|Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown|
Brown at the Long Beach Blues Festival, 1996
|Clarence Brown Jr.|
April 18, 1924|
Vinton, Louisiana, United States
|Died||September 10, 2005
Orange, Texas, United States
|Genres||Blues, swing, country, Cajun, R&B, rock, folk music, electric blues, Texas blues|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, violin, viola, mandolin, drums, harmonica, piano|
|Labels||Aladdin, Peacock, Cindrella Records, Black & Blue, Barclay, Music Is Medicine, Rounder, Alligator, Verve, Occidental Records|
|Gate's Express (Harold Floyd, David Peters, Joe Krown, Eric Demmer & Lloyd Herrman on drums), Los Super Seven, Bill Samuel, Roy Clark, Airto, Tony Garnier, Garland Craft, Jim Keltner, Joe Sunseri & the Memphis Horns|
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (April 18, 1924 - September 10, 2005) was an American musician from Louisiana and Texas. He is best known for his work as a blues musician, but embraced other styles of music, having spent his career fighting purism by synthesizing old blues, country, jazz, Cajun music and R&B styles. His work also encompasses rock and roll, rock music, folk music, electric blues, and Texas blues.
He was an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, who played an array of musical instruments, including the guitar, fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica and drums. He won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1983 for his album, Alright Again!. He is regarded as one of the most influential exponents of blues fiddle and has had enormous influence in American fiddle circles.
Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana, and raised in Orange, Texas. His professional music career began in 1945, playing drums in San Antonio, Texas. He was given the nickname "Gatemouth" by a high school teacher who said he had a "voice like a gate". His career was boosted when he attended a concert by T-Bone Walker in Don Robey's Bronze Peacock Houston nightclub in 1947; Walker became ill, and Brown took up his guitar and quickly wrote and played "Gatemouth Boogie", to the delight of the audience.
In 1949 Robey founded Peacock Records in order to showcase Brown's virtuoso guitar work. Brown's "Mary Is Fine" backed with "My Time Is Expensive" was a hit for Peacock in 1949. A string of Peacock releases in the 1950s were less successful commercially, but were nonetheless pioneering musically. Particularly notable was the 1954 instrumental "Okie Dokie Stomp", in which Brown solos continuously over a punchy horn section (other instrumentals from this period include "Boogie Uproar" and "Gate Walks to Board"). "Okie Dokie Stomp" was also recorded by Cornell Dupree in the 1970s, who also had a commercial success with it. As for his gutsy violin playing, Robey allowed Brown to record "Just Before Dawn", his final release on the Peacock label, in 1959.
In the 1960s Brown moved to Nashville, Tennessee to participate in a syndicated R&B television show, and while he was there recorded several country singles. He struck up a friendship with Roy Clark and made several appearances on the television show Hee Haw. In 1966, Brown was the musical director for the house band on the short-lived television program, The !!!! Beat.
However, in the early 1970s several countries in Europe had developed an appreciation for American roots music, especially the blues, and Brown was a popular and well-respected artist there. He toured Europe twelve times, beginning in 1971 and continuing throughout the 1970s. He also became an official ambassador for American music, and participated in several tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department, including an extensive tour of Eastern Africa. Brown appeared at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival, where he jammed with American blues rock band Canned Heat. In 1974, he recorded as a sideman with the New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair on his album, Rock 'N' Roll Gumbo (originally a Blue Star Records release). He moved to New Orleans in the late 1970s. In 1979, through his manager at the time, Jim Halsey, Brown embarked on a 6-week, 44 concert tour of the Soviet Union. This was an historic event as it marked the first time the Soviet Union made a contract with a U.S. private citizen (Jim Halsey) as regards a musical tour. All previous tours were under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. To date, this was by far the most extensive tour an American band had taken in the USSR.
In the 1980s, a series of releases on Rounder Records and Alligator Records revitalized his U.S. career, and he toured extensively and internationally, usually playing between 250 and 300 shows a year. He won a Grammy in 1982 for the album Alright Again! and was nominated for five more. Alright Again! is credited with putting Brown back on the musical map. He also won eight W. C. Handy Awards.
In his last years, he maintained a full touring schedule, including Australia, New Zealand, South America, Africa and Eastern Europe. His final record "Timeless" was released in 2004.
In September 2004, Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. He already had emphysema and heart disease, and he and his doctors decided to forego treatment for the cancer. This greatly affected his musical career. His home in Slidell, Louisiana, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and he was evacuated to his childhood hometown of Orange, Texas, where he died on September 10, 2005, at the apartment of a niece, at the age of 81. Brown is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in Orange. Flooding caused by Hurricane Ike in September 2008 damaged his grave. His casket was one of dozens that floated out of their burial sites. His grave has since been refurbished and through the estate funds, a headstone has been erected in his honor. A marker honoring Brown was placed by the Texas Historical Commission next to the flagpole at Hollywood Cemetery.
The rock composer Frank Zappa, in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989), credited Brown, along with Guitar Slim and Johnny "Guitar" Watson, as important influences on his guitar playing.
Brown was married and divorced three times. There are four children. Three daughters, Ursula Brown of Houston, Celeste Biles of Vista, California, and Renée Brown of New Orleans; and a son, Dwayne Brown, of Oklahoma City.
With Al Grey