northwest Arkansas twins Earl and Ernie Cate were born with music in their blood. Raised in Springdale, they discovered their love of music and realized early they were destined to make a living, and their lives, at it.

They are widely known to the public as the Cate Brothers but to the many who have religiously followed them and their music through the years, they are known simply by their first names, Earl and Ernie, two first-class and down-to-earth guys who happen to be extremely good at what they do and whose remarkable musical careers have brought much joy and entertainment to generations of music fans throughout Arkansas.

In the eyes and ears of music lovers in these parts, Ernie and Earl Cate attained well-deserved legendary status long ago. They have been a popular mainstay in Arkansas's vibrant music scene since the 1960s. Their music has stood the test of time.

The Cates unique brand of music and the manner in which they deliver it touches listeners in profound ways. When you leave one of their gigs with their songs ingrained in your mind, you are already looking forward to the next opportunity to hear the band play.

Music changes because the world changes. But if it's great music, it stays with us through all that. The timeless music of the Cates and their fellow band members pulls you in and won't let go. It's music that speaks to the heart and nourishes the soul. It's music that hits the vein, flowing through the collective bloodstream of the audience. It's the real thing, and anyone who has ever heard the band play knows it.

With Earl on guitar and Ernie on keyboards, this prolific singer-songwriter-musician duo has always been blessed over the years to have surrounded themselves with other extremely talented musicians in the Cate Brothers Band. For decades now, the band has built a strong and dedicated following in Arkansas and other places throughout America, especially in the mid-South region of the country. The Cates have recorded multiple major-label albums during their careers and in the past they often toured nationally and internationally with some of the iconic bands and notable musical artists of that era.

The Cates have a close link with two other Arkansas-born music legends, the late Levon Helm and the late Ronnie Hawkins. When the Cates started performing together as teenagers, they were influenced and inspired by Hawkins and Helm and later on in the 1980s, Earl and Ernie joined Levon, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson for several tours in a revival of The Band.

The music of the Cate Brothers Band is rooted in a perfect blend of soul, blues, country and a big dose of rock n' roll. It's the kind of music that stirs the soul, tells a story and puts people on the dance floor.

You are immediately hooked when you walk into a place where the Cate Brothers Band is playing. You instantly feel the palpable and positive energy. Some people are dancing with abandon and other patrons are moving to the music in whatever way suits them. People are laughing, smiling and having fun. Everyone is reveling in the music. The place is packed, crowded with people from every walk of life, young and old alike, reminding you that music is one of our common denominators.

Through the seasons of life, I've been an avid fan of the Cate Brothers Band. No telling how many nights during my lifetime I've enjoyed their music at some venue. I suppose I and countless others earned those lapel buttons from back in the day that proclaimed us to be an "Official Cate Brothers Groupie."

Musically, the Cates are an Arkansas institution. Their music is as good as it gets and any conversation about the history of Arkansas music has to include the Cate Brothers. So it was fitting that in recognition of their highly accomplished careers and meaningful achievements in music, Earl and Ernie were inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 2015.

The Cates, who have made Northwest Arkansas their lifelong home, are a part of who we are. Ernie and Earl will celebrate their 80th birthdays on Dec. 26. What a splendid and exhilarating ride it has been for them and for their many loyal fans in Northwest Arkansas and far beyond.

Today, the Cates remain as beloved as ever. While they've understandably cut back on the frequency of performances in recent years, they are still rockin' and still have game. They still entertain and thrill us. They are still the best.