Tuesday, July 10, 2007

John Cate

John Cate

Biography by Joe Viglione

John Cate resides west of Boston, MA, and writes melodic songs with a worldly perspective. Born April 11, 1955, in Liverpool, England, to American ex-pats his parents settled in New England circa 1960. Cate began playing and singing at the age of nine after seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Many boys of Italian descent learned the accordion and that was true of Cate, whose first musical instruments included the bass guitar and cello, along with the air-powered keyboard made famous on The Lawrence Welk Show. Though the accordion has made its way onto some great pop records, it is interesting how, like other guys from his era, Cate wanted to rock. The calling of his musical influences and heroes — the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, the Beatles, and AM Radio Top 40 hits of the '60s — is what led to the mixture Cate regards "a legitimate roots rock sound and style with pop hooks."

Cate's musical career began as bass player with Zamcheck, named after Mark Zamcheck, a successful regional band that toured with Gary Burton and Pat Metheny, played the Newport Jazz Festival, and was managed by the notorious Steve Sesnick, who was responsible for putting the Velvet Underground on tour in Europe without Lou Reed. The six-string acoustic was always at the ready, and introspection won over technique giving way to classic American folk-rock singing and songwriting that marks his style today.

Cate formed his own recording company, American Music Partners, which spawned the Rose Hip Records label, and began putting out his music in 1996. His first solo record, Set Free, was released that year and was heard by producer Anthony Resta, who worked with such acts as Shawn Mullins, Collective Soul, and Duran Duran, among others. Resta introduced Cate to Heavy Hitters Publishing, a company that keeps Cate's five-record catalog active in network television shows like Touched by an Angel, Jack & Jill, All My Children, The Young & the Restless, and many other programs that utilize songs by the singer/ songwriter.

At his record release party in January of 2001 for his fourth album, simply called The John Cate Band, with his friends the Swinging Steaks co-headlining the bill, the band showed a proficiency for combining commercial singalong pop with an earthier, more traditional American sound. It's a nice combination that complements the Swinging Steaks country-rock perfectly as both bands don't get in each other's way, yet provide enough in common to entertain their respective audiences. The two bands tour the U.S. together when schedules permit. It also presents a united front apart from Cate's initial work as a singer/songwriter.

In 1996, he released his first CD, Set Free, followed by two releases in 1998: American Night and Never Lookin' Back, his first with the John Cate Band. After the early 2001 release of The John Cate Band, he got to work on the fifth album, 2002's V.

Cate frequently performs in and around New England, in Nashville, TN, and in the Midwestern states, where he has been named an "Honorary Hoosier." His goals are to have a domestic release with an American label similar to his dealings with Blue Rose, expanding his touring base, and increasing his visibility and presence in Nashville. He writes happy songs and loves being part of the songwriting community.

John Cate's first reaction to meeting George Harrison on a flight to London was: "Man, do you look like your Dad!" who Cate knew from Liverpool. Cate also hosts a monthly songwriter showcase at the House of Blues in Cambridge, MA. He co-ventured this long-standing series with Billy Block's highly successful Western Beat Showcase, which runs weekly in Nashville and Los Angeles, and includes a monthly magazine and nationally syndicated radio show. Western Beat performers have included Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Buddy and Julie Miller, and many others.

John Cate Discography


Review by Joe Viglione

There is a naïveté to John Cate's first album, entitled Set Free, that escapes many groups, and it is this charm that makes songs like "Phoenix" and "Wire in the Wind" extra special. As disc jockey Ken Shelton says in the liner notes, "When I listen to the music of the John Cate Band, I hear a lot of familiar voices," and you'll hear the echoes of John Cafferty of Beaver Brown and Sal Baglio of the Stompers, bands that found inspiration in Springsteen and Neil Young. You'll hear those influences, but the imprints of Set Free have Cate's vision of life, and his lyrical perspective is much different from all of the above. There's a pensive reading of "American Night" that would become the title of an acoustic album released after this in 1998, the mandolin from Paul Candilore just one reason why Candilore is the secret weapon in Cate's arsenal. It sounds like the exact take from the American Night album, but that's OK, as it is a strong song and a fine presentation. "Six Chances" rocks out fine with a fury often displayed by the singer's colleagues, the Swinging Steaks. "Last Train Home" and "Temptation" have more of the "American music" sound, which is Cate's home and what he does best. When John Cougar Mellencamp attempts to play Lou Reed it is second rate, but Cate successfully gets that Reed vamp down on "Temptation"; it's more serious than Mellencamp, probably because one gets the feeling Cate hasn't studied Reed and this is from the singer's own experience. "Phoenix" is a standout that you'll keep coming back to, as you'll want to give second and third looks to Set Free, an album by an artist whose evolution keeps unfolding in interesting ways. And it's nice to see local figure Laurie Geltman helping out on backing vocals.


Review by Joe Viglione

For John Cate's second album, he chose to follow the lead of one of his heroes and cut a record on his four-track at home, as Bruce Springsteen did with Nebraska. The result is a very personal 11-song CD dedicated to his dad, Louis Caterine. American Night has enthusiastic compositions coupled with pure artistic expression, with the three other members who make up the John Cate Band providing sparse accompaniment. On "It's Allright," Cate shows that Springsteen isn't his only influence; the Bob Dylan vocals would make Cate a prime candidate for a Dylan tribute band. "Diamond Dust" is more original, the musicianship downright eerie. There's something to be said for impromptu recording — the essence of the original impressions that created the songs is captured — and if the liner notes didn't mention the lo-fi aspect (though additional recording was done at the professional Metropolis facility), the listener would be hard-pressed to think this wasn't a more expensive endeavor. According to the copyrights, the material was written between 1994 and 1998, and this is the only one of John Cate's annual album offerings to have a two-year space between its release and that which came before. It's commendable that an independent artist would release such an introspective album; as the Dylan and Springsteen types know, these kinds of projects reach a limited audience, but if Cate and his bandmates reach a higher level of success, this beautifully packaged material will be appreciated down the road.


Review by Joe Viglione

"One Last Mile" gives a loud kick as the third album from John Cate, Never Lookin' Back, opens with Searchers riffs and Ventures-style guitars, the image of the four men coming down what looks like church steps on the front and back covers of the CD making for a mysterious movie-type photo. Cate does his best Dylan on "This Isn't Goodbye," the prolific songwriter playing with styles and sounds that make him happy. Going through the music on Cate's first four albums, there are no revelations; the John Cate Band creatively package things they like and present those things to the world with their own stamp, but their mission is not to reinvent rock & roll. The title track is compact and precise, and there's no nonsense whatsoever. For those who feel Neil Young can get too cutesy, or that John Cougar Mellencamp is spending too much time in front of the mirror, the John Cate Band attack the material with the drive of perfectionists looking for an intangible refined sound like the surfers in The Endless Summer were seeking the perfect wave. "Never Lookin' Back" has that exciting, explosive guitar work generated from slamming the tunes out night after night in bar after bar. "Never Love Again" opens up with more anger; it seems someone never told Cate to never say never, as the word starts off three of the 11 titles — and there are more negative contractions like "won't" and "can't" in other song titles. "Never Love Again" has the thumping authority of Bob Seger's "Fire Down Below," but what's needed is Bette Midler to jump on-stage and teach something to these guys. As the aforementioned rock stars Cougar and Young do get indulgent, Cate and his group need to lighten up. They are as serious as a judge, where a little touch of sly humor would really bring this material home. "Can't Let Go" comes across as perhaps the album's strongest track, and it is up there with the best of the Swinging Steaks; it's remarkable how much the John Cate Band resemble this other group that Cate has worked closely with. "Down in the Hole" and "Never Was Enough" are also in that pop vein with a country twang. This is almost like Boston's version of the Eagles and J.D. Souther, with the Swinging Steaks being the Eagles and Cate being Souther. Not a bad formula to emulate, and a series of fine albums by both groups adds a dimension to New England's vibrant music scene, a dimension that deserves more attention. "Everything Is Love" and "You Won't See Me" are more driving pop/original music from the pen of Gian S. Caterine and his John Cate Band, essential songs that make Never Lookin' Back the album you need as the introduction if you've yet to encounter this ensemble.


Review by Joe Viglione

John Cate's fourth album, his second with the John Cate Band, is a blend of roots rock and pure pop. "Mercy Road" kicks the album off with folk guitar, keys, and a bit of songwriting that is precise. One can't deny the appeal of the Eagles, but they were homogenized to the point where some of the songs felt like they were printed out of a computer. "Mercy Road" is a tune that radio fans wish the Eagles could've put together. "It's Over" is even better: a great hook, wonderful setup, and vocals that display the sadness a breakup always creates, no matter who was at fault. Cate comes across much better on record, his live performance for the release of this disc felt like the band was trying to re-create what is on the CD. "It's Over" is very much like the Swinging Steaks, a former Capricorn artist which tours with Cate on occasion. "No Other Place" is the kind of song we'd expect to hear from James Taylor if he were a few decades younger. Where Taylor went from Boston to London, John Cate was born in Liverpool, England, but was raised in the U.S. "Standin' Here Alone" feels like Traveling Wilburys without the Jeff Lynne production; very appealing. The harmonica and subdued vocal in "Ride Away" is a nice change before "Circles" shifts gears. This music isn't original, but drummer Gary Rzab, bassist Danny McGrath, and guitarist/keyboard/mandolin player Paul Candilore present a full sound behind Cate's voice and music. "Circles" gives Candilore a chance to sing lead, Rzab getting his opportunity on the next song, "Tears," a very McCartney/early-Beatles sounding piece. It's all very well constructed and played pop/folk/roots rock. These cats emulate their heroes, and the result is very listenable and very radio friendly. Cate's music has been utilized on the network television shows Touched By an Angel, All My Children, and The Young & the Restless, among others, and for good reason. His voice is tender on "Ain't the Same," and all the songs catch a good groove. Candilore is a more than adequate accompanist with his talents displayed on "Time Has Come," a very nice, laid-back song with mandolin and reverb guitar. A reflection of what is on the 12 tracks on this self-titled album.

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