Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown Biography

18 April 1924, Vinton, Louisiana, USA, some sources give Orange, Texas, where he was raised from the age of three weeks, d. 10 September 2005, Orange, Texas, USA. Brown’s father was a musician who taught him to play guitar and fiddle, and during his youth he heard the music of Tampa Red, Bob Wills, Count Basie, and others. He toured the south as a drummer with a travelling show before being drafted into the army. On his discharge he worked as a musician in San Antonio, Texas, where he honed his guitar skills sufficiently to impress Don Robey, who offered him a spot at his club in Houston. It was here that Brown’s big break came, when he took over a show from T-Bone Walker, after Walker was taken ill. He was so well received that Robey took him to Los Angeles to record for the Aladdin Records label on 21 August 1947. In 1948 Robey set up his own Peacock label, for which Brown recorded until 1961. Many of these records are classics of Texas guitar blues, and were enormously influential, although Brown only charted once, in 1949, with the R&B Top 10 hit ‘Mary Is Fine’/‘My Time Is Expensive’. Other notable sides released during this period included ‘Okie Dokie Stomp’, ‘Rock My Blues Away’, and ‘Dirty Work At The Crossroads’.

During the 60s Brown broadened his stylistic base to include jazz and country, best exemplified by his 1965 Chess Records recordings made in Nashville. These were pointers to the direction in which Brown’s music was later to develop. In the 70s he recorded a mixed bag of albums for the French Black & Blue label (including a Louis Jordan tribute set), a couple of Cajun/country/rock hybrids, and a good blues album for Barclay Records. In the 80s, Rounder Records successfully showcased Brown’s versatile approach by matching him with a big, brassy band. He also recorded for Alligator Records, Verve Records, Blue Thumb Records and HighTone Records in later years. Brown sometimes showcased his fiddle-playing to the detriment of his still excellent blues guitar picking, but he remained a fine singer and an extremely talented instrumentalist, whatever genre of music he turned his attention to.

Brown was evacuated from his riverside home in Slidell, Louisiana, shortly before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city in August 2005. He was in poor health and suffering from lung cancer. It was alleged that the devastation of his home and city was the catalyst that aided his swift decline.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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