By Bill Wright
The Cate Brothers
During the ’50s, a pair of twin brothers started playing at community events and gaining recognition around Northwest Arkansas. Earl and Ernie Cate were beginning a career that would eventually take them to other parts of the world.
They started playing bluegrass and other music that they had heard on the Grand Ole Opry, Louisiana Hayride and other popular radio shows. When the Everly Brothers rose to the top, the Cate brothers added Everly Brothers songs to their own repertoire.
Meanwhile, Lonnie Watson and his cousin Otis “Junior” Watson moved to Springdale from Newton County, bringing their musical experience to the area and eventually teamed with the two Cate brothers.
At first the group didn’t even have a name, but they started winning talent contests and performing talent shows as far away as the Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock.
In the late ’50s, the group added a drummer, and started playing more rock ’n’ roll and less music of other styles. They became known as the Delrays, a name taken from a Chevrolet.
The lineup of the Delrays in the early ’60s was Earl Cate on guitar, Ernie Cate on keyboard (mostly piano and organ), Lonnie Watson on bass, Randy Favorite on drums with frontman Ken Owens on lead vocals. The two Cate brothers contributed their own vocal style, and Watson also did some vocals.
The group played a lot of fraternity and school dances, as well as the Rockwood Club and venues in Joplin, Mo., Norman, Okla., and other towns.
In a few years the Delrays went through a few changes. Owens left to tend to academic duties, and the group added a sax player from time to time. One of those sax players was Gary Bien, who was active in many groups around the area. After Bien left the Delrays, Phil Rogers from New Orleans, was hired for sax duty.
In 1965, Watson graduated from college and left for a career in the corporate world. The band hired Gerald Golden to replace Watson on bass, and in late summer of ‘65, the Delrays became a touring band. Their tours included Canada, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia.
In early summer of 1966, Golden and Favorite left the Delrays to pursue other interests and the Cate brothers came home to Northwest Arkansas.
After a few weeks back home, the word got around that they were in the area, and club owners started getting in touch with them about performing at some of the local venues. With Bill Wright on bass, and McAllen Wolfe on drums, the Delrays were once again performing on the local scene.
Wolfe had already enlisted in the U.S. Navy, so he didn’t get to stick around for too long, before he had to embark on his tour of duty. Dan Kerlin handled drummer duties for a while, and then Levon Helm showed up and played as a Delray for a few months.
In late fall when Helm left to rejoin The Hawks, he introduced his nephew Terry Cagle to the band, and gave him a few introductory lessons about playing with a band. Cagle had barely played drums prior to this adventure, but he picked up where his Uncle Levon left off, and took the rhythm section to a new level.
By the end of 1966, the lineup was Earl Cate, guitar and vocals; Ernie Cate, organ, vocals and front man; Bill Wright, bass; and Terry Cagle, drums and vocals. This lineup lasted for nine years. The group first billed themselves as the Delrays, then later as the Cates Gang and finally became known as the Cate Brothers Band.
In 1970, as the Cates Gang, they released an album, “Wanted — The Cates Gang” on Metromedia label.
In 1975, Wright left to pursue other interests and the group hired Albert Singleton to replace him. Singleton stayed for about a year before moving on, and was replaced by Ron Eoff. In 1976 the Cate Brothers Band hit the charts with a single “Union Man.” This hit catapulted the group to the big time, and they remained there for quite a while. During that time, in addition to releasing several albums and appearing on national television, they toured America, Canada, Europe and Japan.
Through the decades, the Cate Brothers Band went through many personnel changes and last year retired from performing as a group on a regular basis. They still get together for an occasional gig, and Earl Cate and Terry Cagle are still active performers on the local scene — sometimes joining together at a gig, as well as working separately on other projects.
Ken Clark was part of one of those inseparable teams that kept reuniting in groups after tracking elsewhere for a while.
“Troy Brand, Chalky Dearien and I started playing for money with the Maxie Gundlach Band in Rogers,” Clark said. “It was a big band — 14 or 15 pieces. We played Glen Miller (music) and some Dixieland. This was about 1956. Then Chalky started with the McClelland Combo — next Troy and finally me. Troy bought me an upright bass for $37.50.”
Clark was told to make their next practice, so he did, and they were reunited for a second time.
When the McClellands started planning a tour of Canada, Brand, Clark and Dearien, were not ready to leave college, so broke away from the band.
Before the three became reunited a third time in the Tolleson band, Clark pursued another musical adventure in 1959, this time with a group known as the Trebles.
The first lineup of that group included Clark on bass; Ken Owens (who later joined the Delrays) on rhythm guitar and vocals; Bill McChristian on lead guitar; Punch Anderson on sax; and Mike Davis (who later joined John Tolleson) on drums.
“We played various gigs in and around Fayetteville,” Clark said. “Then Ronnie Hawkins got us with Harold Kudlets, and Harold booked us in Canada for the summer of 1960.”
The Trebles continued through many personal changes — many of them played in other lineups — one of these players happened to be Orville Clift.
“I learned to play guitar at ASTC (Arkansas State Teachers College in Conway) in 1958-59,” Clift said. “I transferred (to the University of Arkansas) in the spring of 1961. I started playing with Billy Lafferty, Johnny Jett on drums, Skip Wallin on rhythm guitar and Gene Lancaster on bass. We played here and there, but got our “big break” when we played behind The Drifters in 1961 at the Sigma Chi house — made $75 that night!
“During the summer of 1961, Lloyd Marley came home from Canada and said he needed a bass man. I’d never played bass, but bought one from Mr. Guisinger (a Fayetteville music store). (A Fender) Jazz Bass, it was white and heavy as hell. Went to Canada for one week and then to the Peppermint Lounge for two weeks, then home.”
It’s quite possible that Marley had also played earlier with the Trebles, but that information is somewhat sketchy.
“Fall of ‘61, I continued at the (university), but (again) met Jerry Yount, who had left the road and had enrolled also,” Clift said. “We started playing with Mike Davis, drums, Bill McChristian, rhythm guitar, and me on bass. Later, a fellow named Arlon (may be spelled Arlan or Arlin) Harmon from Fort Worth joined us. Arlon could play harp, possible piano … and … he could also sing, all very well. Spring of ’62, we left for California. Stayed 16 weeks at the Peppermint West, at that time one of the best places on the West Coast during the “Twist” era. Jerry and I quit the Trebles in June and returned to Arkansas to join the Emcees.”
By the fall of 1961 Butch Blackwood graduated from high school in El Dorado and moved to Fayetteville to attend the University of Arkansas. Blackwood first heard Bill Lafferty and The Jokers perform at a function at Humphreys Hall. The lineup of the band was Bill Lafferty on piano and vocals, Pat O’Pry on sax, Jerry Nolan on drums and Jim Powell on bass. Luck had it that Powell was about to leave the group. Somebody informed Lafferty that Blackwood was a bass player, so Lafferty invited Blackwood to join the group, and Blackwood accepted the offer.
“Until late January ‘62, we used ‘pick-up’ guitarists,” Blackwood said. “I can’t remember any of their names. Lafferty asked us if we knew any good pickers. I told him about Mike Garlington, also from El Dorado. Mike was working at KRBB-TV as a cameraman, trying to save money to go to college. I called him and told him he could come to U of A, play in the Jokers and make it. He joined us in time for the spring semester of 1962. Pat O’Pry played one of the best “yakkity” saxes I’ve ever heard. Jerry Nolan was one of the loudest drummers I’ve ever heard (he always wanted to set up out front of the band). Lafferty played very little piano, but had a hell of a voice. Mike and I had no idea what we were doing — but we learned.”
In the summer of ‘62 The Jokers recorded and released a 45-rpm single. The title of the A-side was “Hello Little Girl,” and the B-side was titled “Closer.” The B-side may have been the first most heavily produced song by any of the Northwest Arkansas pioneers. It involved the use of a violin section, and had the sound of something that had been produced in New York or Hollywood.
“In the fall of ‘62, I believe, Jerry Nolan left and we hired Dan Byers on drums,” Blackwood said. “Around that time we added Jack Huebsch (pronounced Hips) on piano and organ. Lafferty was now just a front man — still a great voice.”
In the summer of 1963, through the Hawkins/Kudlets connection, the tour of The Jokers included New York (they played at the famous Peppermint Lounge), Montreal and Toronto. During the planning and actual stages of that tour, they had a couple of personnel changes, replacing Byers with Ollie Warren and Huebsch with Richard Gibson. Like Blackwood and Garlington, Gibson was a product of El Dorado.
In October of ‘63, Blackwood left the Jokers to return to El Dorado, TO work at a “real” job (a common humorous term among all musicians) and become a family man. Gerald Golden became the bass player, and McAllen Wolfe started shortly afterward as the drummer. Two or three months later, Kenneth “Red” Tisdale became the organ player. This was a reunion of sorts because Golden, Wolfe and Tisdale had earlier been part of the Dukes.
Sometime in 1964, Gary Bien replaced O’Pry on sax. In 1965 the group continued for a period of time sans Lafferty. The summer of ‘65 found the Jokers playing in Noel, Mo., at the popular Shadow Lake resort. Toward the end of the summer, Golden left to join the Delrays on the road, Tisdale left to take care of his military obligation and Lafferty and Blackwood returned to the fold. The Jokers continued until late spring of 1966 with various lineups — one of which included Russ Hale (another El Dorado alumni) on drums.
A history of rock ’n’ roll in Northwest Arkansas cannot be told without mentioning Jerry Hayes. Hayes started as a drummer in bands as early as 1959 when he had barely reached his teens. As he grew older, he honed his musical skills with the Sessions, another great band that made their mark in Northwest Arkansas.
Members of the Sessions included, besides Hayes, Daryl Price (keyboards), Duane Price (bass), Steve King (a sax player) and Clyde Eubanks (guitar).
In the mid ’60s — about 1966 — Daryl Price left the Sessions to join the Emcees on the road. Hayes had always had a talent for writing songs, so he moved to Memphis about this time to pursue a career as a songwriter.
For a while the Sessions continued playing in the area. Their lineup at various times included Harvey Eubanks (drums), Lloyd Marley (piano) and Gary Bien (sax).
Hayes returned to Northwest Arkansas and played with his own Wabash Cannon Band from 1971 to 1974. At this time he served as leader, front man and lead vocalist, and provided rhythm with his acoustic guitar. Other players included Harvey Eubanks (drums) and Clyde Eubanks (guitar), Steve Baskin (bass) and Bill Kendrick (keyboards).
Hayes returned to Memphis after that and went on to become one of the most successful rock ’n’ roll pioneers from this area. Some of his songs became million sellers — “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” (Alan Jackson) and “Rollin With The Flow” (Charlie Rich). “Who’s Cheatin’ Who” had been an earlier hit for Charly McClain.
As it can be seen, many of the players wove their way in and out of different bands, often returning to play together a second or third time in another ensemble. Because of these intricate career relationships, these pioneers of rock ’n’ roll in Northwest Arkansas are almost like members of a gigantic extended family.
Sadly, some of those who made their mark and influenced many are no longer with us. Mel and Leon McClelland, Dayton Stratton, Maxie Gundlach, Bill Lafferty, Chalky Dearien, McAllen Wolfe, Jerry Hayes and others have all passed on to a greater life somewhere in the universe, but they will remain in the memories of Northwest Arkansas rock and roll fans forever.
Thanks to the following for their valuable input in this story: John Tolleson, Lonnie Watson, Tommy McClelland, Randy Stratton, Dick Pool, Ken Clark, Jerry Yount, Orville Clift, Butch Blackwood, Gerald Golden, Harvey Eubanks, Chris Dunivan and Robert Hatfield.