George Poems
Humanist
Blues Review
Wondrous Gifts
MUSIC LEGEND CLARENCE “GATEMOUTH” BROWN DIES AT 81
by
George Fish

One of the most distinctive musical artists of the post-World War II era, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/arranger
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, died Saturday, September 10, in his hometown of  Orange, Texas.  He was 81.
He had successfully evacuated his home in the New Orleans suburb of Slidell on August 28 to escape Hurricane
Katrina, which destroyed his Louisiana house.  “He was completely devastated,” his booking agent, Rick Cady,
said.  “I’m sure he was heartbroken, both literally and figuratively.  He evacuated successfully before the
hurricane hit, but I’m sure it weighed heavily on his soul.”
Brown’s musical career started in the 1940s, when he was a drummer in swing bands at first, and acquired the
nickname, “Gatemouth,” because of his deep singing voice.  But his career really took off in 1947, when he filled
in for an ailing T-Bone Walker, the pioneer electric blues guitarist, when Walker had to leave the stage at the
Bronze Peacock nightclub in Houston.  Brown wowed the audience when he picked up T-Bone’s guitar and
rocked with “Gatemouth Boogie,” a song Brown claimed he made up on the spot.  Club owner and head of
contemporary blues pioneer record labels Peacock and Duke, Don Robey, signed up Brown immediately.
Brown’s early hits, such as Okie Dokie Stomp,” “Boogie Rambler,” and “Dirty Work at the Crossroads,” were
based on the blues, and were records the New York Times referred to in its obituary of Gatemouth Brown as “a
hair’s breadth away from rock ‘n’ roll.”  But Brown felt limited by the blues format, and developed his own form of
eclectic music he called “American music, Texas-style,” which featured big-band horn sections and partook not
only of blues, but also jazz, country, zydeco, and Cajun music.  In 2001, Brown said of his music, “I’m so
unorthodox, people can’t handle it.”
Ironically, Brown’s musical style, consisting of driving horn sections riffing  behind his overlay of fiery guitar solos,
became a musical trademark of the modern Texas blues, the form that Brown disdained and left because he
found it cramping.  But Colin Walters, who is working on Brown’s biography, says of him, “He never wanted to be
called a bluesman, but I used to tell him that though he may not like the blues, he does the blues better than
anyone.  He inherited the legacy of great bluesmen like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, but he took what
they did and made it better.”
Colin Walters says of Brown’s musical ability overall, “He is one of the most underrated guitarists, musicians and
arrangers I’ve ever met, an absolute prodigy.”  Brown was noted as well for his fiddle playing, and also
incorporated mandolin and harmonica into his shows, where he performed wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat,
and Western-style shirts.  He also headed the house band on an R&B TV show broadcast from Nashville,
Tennessee in the 1960s, appeared on the country TV show, “Hee Haw,” in the 1970s, and recorded an album of
country and jazz in 1979, Makin’ Music, with country banjo master Roy Clark.  He recorded over 30 albums
during his career, and won a Grammy in 1982 for Alright Again!
Although Brown recorded with contemporary musical notables Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt and Frank
Zappa, he was dismissive of most musicians, and most especially, of most blues guitarists.  The only musicians
he ever professed admiration for were his railroad worker father, who played fiddle in a Cajun Band, and the
guitarist considered the founder of modern Texas blues, T-Bone Walker.  Of his father’s playing, Brown once
said, “If I can make my guitar sound like his fiddle, then I’ve got it right.”