Clarence Gatemouth Brown
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown didn’t like being called a “bluesman,” instead preferring to be considered a “guitar slinger.” His music certainly reflected his unique vision, mixing electric blues with swing jazz and country twang, with a little Cajun flavor mixed in to spice things up.
Fellow Texas blues guitarist T-Bone Walker was a big influence on Brown, but the younger blues musician also drew inspiration from the big bands of Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton that he saw perform during the 1930s and ’40s. Brown’s multi-purpose guitar style would subsequently influence a generation of Texas bluesmen, talents like Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson.
During the 1960s, Brown jumped from label to label, none capable of capturing the guitarist’s electrifying live performances on a 7″ slice of vinyl. During the mid-60s, Brown moved to Nashville, recording country music songs and leading the house band for the syndicated R&B television program The!!!!Beat. While in the Music City, Brown struck up a friendship with country guitarist Roy Clark, which led to several appearances on the TV program Hee Haw. Near the end of the decade, however, Brown had grown tired of the music business, and he moved to New Mexico and became a deputy sheriff.
With the dawn of the 1970s, however, the tastes of European audiences had turned towards roots music, and Brown found a growing following there for his blend of authentic blues, country, swing jazz, and Cajun sounds. The guitarist first toured the continent in 1971, and would tour Europe a dozen times during his career. Brown also toured the Soviet Union and Africa, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Brown recorded for several European record labels throughout the ’70s, including an album with the great New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair.
The origins of Brown’s “Gatemouth” nickname are veiled in mystery…Brown often said that he earned the name from a high school teacher who said that his voice sounded “like a gate opening.” His brother Bobby, in an interview with the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper, said that he took on the stage name when he began performing in Houston during the late-1940s. Brown always said that the true story would come out in his biography, which has yet to be published.
Tragically, Brown’s Slidell, Louisiana home, on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, the guitarist losing everything, including his beloved 1977 Cadillac. Brown was evacuated to his childhood home in Orange, where he succumbed to cancer in September 2005. Sadly, two weeks after his funeral, the temporary marker on Brown’s grave was blown away by Hurricane Rita.