Born: April 18, 1924 | Died: September, 2005 Primary Instrument: Guitar
A true musician's musician, Clarence Gatemouth Brown mastered the guitar, fiddle, drums, viola, harmonica, piano, mandolin and bass. Gatemouth's smooth blend of Texas style swing with Jazz, Country and Cajun music has altered the definition of the Blues. His versatility singles him out as an architect of modern Blues sounds. Although primarily known as a rhythm & blues artist, Brown's music truly defied any simple description. Influenced by big bands and horn players, his work on the guitar and fiddle exhibited the music he grew up hearing along the Gulf Coast.
Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana, and raised not far from the Gulf Coast in Orange, Texas. He learned guitar and fiddle from his father who played and sang the tunes of the region, including French traditional songs and even German polkas. He reminds us that: Everybody played music in those days.
He began working professionally as a drummer during World War II. After a stint in the U.S. Army, Gatemouth made his debut as a guitarist in 1947 by simply walking on stage at Don Robey’s famed Peacock Club in Houston and picking up an electric Gibson guitar that an ailing T-Bone Walker had put down mid-show. Gate so wowed the audience, playing his own Gatemouth Boogie, that within a few minutes he had been showered with $600 in tips - a large haul in those cash-strapped days.
Robey soon had Brown fronting a 23-piece orchestra on a tour across the South and Southwest. The manager then formed Peacock Records, the first successful post- war, black-owned record label, to take Gate’s sound to a national audience. Dozens of hits soon followed, including Okie Dokie Stomp, Boogie Rambler, and Dirty Work at the Crossroads. But he became frustrated by the limitations of the blues and began carving a new career by recording albums that featured jazz and country songs mixed in with the blues numbers.
After splitting with Robey, Brown moved to Nashville, where he hosted a television show and began adding country music to his repertoire, even recording with Roy Clark and appearing on Hee Haw. Heavy touring in the 1970s established new audiences in Europe, East Africa, and the Soviet Union, where Gate toured as a musical ambassador for the U.S. State Department. He recorded in his hometown of Bogalusa with Professor Longhair, for the 1974 Barclay session “Rock n’ Roll Gumbo.”
In recent years, he cut a string of four-star albums for such record labels as Rounder, Alligator, Verve, and Blue Thumb. For his last album, “Back to Bogalusa” (Blue Thumb 2001), the 77-year-old presents nearly an hour’s worth of music spread over 13 tracks. While Gate explored the sounds of the Lone Star State on his last release, the appropriately titled “American Music, Texas Style,” (1999) with “Back to Bogalusa,” he takes us back across the state line to his beloved Louisiana.
In September 2004, Brown announced he had been diagnosed with cancer. After consulting oncologists, he decided against undergoing treatment. He also suffered from emphysema and heart disease. By the end of the year, Brown's condition had worsened considerably, forcing him to travel with an oxygen tank. On Jan. 8, he surprised many of his friends and associates by joining Gregg Allman and Susan Tedeschi at Atlanta's Variety Playhouse for not one, but two, shows.
In April 2005, a defiant Brown announced that he would perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Despite continued doubts that he had the stamina to even attend the outdoor festival, Brown managed to get through a brief musical set. Some close to Brown were convinced that he would have been happy to die as he lived -- performing on stage.
Clarence Gatemouth Brown died in Sept. 2005, in Texas.
During his career, Brown scored six Grammy nominations, winning the best traditional blues recording prize for his 1982 album, “Alright Again.” He won eight W.C. Handy Blues Awards and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. He's also a recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's prestigious Pioneer Award.
Source: James Nadal