Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown
(April 18, 1924 — September 10, 2005)
An acclaimed multi-instrumentalist who played an array of musical instruments such as guitar, fiddle, mandolin, viola as well as harmonica and drums, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1982 for his album, Alright Again! He is regarded as one of the most influential exponents of blues fiddle and has had enormous influence in American fiddle circles. Born in Vinton, Louisiana, Brown was raised in Orange, Texas. His professional musical career began in 1945, playing drums in San Antonio, Texas. Tagged with the "Gatemouth" handle by a high school instructor who accused Brown of having a "voice like a gate," Brown has used it to his advantage throughout his career. His career was boosted while attending a 1947 concert by T-Bone Walker in Don Robey's Bronze Peacock Houston nightclub. When Walker became ill, Brown took up his guitar and played "Gatemouth Boogie," to the delight of the audience. In 1949 Robey founded Peacock Records in order to showcase Brown's virtuoso guitar work. Brown's "Mary Is Fine"/"My Time Is Expensive" was a hit for Peacock in 1949. A string of Peacock releases in the 1950s were less successful commercially, but were nonetheless pioneering musically. Particularly notable was the 1951 instrumental "Okie Dokie Stomp" in which Brown solos continuously over a punchy horn section (other instrumentals from this period include "Boogie Uproar" and "Gate Walks to Board"). As for his gutsy violin playing, Robey allowed him to record "Just Before Dawn" as his final Peacock release in 1959. In the early 1970s several countries in Europe had developed an appreciation for American roots music, especially the blues, and Brown was a popular and well-respected artist there. He toured Europe twelve times, beginning in 1971 and throughout the rest of the ‘70s. He also became an official ambassador for American music, and participated in several tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department, including an extensive tour of Eastern Africa. Brown appeared at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival. In his last few years, he maintained a full touring schedule, in Australia, New Zealand, Central America, Africa, and the former Soviet Union. In September 2004, Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer and, already suffering from emphysema and heart disease, he and his doctors decided to forgo treatment. 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 at the apartment of a niece, at the age of 81.