The Cate Brothers

The Cate Brothers

Celebrating more than 50 years of music


Ernie and Earl Cate are notoriously difficult to get any lengthy answers from in an interview, much less a full-on chatty dialogue. That’s why our heads are still reeling that the famous twin brothers sat down with What’s Up! for an honest-to-God interview looking back on more than five decades of making music together.

Earl, in his signature black top and flat cap, and Ernie, ever so slightly more reserved than his barely-older brother, sit back pensively at the prospect of speaking to a lifetime of memories. But once we’re in to the music and Dickson Street, specifically George’s, the pair both brighten, and the stories seem to flow easier.

Neither one thinks too much of the notion of fame. Literally — they don’t think about it, and they modestly reveal they wouldn’t call their history in Arkansas music a legacy.

“We never think about it that way. It’s just been a lot of years of playing, and we enjoyed it. We still enjoy it,” Ernie says pragmatically.

Nevertheless, The Cate Brothers still sell out when they do take the stage together, and Northwest Arkansas still enjoys bragging rights — not only were the twins born here, but they’ve always called the area home.

“We got tired of the big city,” Earl says of what kept them coming back to the Ozarks after the worldwide travel started. “I wouldn’t want to live in L.A., that’s for sure. We did do our albums out there and things, but it’s always best to be home. And you have your family, too, that you gotta be with and want to be with.”

“It’s home,” Ernie agrees.

Earl still performs regularly with his group Earl and Them — which also continues to draw consistent and loyal crowds — but The Cate Brothers only perform a few select dates a year anymore. Those gigs are often at their musical home venue, George’s Majestic Lounge, and that’s where the pair will celebrate “Over 50 Years of Rock and Soul,” the show’s on-the-nose title, Nov. 16. Of course, the performance is sold out.

Farm To Stage

Ernie and Earl grew up on a farm in Sonora, east of Springdale, with horses, cattle, guitars and banjos. Their father, having dreamed of being a musician, acquired instruments here and there, and the brothers used whatever they had around the house to teach themselves to play.

“We’d go to the neighbors’ that were players,” Earl reflects. “Back then, [we] didn’t have a TV, so that was your entertainment on a Saturday night or something, go to the neighbors’ and they would play and we watched them and just picked it up gradually.”

Being teenagers in the later 1950s wasn’t a bad time to come to music, either — although the brothers, like most Northwest Arkansas musicians at the time, somehow missed out on the British invasion that took over the music world.

Playing the country-influenced rock of The Everly Brothers is where the pair really got their start performing. That foundation dovetailed nicely with the education the budding musicians would later get outside Ronnie Hawkins’ south Fayetteville venue, the Rockwood Club.

“We were too young to get in, [so we’d] stand out in the back and look through the fan — they had a big fan in the back,” Ernie remembers. “We’d listen to music from there and heard a lot of music that we hadn’t heard before — Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Ray Charles. His band was playing a lot of that stuff that we’d never heard. And that kind of changed our thoughts about music.”

Arkansas Sound

Ronnie Hawkins’ rockabilly-esque brand of rock and roll helped usher in a distinct sound for the region that has continued even to the present. Names known today by history buffs and music lovers — and a few that would rocket past that modicum of celebrity and go on to true fame — either emerged in the region during this time or came to the area to perform.

“Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, … that became The Band, eventually. We were friends with them and actually saw that group evolve to where it became The Band,” Earl says, pointing to one of Arkansas’ most famous musical exports. “And then like Windy Austin, Zorro & The Blue Footballs, there’s so many bands when you think back, you lose track, that were fairly successful. There’s just always been a lot of music here.”

Including The Cate Brothers Band. The pair started out with The Cates Gang in the early ’70s and released a couple albums that have been out of print for decades. When they became The Cate Brothers Band, they also landed a contract with Asylum Records. Several albums followed — with Asylum and after — international touring, and an ever-growing reputation for expert musicianship. All the while, the brothers stayed true to their country/soul roots — with a blues and R&B leaning.

“There wasn’t a category for that back then, [people] didn’t know what it was,” Ernie says.

“Back in the early ’60s, we played in Joplin, Mo., in the summer, like six nights a week at this club,” Earl recalls. “And at the time, we were playing just kind of what we play, but there was a big difference, even just in that distance, in the music that bands were playing up there and what we were playing. I was bending guitar strings, and they were like, ‘What are you doing? What is that?’ ‘Cause they had never heard it.

“We were kind of fortunate to be in [music] at a certain time when everything was blooming,” Earl continues. “Like the mid-’70s, right before disco took over, it was a really good time, and we kind of got in on a lot of that. And being associated with Levon [Helm] and those guys, we actually played with The Band for a couple of years. And through him we got to meet a lot of people … who otherwise we wouldn’t have.”

Ernie and Earl may not be boastful of the impact they’ve had on the region’s music scene, but any investigation into the musical roots — no matter how shallow a dive — will turn up their names again and again. They’ve got stories of celebrity hangouts, watching the industry change, and memories of Dickson Street when it “wasn’t as fancy as it is now,” according to Earl. (All of which you’ve got to hear in our podcast interview with the twins!)

But fancy or not, the Cate Brothers are always glad to be home, and we’re glad they’re giving us the chance to celebrate their legacy.

“It’s amazing after all this time that we can still play George’s and it be full of people,” Ernie says with a chuckle. “It kind of amazes me every time we do it. I think, ‘Well, sooner or later it’s going to be nobody.’”

“It’s still our favorite place to play,” Earl adds.


Web Watch

Visit the online version of this story at to catch the podcast interview with the Cate Brothers that accompanies this story. Ernie and Earl talk about growing up in Northwest Arkansas, their career and a few unforgettable memories with their contemporaries.



The Cate Brothers:

‘Over 50 Years of Rock and Soul’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Nov. 16

WHERE — George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville

COST — Sold out


BONUS — The Nace Brothers will also perform.

FYI — The Cate Brothers will play George’s Happy Hour on Dec. 27.



More Music Coming

The 50-year celebration is sponsored by Cosmic Cowboy Records and George’s Majestic Lounge. Ben Meade, owner and founder of Cosmic Cowboy Studio in Fayetteville, started out as a fan and now is commemorating Ernie and Earl’s career with the concert, a documentary film on their lives coming in January and by re-releasing The Cate Brothers’ back catalog through his studio. Several records, including the brothers’ first, “Wanted,” are already available at The rest will drop after the documentary premieres, and all will eventually land on Amazon and streaming services.

Categories: Cover Story