Clarence Gatemouth Brown
Brown, Clarence Gatemouth
Clarence Gatemouth Brown
Clarence Gatemouth Brown bucked musical traditions and stereotypes for nearly 60 years. Playing guitar, fiddle, drums, harmonica, viola, and mandolin, and accompanied by everything from small ensembles to large multi-piece bands, Brown recorded 30 albums that defied neat genre labels. He blended rhythm and blues, big band swing, Cajun, jazz, rock 'n' roll, and country, among other styles into what he called his music. As Brown often put it: "My music is American music—Texas style."
"I'm so unorthodox, a lot of people can't handle it," Brown said in a 2001 interview according to an Associated Press story published on CBS News. Despite the variety in his music, Brown was often slotted into categories by reviewers, much to his frustration. Blues became the dominant label. Brown conceded that his early music did lean heavily on the blues. "I had to sound like that because I was just starting out," he explained in an interview with Guitar Player magazine that was quoted in the New York Times. "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." To create his original sound Brown once said: "I start with the harmonies of people crying together, and I put happiness in it," according to the Beaumont Enterprise. Musical critics had a hard time knowing how to categorize such unique music and many continued to label him a bluesman. Brown figured that "Folks call me a bluesman because I'm black and because I play guitar," according to Houston Chronicle reporter Andrew Dansby. Brown wasn't just labeled a bluesman; he was honored as one. He won the first Grammy awarded for traditional blues, was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, won the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, and collected numerous W.C. Handy Awards, which honor blues musicians. Although he was also labeled as a big band and a country musician, among other things, the blues label especially vexed Brown because he disliked the negativity in blues music. When reviewers did try to describe the breadth in Brown's music, however, they offered sweeping praise. For example, Rockzillaworld magazine reviewer Danté Dominick wrote "if we needed one person who lives and breathes all things American music and can present it in all its varied glory, Clarence Gatemouth Brown is that person."
Grew Up Listening to Good Musicians
Clarence Brown was born on April 18, 1924, in Vinton, Louisiana, and was raised in Orange, Texas. The Brown family had at least three sons, but few documents include much detail about Brown's early life. His father worked on the railroad, and on the weekends he played fiddle and banjo, and sang in Cajun bands at house parties. Brown felt inspired by his father's talent and would later count his father as the person who most influenced his music. By the time he was five, Brown had begun strumming along on a guitar with his father's band. "If I can make my guitar sound like his fiddle, then I know I've got it right," the Associated Press noted Brown remembering. As he taught himself to play instruments, Brown also sang. He had a distinctive voice: in high school he earned the nickname "Gatemouth" because his deep baritone voice sounded like a gate to one high school instructor. As youths Brown and two of his brothers, Bobby and James, played street concerts using their dad's advice: "Tune your instrument, don't overplay and play some of everything so you don't get stuck in one bag," as the Washington Post quoted Brown explaining. That advice would serve Brown his entire career.
At age 16, Brown began his musical journey, leaving home to play the Chitlin' Circuit of black music venues concentrated in the southern and eastern United States. Brown spent 1945 in the U.S. Army, during which time he played the drums in various bands. After an honorable discharge, Brown moved to Houston, Texas, and began searching for ways to make money playing music. He was a drummer in such bands as Howard Spencer and his Gay Swingers and W.M. Benbo and his Brown Skin Models.
Stood in for T. Bone Walker to Start Career
His big break came in 1947 at the Bronze Peacock in Houston. When an upset stomach forced T. Bone Walker to leave the stage during a session, Brown stepped to center stage and slung Walker's guitar over his shoulder. Then, as he described it to Neal Spitzer of National Public Radio, he "invented a tune." "Words were coming out of nowhere" as he improvised what came to be known as the "Gatemouth Boogie." Legend has it that Brown made $600 in tips during those fifteen minutes on stage. Club owner Don Robey was so impressed that he immediately offered to manage Brown's career. Brown accepted and Robey created the Peacock label to promote and record his newly signed artist.
Brown toured with a 23-piece big band in clubs throughout the Gulf Coast for the next decade and recorded on the Peacock label. This early music, while grounded in the blues, was described by the New York Times as "a hair's breadth away from rock 'n' roll." Brown's guitar playing distinguished his music most. He played with an unusual finger-picking style by dragging his fingers over the strings, creating intricate riffs over driving percussive beats and horn accompaniments. John Nova Lomax wrote in the Houston Press that "Gate's hornlike guitar solos were raising the game for everybody. And then there was his funky fiddle ramble 'Just Before Dawn'—one of the happiest little instrumentals you'll ever hear." His inventiveness became the backbone for the developing Texas blues sound after World War II, influencing the likes of later guitar playing greats Albert Collins and Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Brown's guitar solos during this decade would mark a turning point in blues music. His "Okie Dokie Stomp," recorded in 1954 for Peacock, became "a benchmark for Mr. Brown, and for Texas blues," according to the New York Times. But Brown's influence was among musicians more than listeners; of his dozens of recordings during the late 1940s and 1950s, only his double-sided 1949 "Mary Is Fine"/"My Time Is Expensive" record reached into the R&B Top Ten.
At a Glance …
Born on April 18, 1924, in Vinton, LA; died on September 10, 2005, in Orange, TX; married Geraldine Paris Brown (divorced); married Mary Durbin Brown (divorced); married Yvonne Ramsey Brown (divorced); children: DeWayne; Ursula; Celeste; Renee. Military service: Army, 1945.
Career: Musician, 1940s–2005; Howard Spencer and his Gay Swingers and W.M. Benbo and his Brown Skin Models, drummer, 1940s; Peacock label recording artist, 1949–1960s; The!!!!Beat television show, house band, 1969; U.S. State Department, American music ambassador, 1970s; Gate's Express, band founder, 1971–2005.
Selected awards: Grammy Award, 1982, for Best Traditional Blues Album; Rhythm & Blues Foundation, Pioneer Award, 1997; Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, inductee, 1999; Blues Foundation, W.C. Handy Award, eight-time winner.
Brown left the Peacock label by the early 1960s. He moved briefly in Nashville. Despite enjoying a country hit in 1965 with "May The Bird of Paradise Flew Up Your Nose" and leading the house band in 1966 for the Bill "Hoss" Allen hosted syndicated R&B television program, The!!!!Beat, Brown had a hard time finding his niche in the music industry during this time. He did find his style though: cowboy boots and hat, and embroidered Western shirts made up his unique look. In addition Brown had an ever-present small pipe, either clenched in his teeth or tucked into a special on-stage holder when he sang. Brown knew his look surprised people, and doing so amused him. "What's the matter? Ain't you never seen a cowboy before?" Brown proclaimed, according to the Washington Post.
After finding odd jobs in Colorado and New Mexico, including serving briefly as a sheriff's deputy—his badge and holstered pistol would later add to the aura of his cowboy costume—Brown found more success with his music. In the 1970s, Brown toured Europe, where he landed a recording deal and developed a strong fan base. Brown composed a song called "Gate's Express," and he liked the name so well that he assembled a band under the same name in 1971. Brown became an ambassador of American music for the U.S. State Department and toured Europe, East Africa, and the Soviet Union with Gate's Express during the 1970s. His return to popularity in the U.S. music market was helped by guest appearances on the popular television shows Hee Haw and Austin City Limits, as well as a collaboration with country star Roy Clark on a 1979 country-and-blues album entitled Makin' Music, including tunes they co-wrote as well as covers of such songs as Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train" and Fleecie Moore's "Caldonia."
Popular as well as critical acclaim soon followed. Brown's 1982 album Alright Again! won the first Grammy Award to honor a "traditional blues album." Alright Again! included a big band sound reminiscent of his earliest recordings. Brown bridled at being labeled a bluesman again, but did not confine himself because of it, pumping out new music that fused different styles. The music industry took notice. Brown earned Grammy nominations in 1983, 1986, 1990, 1993, 1995, and 1996, for albums ranging from One More Mile, a blend of Cajun, country, western, swing, and jazz; to The Man, featuring an eight-piece horn section; to Long Way Home, a blues-heavy album with guest musicians Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Amos Garrett, Sonny Landreth, John D. Loudermilk, Maria Muldaur, and Leon Russell. By 1999 Brown created American Music—Texas Style, as a compilation of "his" music. The career encompassing sounds on American Music—Texas Style did not signal Brown's desire to sum up his career and retire however.
Though at an age well past when most people retire, and suffering from a heart condition and emphysema, Brown kept a steady schedule of concerts, booking between 100 and 300 each year. He also kept smoking, calling his pipe his "security blanket," to Spitzer. When diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004, Brown still refused to give up smoking or his music. Foregoing medical treatment, he decided to rely on his music, his optimism, and the support of his fans to sustain him. His 2004 High Tone album, Timeless, would be his last; called "an album of a lifetime" by Rolling Stone and a "timeless mix" by National Public Radio, it didn't sound like the work of a musician with much still to offer. In the Washington Post Brown commented about his plans to feature more of his fiddle playing on his next album, and he continued to tour, toting his oxygen with him on stage but singing as if he didn't need it. Brown's last appearance in front of a big crowd came on April 28, 2005, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He hadn't planned it as a farewell, however. He had continued to play at numerous smaller venues before Hurricane Katrina forced him to evacuate his home on the bayou in Slidell, Louisiana, in August 2005.
Brown left his home on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, on August 28, 2005, the weekend Hurricane Katrina washed over his home, destroying it and his beloved instruments and memorabilia from his career. News of his ruined home devastated Brown, who had taken refuge at his brother's house in Orange, Texas. Less than two weeks later, he had to be hospitalized in Port Arthur, Texas. Though advised to remain in the hospital after undergoing an angioplasty, Brown insisted on returning to Orange, where he died on September 10, 2005. To the end he remained true to his firmly held belief that, as quoted by the Washington Post, "Music is the best medicine in the world, man." What Brown knew was that "I could create something beautiful that would build love within the people who came out to hear it." He surely did.
Makin' Music, One Way Records, 1979.
Alright Again!, Rounder, 1981.
One More Mile, Rounder, 1982.
Pressure Cooker, Alligator, 1985.
Standing My Ground, Alligator, 1989.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: The Original Peacock Recordings, Rounder, 1992.
No Looking Back, Alligator, 1992.
The Man, Verve, 1994.
Long Way Home, Verve, 1995.
Gate Swings, Verve, 1997.
Okie Dokie Stomp, Rounder, 1999.
American Music—Texas Style, Blue Thumb, 1999.
Back to Bogalusa, Blue Thumb, 2001.
Timeless, HighTone, 2004.
Beaumont Enterprise (TX), September 18, 2005, p. A1.
Downbeat, October 1, 1984, p. 57.
Guitar Player, June 1997, p. 139.
Houston Chronicle, September 13, 2005, p. 1; September 18, 2005, p. 2.
Houston Press, September 29, 2005.
New York Times, September 12, 2005, p. 19.
Rolling Stone, October 6, 2005, p. 34.
USA Today, November 29, 2004.
Washington Post, November 19, 2004, p. T6; September 12, 2005, p. B5.
"Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown," Rockzillaworld Magazine, www.rockzilla.net/rockzilla/dante11.html (September 19, 2006).
"'Gatemouth' Brown Dead at 81," CBS News, www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/09/11/entertainment/main833988.shtml (September 19, 2006).
"'Gatemouth' Brown's Blues Voice Goes Quiet," All Things Considered, National Public Radio, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4843179 (September 19, 2006).
"'Gatemouth' Brown Plays Through Cancer, Years," interview by Nick Spitzer, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, June 22, 2005, available online at www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4714586 (September 19, 2006).
"Brown, Clarence Gatemouth." Contemporary Black Biography. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2694400017.html
"Brown, Clarence Gatemouth." Contemporary Black Biography. 2007. Retrieved May 26, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2694400017.html
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown is unquestionably a master of the blues, yet he objects strenuously to being called a bluesman. “I’m a musician ” he insisted to Guitar Player interviewer Jas Obrecht, “not some dirty low-down bluesman. I play American and world music, Texas-style. I play a part of the past with the present and just a taste of the future.” His refusal to limit himself may be the key to Brown’s ability to produce fresh sounds even after more than a half century of touring and recording. In addition to traditional blues, his music encompasses zydeco, country and Texas blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, bluegrass, and swing; and it has been named a major influence on musicians as diverse as Albert Collins, Roy Buchanan, Guitar Slim, and Frank Zappa.
Growing up in east Texas, Brown’s first and most important influence was his father, a Cajun singer who accompanied himself on accordion, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. By the age of five, “Gatemouth”—so nicknamed because of his big voice—had learned to play guitar, and within a few more years he had mastered the fiddle, piano, harmonica, and drums as well. He loved his father’s lively music, along with that of swing bandleader and pianist Count Basie and proto-rhythm and bluesman Louis Jordan, but, he told Obrecht, “When I was a kid, I listened to very little blues because it made me feel sick inside. It just made me feel physically sick.... I wouldn’t listen to that stuff. I didn’t like it. It made me see disastrous things facing me.”
By the time he was in his late teens, however, Brown had become attracted to the sophisticated electric blues of T-Bone Walker. He had been working as the “Singing Drummer” for a group called the Brown Skin Models, but he soon adopted the guitar as his primary instrument in imitation of his idol, Walker. Brown’s big break came when he was 23 years old. Don Robey, owner of the most prestigious black nightclub in Texas, invited him to Houston. T-Bone Walker was playing Robey’s club, the Bronze Peacock, but a serious ulcer forced him off the stage one night in the middle of a performance. Brown stepped in and “started playing every hot blues and boogie riff he knew,” reported Geoffrey Himes in Down Beat. “By the end of the night, the whooping audience was stuffing money into his shirt and pants.”
Robey negotiated a recording contract for Brown with Aladdin Records, a Los Angeles-based company, but before long he decided to form his own label, Peacock Records, with Gatemouth as his foundation artist. He signed the young musician to a 20-year contract. Their long association was beneficial to both Robey and Brown, but it also had its negative aspects. Between 1947 and 1960, Brown recorded more than 50 sides for
Born April 18, 1924, in Vinton, LA; raised in Orange, TX; son of Clarence Brown (a railroad worker and musician) and Virginia Frank; wives included Geraldine Paris, Mary Durbin, and Yvonne Ramsey; two children.
Learned to play guitar, 1929, violin, 1934; worked on father’s ranch, Orange, TX, 1930s; drummer for Brown Skin Models, early 1940s; recorded for Aladdin Records, late 1940s, Peacock Records, 1947-1964; recorded for Cue, Cinderella, Pam, Chess, and Heritage labels, mid-late 1960s, for French labels Black and Blue, Barclay, and Blue Star, 1970s, for Rounder Records, early 1980s, and for Alligator Records, 1990s; appeared at Montreux Jazz Festival, 1973, Newport Jazz Festival, 1973, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 1974, 1976-77, and Monterey Jazz Festival; toured for U.S. Department of State in Africa, 1976. Worked as deputy sheriff, Farmington (San Juan County), New Mexico, mid-1970s. Military service: Served with Army Corps of Engineers, 1946.
Awards: Several Handy Blues awards; Grammy Award, 1982, for Alright Again.
Addresses: Record company/management —Alligator Records & Artist Management, Inc., Box 60234, Chicago, IL 60660.
Peacock; some, including “Dirty Work at the Crossroads,” “Okie Dokie Stomp,” and “Ain’t That Dandy,” became national hits and remain in the musician’s repertoire today. Brown appreciated the exposure Robey won for him but chafed at his employer’s lack of vision. Instead of letting his star play the jazz, country, and Cajun music he loved, Robey insisted that Brown record nothing but blues. Furthermore, Robey took credit for many of Brown’s compositions, listing them under his own name or the pseudonym “D. Malone.”
In 1964, Brown broke his ties with Robey and went to Europe, where he recorded for several French labels and performed at many prestigious music festivals and clubs. Returning to the United States, he was finally able to secure arrangements that would allow him to define his own music. While he has remained largely unknown to mainstream America, he commands the respect of the music world, which has honored him with several Handy Blues awards and a Grammy.
Though many young players look to him for inspiration, Brown carefully guards the secrets of his technique. He told Guitar Player’s Obrecht: “People ask, ‘How do you do that?’ I say, ‘Magic.’ When they say, ‘Show me how to do that,’ I say, ‘I show no one nothing.’ Years ago when I was playing along with my father, I said, ‘Dad, how you do this?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to show you anything.’ I said, ‘How shall I learn?’ He said, ‘Pay attention.’ It’s as simple as that.” He is more forthcoming, however, in urging musicians to rediscover dynamics. “Everything is so high volume,” he complained to Obrecht. “Why play something so loud where it’s going to tear you up inside? I’ve seen guys that was so loud, my stomach was hurting!”
Brown is unabashed in dispensing general advice to young musicians, counseling them to live a humble, clean, and affirmative life. He speaks out strongly against all drugs except marijuana, which, he told Obrecht, “don’t really harm no one. Manmade chemicals—that’s what’s killing them. Alcohol is killing us. Whiskey is the most deadly drug on earth; it killed my third brother [James“Widemouth” Brown, who died in 1971].... Alcohol is one of the most devastating drugs there is. You get too many drinks and run out there and kill everybody, including yourself.”
To Down Beat’s Himes, Brown lamented the ignorance of aspiring blues players who “go off stage and read about blues people who died of drugs and alcohol, so they figure they have to live that same kind of life. The blues should be a healing music. That’s why people don’t get into my band unless they’re willing to play positive music. That means being disciplined, free of alcohol and drugs, and not too much womanizing. When you’re on the bandstand working, that’s all you’re doing. You don’t come into my band expecting to be a star. You learn to back off and give everybody a chance.”
Asked by Himes about the secret to his longevity and creativity, Brown replied, “It’s a big world, and I try to look at all kinds of music; I even try to look at a lot of things beyond music—at kids, millionaires, the frustrations of the world. People ask me what I did to survive so long, and I say, ‘I grew like a child.’ I refused to do the same thing and kept growing and changing.”
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown Sings Louis Jordan, Black and Blue, 1974.
Gate’s on the Heat, Barclay, 1975.
Down South in Bayou Country, Barclay, 1975.
Bogalusa Boogie Man, Barclay, 1976.
(With Roy Clark) Makin’ Music, MCA, 1979.
San Antonio Ballbuster, Charly, 1979.
Alright Again, Rounder, 1982.
No Looking Back, Alligator, 1992.
Also recorded The Nashville Session, 1965, Chess; Blackjack, Music Is Medicine; One More Mile, Rounder; The Original Peacock Recordings, Rounder; Texas Swing, Rounder; Real Life, Rounder; Pressure Cooker, Alligator; and Standing My Ground, Alligator.
Blues Unlimited (U.K.), June 1972.
Down Beat, May 1990; April 1992.
Guitar Player, March 1993.
High Fidelity, May 1988.
Journal of American Folklore, July/September 1989.
Living Blues, Summer 1972.
Pulse!, June 1992.
Spin, August 1992.
Goldsworthy, Joan. "Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown." Contemporary Musicians. 1994. Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492900015.html
Goldsworthy, Joan. "Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown." Contemporary Musicians. 1994. Retrieved May 26, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492900015.html
Brown, Clarence "Gatemouth"
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
For more than 50 years, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was an icon on the Texas music scene. His first recordings for Alladin in the late 1940s were pressed on 78 rpm records; his last recording for High-Tone in 2004 was pressed on CDs. Brown recorded frequently, documenting most periods of his career, and toured incessantly, playing as many as 300 dates per year in the United States and abroad. Referred to as "the Count Basie of the blues," his expansive repertoire embraced bluegrass, zydeco, Cajun, and jazz, as well as the blues. "I don't want people to call me no blues player," Brown told Chris Morris in Billboard. "I'man American musician."
Brown also gained a reputation for presenting a high-energy stage show, and for his combative personality that boasted of his own prowess as a musician. This same scrappy quality, however, gave his music the deep integrity of an artist who accepted no compromises. "A lot of people play music for the wrong reasons," Brown told Michael Corcoran in the Austin American-Statesman. "I never played to get women, though I had my share. I didn't do it for the money, though it pays the bills. I realized early on that I could create something beautiful that would build love within the people who came out to hear it."
Brown embarked on his lifelong calling in 1947. He was born on April 18, 1924, in Vinton, Louisiana, and grew up in Orange, Texas. His father, a railroad engineer, taught him to play fiddle, while his brothers taught him drums and guitar. Brown received his nickname from a music teacher who reportedly said that he had a "voice like a gate" (his brother, also a musician, would receive the nickname "wide mouth"). He cut his teeth in the music business as a drummer for both the Gay Swingsters and William Benbow's Brownskin Models. By 1947, however, Brown had hitchhiked to Houston to make his mark.
In Houston, Brown met entrepreneur Don Robey, the owner of a swanky local club called the Bronz Peacock. Brown won Robey's esteem when he filled in for an ailing T-Bone Walker one evening, a show that included an impromptu performance of "Gatemouth Boogie" (Brown later claimed that the newly penned song had earned him $600 in tips in 15 minutes). After cutting his first two 78s for the Alladin label, Brown began recording for Robey's Peacock label. Throughout the 1950s he recorded a number of classic sides for Peacock, including "Depression Blues," "Hurry Back Good News," and his signature piece, "Okie Dokie Stomp." While Robey concentrated on capturing Brown's guitar work in the beginning, he also recorded his fiddle work on "Just Before Dawn" in 1959.
Despite the artistic success of these recordings, and despite the influence Brown's work had on other guitarists, by the late 1950s he and Robey had severed relations. In Brown's version of the story, Robey answered his request for a royalty statement by pulling out a gun. London Guardian writer Tony Russell, however, suggested a less extreme scenario: "Brown did not have the drawing power of two of Robey's other acts, Junior Parker and Bobby 'Blue' Bland."
Brown believed that he had been blacklisted following his fallout with Robey, and subsequently worked and recorded infrequently during the 1960s. For part of the decade he worked as a deputy sheriff in San Juan County, New Mexico. Musically, Brown recorded a cover of "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" for Hermitage Records in 1965; in 1966 he served as the house bandleader on the innovative Dallas-based television series The!!!Beat.
During the early and mid-1970s, Brown re-ignited his career with a series of new recordings in both Europe and the United States. First he appeared at festivals and recorded in France. He returned to good critical graces with the release of Blackjack in 1976 and Makin' Music with Hee Haw alumni Roy Clark in 1979. "When Gate began to rebuild his career in the '70s, he was determined to do things his way," wrote Bill Dahl in All Music Guide. "Country, jazz, even calypso now played a prominent role in his concerts; he became as likely to launch into an old-time fiddle hoedown as a swinging guitar blues." By the early 1980s Brown had once again hit his stride, receiving a Grammy Award for Alright Again! in 1982.
While he was deeply loved by fans and bandmates, Brown's tenacious personality and tendency to brag occasionally offended others. When comparing himself to fellow blues-jazz guitarist T-Bone Walker, he noted that he was the more talented of the two. He also proudly noted his accomplishments to journalists. "I'm the one who did the big-band thing to start with, and a lot of people followed my trend," Brown told Morris. "Bob Wills, all them people, they come up with Texas swing, but it wasn't nothin' like what I was playin'."
In the 1990s, as in the early 1970s, Brown revitalized his career once again with new recordings and frequent tours. Between 1992 and 2003, Brown and his band played nearly 200 dates worldwide, and during that time he shared the stage with Carlos Santana, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and Nile Rodgers. In 1995 Brown opened 62 shows for Eric Clapton. In 1997 Verve Records promoted Gate Swings, an album the company marketed to younger audiences currently entranced by the Squirrel Nut Zippers and other retro-swing bands. Brown continued to record into the new millennium, releasing Back to Bogalusa in 2001 and Timeless in 2004.
In the summer of 2004 Brown was diagnosed with cancer. When the doctors gave him a 15 percent chance of survival with chemotherapy, he chose to forego treatment. Despite being given only six months to live, Brown continued to maintain his performing schedule until February of 2005, a schedule that included an appearance at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland at the beginning of the year. Even following his official retirement, however, he continued to make occasional appearances, including a memorable date at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 28, 2005. "He was a little slower getting out there," bandmate Joe Krown remembered in Sing Out!, "but he rose to the occasion and performed an emotionally charged, high energy set." Brown was forced to leave his home in Slidell, Louisiana, in August of 2005 after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and all of his belongings. He suffered a major heart attack on September 4, and died at his brother's house in Orange, Texas, on September 10.
For the Record …
Born on April 18, 1924, in Vinton, LA; died on September 10, 2005, in Orange, TX; married Geraldine Paris; married Mary Durbin; married Yvonne Ramsey; two children.
Worked with the Gay Swingsters and William Benbow's Brownskin Models, mid-1940s; recorded for Alladin, mid-to-late 1940s; recorded for Peacock, late 1940s-late 1950s; recorded "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" for Hermitage Records, 1965; served as band leader for The!!!Beat, 1966; released Blackjack, 1976, and Makin' Music with Hee Haw's Roy Clark, 1979; released Gate Swings, 1997, Back to Bogalusa, 2001, and Timeless, 2004.
Awards: National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Grammy Award, Best Traditional Blues Recording, for Alright Again!, 1982; eight-time recipient of W.C. Handy Blues Award; Rhythm & Blues Foundation, Pioneer Award, 1997; Inducted to Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, 1999.
Addresses: Record company—HighTone Records, 220 4th St., Ste. 101, Oakland, CA 94607, website: http://www.hightone.com, phone: (510) 763-8500, fax: (510) 763-8558.
On August 21, some three weeks before his death, Brown visited a club called the Maple Leaf to see an old bandmate perform. "He insisted that his caretaker bring him out to hear us play one more time," Krown recalled. "Music was everything to Gate and he refused to let go of it to the very end."
Blackjack, Medicine Is Medicine, 1975; Sugar Hill, 1997.
(With Roy Clark) Makin' Music, MCA, 1979; One Way, 1994.
Alright Again!, Rounder, 1982.
Standing My Ground, Alligator, 1989.
The Original Peacock Recordings, Rounder, 1990.
Gate Swings, Verve, 1997.
Back to Bogalusa, Blue Thumb, 2001.
Timeless, HighTone, 2004.
Waters, Neil, editor, Music Hound Folk, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Austin American-Statesman, September 13, 2005, p. A1.
Billboard, June 14, 1997, p. 11.
Guardian (London, England), September 20, 2005, p. 32.
Sing Out!, Winter 2006, p. 206.
"Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (January 10, 2006).
"Brown, Clarence "Gatemouth"." Contemporary Musicians. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (May 26, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3443900015.html
"Brown, Clarence "Gatemouth"." Contemporary Musicians. 2007. Retrieved May 26, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3443900015.html