He was one of my all-time faves, and was very sorry to read
of this over the weekend. I had the pleasure of meeting him in
1996. I'm posting his NY Times obit.
Rest in peace, 'Gate. -Greg
September 12, 2005
Guitarist Clarence Gatemouth Brown Dies at 81
By BEN RATLIFF
Clarence Gatemouth Brown, an eminent guitarist and singer who spent his career fighting purism by synthesizing old blues, country, jazz, Cajun and R & B styles, died on Saturday. He was 81.
His death was confirmed by Rick Cady, his booking agent, who said Mr. Brown had suffered from lung cancer and heart disease.
Mr. Brown died at his grand-niece's apartment in Orange, Tex., his hometown. He had left his own home in Slidell, La., on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, to escape Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Cady said that his house was destroyed by the storm, and Colin Walters, his biographer, said there had been a plan to resettle him in Austin, Tex.
"American music, Texas-style" was how Mr. Brown characterized his music, even making that phrase the name of one of his albums; he refused to call it blues and was scornful of musicians who let themselves be too easily understood by settling into a single sound. He disdained deep delta blues, calling it "negative." He wore a western shirt and a cowboy hat onstage, covered jazz numbers like Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" and Lou Donaldson's "Alligator Boogaloo," and sometimes played the fiddle, mandolin and harmonica in performance as well as the guitar.
Born in Vinton, La., Mr. Brown moved with his family to Orange when he was just a few weeks old. His father, a railroad worker, played fiddle; the first music he learned, he said, was Cajun and bluegrass. He started performing as a drummer during a year of Army service, then began taking his guitar playing more seriously after filling in one night for T-Bone Walker in 1947. Walker, one of the few guitarists he admitted liking, was ill with an ulcer and left the stage in mid set at the Bronze Peacock club in Houston. Mr. Brown walked onstage, picked up Walker's guitar and made up a song on the spot he called "Gatemouth Boogie." He earned $600 in tips in 15 minutes, he claimed.
The performance was witnessed by Don Robey, the club's owner, who offered to sign Mr. Brown as the first artists for his Peacock record label; the next day, Robey ordered a dozen tailor-made suits for him. Mr. Brown quickly put a big band together.
His early records were a hair's breadth away from rock 'n' roll. "Okie Dokie Stomp," a hit instrumental he recorded in 1954 for Peacock with an orchestra led by the trombonist Pluma Davis, was a benchmark for Mr. Brown, and for Texas blues: it had big bruising horn arrangements, with Mr. Brown soloing continuously on top.
During the 1960's, he spent stretches playing in Colorado and New Mexico; in 1966, he led the house band on "The !!!! Beat," a black-music variety television show for teenagers that broadcast from Nashville. In the 1970's his recording career began to revive. After making a number of appearances on "Hee Haw," he recorded an album in 1979 with the country guitarist Roy Clark, "Makin' Music"; in 1982 he won a Grammy with "Alright Again!," a big-band record modeled after the sound of his old records. His final album, "Timeless," was released by the Hightone label last fall.
Interviewed in a recent issue of Guitar Player magazine about his early blues-based records, Mr. Brown gave a practical answer. "I had to sound like that because I was just starting out," he explained. "Seeing as how I was a newcomer, I obliged. But after a while, I thought, 'Why do I have to be one of these old cryin' and moanin' guitar players always talking bad about women?' So I just stopped. That's when I started having horns and piano in my band, and started playing arrangements more like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, rather than some old hardcore Mississippi Delta stuff."
Mr. Brown was married and divorced three times. His survivors include three daughters, Ursula Brown of Houston, Celeste Biles of Vista, Calif., and Renée Brown of New Orleans; a son, Dwayne Brown, of Oklahoma City; a brother, Bobby Brown of Orange; and six grandchildren. Forgoing treatment for lung cancer, diagnosed last fall, Mr. Brown seemed unlikely to make good on his booking at this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 28. But he played the show and made a few more small appearances in the following months as well.
Mr. Brown evacuated his home on Aug. 28, the Sunday before the hurricane hit, and a week and a half later he had an angioplasty at a hospital in Port Arthur, Tex., Mr. Walters said. He was advised to remain in the hospital, but insisted on returning to Orange.
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Mon Sep 12, 2005 7:11 pm, edited 3 times in total.