Singer, guitarist 'Gatemouth' Brown dies at 81

[USA Today]
Posted 9/11/2005 12:22 AM

Singer, guitarist 'Gatemouth' Brown dies at 81

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the singer and guitarist
who built a 50-year career playing blues, country, jazz and Cajun
music,
died Saturday in his hometown of Orange, Texas, where he had gone to
escape Hurricane Katrina. He was 81.
Brown, who had been battling lung cancer and heart disease, was in ill
health for the past year, said Rick Cady, his booking agent.
Cady said the musician was with his family at his brother's house when
he died. Brown's home in Slidell, La., a bedroom community of New Orleans,
was destroyed by Katrina, Cady said.

"He was completely devastated," Cady said. "I'm sure he was
heartbroken, both literally and figuratively. He evacuated
successfully before the hurricane hit, but I'm sure it weighed
heavily on his soul." Although his career first took off in the
1940s with blues hits Okie Dokie Stomp and Ain't That Dandy,
Brown bristled when he was labeled a bluesman.

In the second half of his career, he became known as a musical
jack-of-all-trades who played a half-dozen instruments and culled from
jazz, country, Texas blues, and the zydeco and Cajun music of his
native Louisiana.
By the end of his career, Brown had more than 30 recordings and won a
Grammy award in 1982.

"I'm so unorthodox, a lot of people can't handle it," Brown said in a
2001 interview.
Brown's versatility came partly from a childhood spent in the musical
mishmash of southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. He was born
in Vinton, La., and grew up in Orange, Texas.

Brown often said he learned to love music from his father, a railroad
worker who sang and played fiddle in a Cajun band. Brown, who was
dismissive of most of his contemporary blues players, named his father
as his greatest musical influence.

"If I can make my guitar sound like his fiddle, then I know I've got it
right," Brown said. Cady said Brown was quick-witted, "what some
would call a 'codger.'"
Brown started playing fiddle by age 5. At 10, he taught himself an odd
guitar picking style he used all his life, dragging his long, bony
fingers over the strings.

In his teens, Brown toured as a drummer with swing bands and was
nicknamed "Gatemouth" for his deep voice. After a brief stint in the
Army, he returned in 1945 to Texas, where he was inspired by blues
guitarist T-Bone Walker.

Brown's career took off in 1947 when Walker became ill and had to leave
the stage at a Houston nightclub. The club owner invited Brown to sing,
but Brown grabbed Walker's guitar and thrilled the crowd by tearing
through Gatemouth Boogie— a song he claimed to have made up on the
spot.

He made dozens of recordings in the 1940s and '50s, including many
regional hits —Okie Dokie Stomp,Boogie Rambler, and Dirty Work at the
Crossroads.
But he became frustrated by the limitations of the blues and began
carving a new career by recording albums that featured jazz and country
songs mixed in with the blues numbers.

"He is one of the most underrated guitarists, musicians and arrangers
I've ever met, an absolute prodigy," said Colin Walters, who is working
on Brown's biography. "He is truly one of the most gifted musicians out
there.
"He never wanted to be called a bluesman, but I used to tell him that
though he may not like the blues, he does the blues better than
anyone,"
added Walters. "He inherited the legacy of great bluesmen like Muddy
Waters and John Lee Hooker, but he took what they did and made it
better."

Brown — who performed in cowboy boots, cowboy hat and Western-style
shirts — lived in Nashville in the early 1960s, hosting an R&B
television show and recording country singles.
In 1979, he and country guitarist Roy Clark recorded Makin' Music, an
album that included blues and country songs and a cover of the Billy
Strayhorn-Duke Ellington classic Take the A-Train.

Brown recorded with Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt and others,
but he took a dim view of most musicians — and blues guitarists in
particular. He called B.B. King one-dimensional. He dismissed his
famous Texas blues contemporaries Albert Collins and Johnny
Copeland as clones of T-Bone Walker, whom many consider the
father of modern Texas blues.
"All those guys always tried to sound like T-Bone," Brown said.
Survivors include three daughters and a son.