Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
|Birth name||Clarence Brown Jr.|
|Also known as||Gatemouth, Gate|
|Born||April 18, 1924|
Vinton, Louisiana, United States
|Died||September 10, 2005 (aged 81)|
Orange, Texas, United States
|Instrument(s)||Vocals, guitar, violin, viola, mandolin, drums, harmonica, piano|
|Labels||Aladdin, Peacock, Cindrella Records, Black & Blue, Barclay, Music Is Medicine, Rounder, Alligator, Verve, Occidental Records|
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (April 18, 1924 – September 10, 2005) was an American singer and multi-instrumentalist from Louisiana. He won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1983 for his album, Alright Again!.
Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana, and raised near Orange, Texas. His father was a railroad worker and local musician who taught him several musical instruments, including fiddle by age 5; as well as piano and guitar. He had at least one brother.
1940s and 1950s
Brown served in the military during World War II. 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.
1960s and 1970s
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. Later in the decade, he worked as a deputy sheriff in New Mexico.
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, playing guitar and harmonica. 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.
Personal life and demise
Brown was married and divorced three times. He had 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.
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 August 2005, although he had been evacuated to his childhood hometown of Orange, Texas, and lived with his brother before the storm hit.
He died in Orange on September 10, 2005, at the apartment of a grandniece, 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 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.
Musical style and influences
Brown was acclaimed for his skills on multiple instruments, including the guitar, mandolin, viola, violin, harmonica and drums. He is regarded as one of the most influential exponents of the blues fiddle and has had enormous influence in American fiddle circles.
Brown's biggest musical influences were Louis Jordan, T-Bone Walker, and Count Basie. His highly original electric guitar style influenced many blues and rock guitarists, including Guitar Slim, Albert Collins, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
- 1972 The Blues Ain't Nothing (Black & Blue 33.033; CD reissue: Black & Blue BB-428.2)
- 1973 Sings Louis Jordan (Black & Blue 33.053)
- 1973 Cold Strange [AKA Cold Storage] (Black & Blue 33.096; CD reissue: Black & Blue 59096.2)
- 1973 Gate's On The Heat [AKA The Drifter Rides Again] (Blue Star/Barclay 80 603; CD reissue: Sunnyside SSC-3052)
- 1974 Rock 'n' Roll Gumbo (with Professor Longhair) (Blue Star/Barclay 80 606; CD reissue: Sunnyside SSC-3049)
- 1974 Down South...In The Bayou Country (Barclay 90 002; CD reissue: Sunnyside SSC-3046)
- 1975 The Bogalusa Boogie Man (Barclay 90 035; CD reissue: Sunnyside SSC-3060)
- 1977 Heatwave (with Lloyd Glenn) (Black & Blue 33.129; CD reissue: Black & Blue BB-465.2)
- 1977 Blackjack (Music Is Medicine MIM-9002; CD reissue: Sugar Hill SHCD-3891)
- 1978 Double Live At The Cowboy Bar (Music Is Medicine MIM-9013) 2-LP
- 1979 Makin' Music (with Roy Clark) (MCA 3161; CD reissue: MCA Special Products MCAD-22125)
- 1981 Alright Again! (Rounder 2028)
- 1983 One More Mile (Rounder 2034)
- 1986 Real Life (Rounder 2054)
- 1989 Standing My Ground (Alligator AL-4779)
- 1991 No Looking Back (Alligator AL-4804)
- 1994 The Man (Verve/Gitanes 523761)
- 1995 Long Way Home (Verve/Gitanes 529465)
- 1997 Gate Swings (Verve/Gitanes 537617)
- 1999 American Music, Texas Style (Verve/Blue Thumb 547536)
- 2001 Back To Bogalusa (Verve/Blue Thumb 549785)
- 2004 Timeless (Hightone HCD-8174)
Compilations and bootlegs
- 1974 San Antonio Ballbuster (Red Lightnin') Peacock recordings
- 1980 Texas Blues [Live in Concert, Internationales Jazzfestival Bern, SBV]
- 1983 Atomic Energy (Blues Boy) Peacock recordings
- 1985 Pressure Cooker (Alligator) Black & Blue recordings
- 1985 More Stuff (Black & Blue) Black & Blue recordings
- 1987 Texas Swing (Rounder) Rounder recordings
- 1989 Hot Times Tonight (P-Vine) various recordings of the 1960–1970s
- 1990 The Original Peacock Recordings (Rounder) Peacock recordings
- 1993 Just Got Lucky (Evidence Music) Black & Blue recordings
- 1994 Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: Live (Charly) [previously unreleased live recording]
- 1995 The Best of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: A Blues Legend (Verve) Barclay recordings
- 1999 Okie Dokie Stomp (Bullseye Blues & Jazz) Rounder recordings
- 1999 Guitar In My Hand (Catfish) Aladdin and Peacock recordings
- 1999 Hot Club Drive (P-Vine) Black & Blue recordings
- 1999 The Blues Ain't Nothing (P-Vine) Black & Blue recordings
- 2000 Okie Dokie (AIM) various recordings of the 1960s
- 2002 The Chronological "Gatemouth" Brown: 1947–1951 (Classics "Blues & Rhythm" series) Aladdin and Peacock recordings
- 2003 Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: In Concert (DVD)
- 2005 The Chronological "Gatemouth" Brown: 1952–1954 (Classics "Blues & Rhythm" series) Peacock recordings
- 2006 Dirty Work At The Crossroads 1947–1953 (Acrobat) Aladdin and Peacock recordings
- 2010 Rockin' Boogie Blues (Blues Boulevard) Aladdin and Peacock recordings
- 2017 Boogie Uproar: The Complete Aladdin/Peacock Singles As & Bs 1947–1961 (Jasmine)
- 1976 Grey's Mood (with Al Grey) rec. 1973–1975 (Black & Blue 33.085; Classic Jazz CJ-118; CD reissue: Black & Blue BB-912.2)
- 2003 Johnny's Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash (NorthernBlues) Brown sings Johnny Cash's 1956 rockabilly song "Get Rhythm" with Benjy Davis
- Dahl, Bill. "Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: Biography". AllMusic.com. Archived from the original on March 19, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
- "Grammy.com Past Winner Search: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, 1982". Grammy.com. Archived from the original on 2014-09-10. Retrieved 2014-09-09.
- Park, Erinn. "Brown, Clarence [Gatemouth] (1924–2005)". Handbook of Texas. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved January 13, 2021 – via tshaonline.org.
- "Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown dead at 81". UPI.com. Orange, Texas. September 11, 2005. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. pp. 95–96. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- "Clarence Gatemouth Brown". AllAboutJazz.com. Archived from the original on 2014-07-03. Retrieved 2014-09-09.
- Ratliff, Ben (2005-09-12). "Guitarist Clarence Gatemouth Brown Dies at 81". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2014-09-10. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
- "Ike Texas » Archive » orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)". orangeleader.com. September 15, 2008. Archived from the original on January 31, 2013. Retrieved July 11, 2014.
- "Historical Marker Dedication to Pay Tribute to Music Legend". orangeleader.com. July 19, 2012. Archived from the original on September 10, 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-09.
- Dunn, Mark (July 25, 2012). "Photo text: Dr. Robert Finch compiled the research to get an historical marker for Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown...". Vol. 53, no. 17. Record Newspapers.
- Tomko, Gene (2020). Encyclopedia of Louisiana Musicians: Jazz, Blues, Cajun, Creole, Zydeco, Swamp Pop, and Gospel. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 57. ISBN 9780807169322.
- "The Real Frank Zappa Book". Pierroule.com. Archived from the original on 2014-08-28. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
- W.C. Handy Blues Awards on National Public Radio Talk of the Nation
- 'Gatemouth' Brown Plays Through Cancer, Years on National Public Radio All Things Considered
- Remembrances: 'Gatemouth' Brown's Blues Voice Goes Quiet on National Public Radio All Things Considered
- Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown Discography
- Video Interview with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Loyola University, New Orleans