10 July, 2008

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown




Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was a Louisiana and Texan American blues musician.

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 won a Grammy Award for Traditional Blues in 1983 for his album, Alright Again!

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 illustrious career. He took note, and his fame took off, during his impromptu fill-in in 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 the 1960s he moved to Nashville, Tennessee to participate in a syndicated R&B television show, and while he was there recorded several country singles. He struck up a friendship with Roy Clark and made several appearances on the television show Hee Haw. By the late 1960s he had decided to leave the music industry and he moved to New Mexico and became a deputy sheriff.

However, in the early 1970s several countries in Europe had developed an appreciation for American roots music, especially blues, and Brown was a popular and well-respected artist there. He toured Europe twelve times, beginning in 1971 and continuing throughout the 1970s. 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. In 1974, he recorded as a sideman with the New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair on his album, "Rock 'N' Roll Gumbo" (originally a Blue Star Records release). He moved to New Orleans in the late 1970s.

In the 1980s, a series of releases on Rounder Records and Alligator Records revitalized his U.S. career, and he toured extensively and internationally, usually playing between 250 and 300 shows a year. He won a Grammy in 1983 for the album Alright Again! , and was nominated for five more. He was also awarded eight W. C. Handy Awards and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Heroes Award. In 1997 he was honored by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, and in 1999 was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

In his last few years, he maintained a full touring schedule, including Australia, New Zealand, and countries with political conflicts in Central America, Africa, and the former Soviet Union. "People can't come to me, so I go to them," he explained.

In September 2004, Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. 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 his brother's home, at the age of 81. 

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