Without being aware of his significant relevance to the blues genre generally I became a fan of Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown years ago, simply from hearing a track on the radio, his version of ‘Tobacco Road’.
Later experiences along with the ‘Long Way Home’ album demonstrated his acute sense on timing, suddenly hitting early before sinking back into the rhythm. I understand he had a liking for Classic American motors and can see from a variety of images that he almost always wore a Stetson and somewhat more unusually smoked a pipe.
These elements reflect in some measure his music, definitively American in a whole bunch of quite different genres and on different instruments, a very accomplished musician in all senses. He was an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, who played guitar, fiddle, mandolin, viola as well as harmonica and drums.
Clarence ‘Gatemouth Brown was born on April 18th 1924 in Louisiana and raised in Texas. He is best known for his work as a blues musician, but as I referred to above, embraced other styles of music, old blues, country jazz, Cajun music and proper R&B.
Brown’s two biggest musical influences were Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker but as soon as he starts singing – especially on ‘Long Way Home’ (vocals and guitar only) I immediately think of ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree’s kind of gravelly talking style..
His musical career began in 1945, playing drums in San Antonio, Texas. He was given the ‘Gatemouth’ sobriquet by a high school instructor who accused Brown of having a “voice like a gate”. His career was boosted while attending a 1947 concert by T-Bone Walker in Don Robey’s ‘Bronze Peacock’ Houston nightclub. When Walker became ill, Brown picked up Walker’s guitar and played ‘Gatemouth Boogie,’ to the delight of the audience.
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 1974, he recorded as a sideman with the New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair (another of my Blues Heroes featured elsewhere on this blog) on his album, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Gumbo’. He moved to New Orleans in the late 1970s.
Sadly, in September 2004, Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer, he and his doctors decided to forgo treatment. His home in Slidell, Louisiana was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and he was evacuated to his childhood home town of Orange, Texas, where he died at the apartment of a niece. Brown is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in Orange, Texas. However, flooding caused by Hurricane Ike in September 2008, damaged his grave.
Acclaimed releases for the labels: Rounder, Alligator, Verve, and Blue Thumb in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s have proven that Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown is a steadfastly unclassifiable American original.
Clarence passed away on September 10, 2005 in Orange, TX, aged 81.