Het is vandaag al vijftien jaar geleden dat de Texaans-Louisiaanse blueszanger en multi-instrumentalist Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown is gestorven.
He was an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, who played an array of musical instruments such as guitar, fiddle, mandolin, viola as well as harmonica and drums. He is regarded as one of the most influential exponents of blues fiddle and has had enormous influence in American fiddle circles.
Rock composer, Frank Zappa credits Gatemouth, as an important influence on his guitar playing (cfr. his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1989). Brown’s own two biggest musical influences on the other hand were Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker.
Born in Vinton, Louisiana, Brown was raised in Orange, Texas. His professional music career began in 1945, playing drums in San Antonio, Texas. He was given the nickname “Gatemouth” by a high school teacher who said he had “voice like a gate”, which is maybe not nicely put but still it’s better than “a voice like a tuba”…
His career was boosted while attending a 1947 concert by T-Bone Walker in Don Robey’s Bronze Peacock Houston nightclub. I have a CD of a concert dating back to that period, but I’m not sure if it’s actually this concert…
Brown appeared at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival, where he jammed with American blues rock band Canned Heat (that’s how I came to know him). In 1974, he recorded as a sideman with the New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair on his album, Rock’n’Roll Gumbo.
In 1979, through his manager at the time, Jim Halsey, Brown embarked on a 6-week, 44 concert tour of the Soviet Union. This was an historic event as it marked the first time the Soviet Union made a contract with a U.S. private citizen (Jim Halsey) as regards a musical tour. All previous tours were under the auspices of the U.S. State Department.
In September 2004, Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. Later his home in Slidell, Louisiana was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and he was evacuated to his childhood home town of Orange, Texas, where he died on September 10, 2005 at the apartment of a niece, at the age of 81.
Brown is buried in the Hollywood Cemetery in Orange, Texas. However, flooding caused by Hurricane Ike in September 2008 damaged his grave. His casket was one of dozens that floated out of their burial sites. His grave has since been refurbished and through the estate funds, a very impressive headstone has been erected in his honor.