Saturday, July 17, 2010

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown Defined Longevity For a Bluesman

By Matthew Jorn

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana and raised in Orange, Texas. He was renowned for his abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, playing the guitar, fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica and drums. He won a Grammy award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1982 for his seminal album Alright Again!

Young Clarence Brown began playing music at a young age, and was branded with his nickname by a high school music teacher, who said he had a voice "like a gate." He began playing music professionally in 1945 as a drummer in San Antonio. Gatemouth later moved to Houston, where he earned his big break while playing behind T-Bone Walker at The Bronze Peacock nightclub. On one particular gig Walker became ill, allowing Gatemouth put down his drumsticks and pick up Walker's guitar. He wowed the audience by playing the "Gatemouth Boogie." From then on his fame and reputation grew.

The owner of The Bronze Peacock, Don Robey, founded Peacock Records in 1949 in order to market Gatemouth's prodigious guitar skills. His release of "Mary is Fine"/"My Time is Expensive" was a hit that same year. He continued recording under Peacock for some time, putting out records that weren't as popular as his first but weren't financial flops either.

His final release under Peacock was in 1959. It featured him playing violin in his brash, nonconventional manner. This release as well as most of his others marked his true artistic style, the gutsy and oftentimes jarring combination of musical genres and sounds. Gatemouth became known for his continuous and vehement desire to meld all of his different musical inclinations into hybrid compositions, often to the chagrin of his producers.

In the 1960s Gatemouth moved to Nashville, Tennessee and played and recorded numerous country singles. He developed a friendship with Roy Clark and began appearing on Hee Haw as well as an R&B television show. In the late 1960s Gatemouth inexplicably moved to New Mexico and became a deputy sheriff. This did not last long.

By the 1970s, Gatemouth gained enough fame in several European markets and he began touring overseas. He was later named as one of the United States' Ambassadors of Music by the State Department, and played numerous shows in Eastern Africa.

In the 1980s Gatemouth Brown had finally earned considerable fame and recognition in his home country, winning a Grammy in 1982 and receiving a nomination for five more. He toured widely and frequently during this and the following decade, playing 200 to 300 shows every year. In 1999 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. While already suffering from heart disease and emphysema, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2004. After having to leave his home in Slidell, Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina, he died in the apartment of his niece in his home town of Orange, Texas on September 10th, 2005.

This article is part of a series of educational biographies of great Texas music legends written by Matthew Jorn and presented by Russell and Smith Mazda Dealer Houston. Texas has always been a crossroads for great musicians, and Russell and Smith Houston Mazda Dealership is proud to share this story of true Texas talent.

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