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Lawrence Welk's musical right-hand man for over 25 years, Cates was a bald, goateed, beatnik-looking guy who occasionally strayed from the straight and dull path of "champagne music" to create some strange and irreverent sounds. His album "Polynesian Percussion" features cool instrumental work by brothers-in-law Alvino Rey and Buddy Cole on console guitar and "Novachord" (an early electronic organ), as well as the requisite 15-plus strange percussion instruments.
Perhaps Cates was never quite able to shake off the experience of working with the slapstick vaudeville comedy team of Olsen and Johnson on their legendary revue, "Hellzapoppin," after his graduation from New York University. Most of his recordings and much of his work with Welk is, to belie the title of one of his own albums, not the least bit "Exciting."
Cates began vectoring down a path of sweet bands to Welk's, arranging and playing saxophone with Henry Busse, Dick Stabile, and Russ Morgan between 1939 and 1943, when he joined the U.S. Navy. During the war, he continued to work as a musician, and honed his skills as an arranger and conductor of military bands.
After the war, he settled in Los Angeles, and went to work for Coral Records, first as an arranger, and then as the head of one of the label's popular music divisions. He worked with many of Coral's leading artists, including Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Danny Kaye. He also became acquainted with Welk, who was recording for Coral's sister label, Decca.
He helped Welk with arrangements and other musical chores when the band-leader's long-running show began running in 1951, but remained with Coral until the mid-1950s. During this time, he hit the Top 40 charts with his cover of "Moonglow/Theme from 'Picnic'", which included wordless vocal effects by long-time Welk star Norma Zimmer. He ultimately racked up a total of five gold records, all of them covers of then-current movie hits.
Cates was a fixture of Welk's musical family throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and remained with the show until it finally stopped taping in 1983. Cates also composed "Champagne Time," the tune Welk used as his theme song after leaving the ABC network for syndication in 1971.
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