[Dixielandjazz] Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is 80-- JSOP Info

Norman Vickers nvickers1 at cox.net
Mon Nov 29 05:43:35 PST 2004

Listmates:  Here's an article about Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and a note I
sent to our local jazz enthusiasts.
By strict definition, his music wouldn't qualify as OKOM, but I hope this
will be of interest to some of you on this list. He's a talent not to be

Thanks, Norman


To Jazz enthusiasts.  Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is 80.  Here is a story
from Monday 11-29-04 USA Today.  Unfortunately, we learn that he has lung
cancer. He lives in Slidell, LA, near New Orleans.

JSOP members were fortunate to see him at the Mobile Jazz Festival, as I
recall, in the late '80s.

Pensacola's pianist David Shelander told me that he'd made a tour with

At 80, 'Gatemouth' has grown beyond blues
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
He won the first Grammy awarded for traditional blues. He was inducted into
the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. He has a bundle of W.C. Handy Awards
honoring blues musicians. And the Rhythm and Blues Foundation gave him its
coveted Pioneer Award.

  Brown said music has been his only steadfast companion.
High Tone Records

Yet Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, 80, does not consider himself a bluesman.

"I don't like that phrase," the multi-instrumentalist snaps.

"Muddy Waters played the blues. See, I don't play that kind of music, and I
don't want it around me. I don't enjoy it, and I don't want to play it for
my audience.

"I don't like Mississippi Delta music. It's got too much to do with slavery,
the white man telling the black man what to do in the middle of a cotton
field. I had nothing to do with that. I don't even listen to that."

Fact is, Brown does dabble in blues, but only to access every roots angle
within his reach.

"I play American music. I play Cajun, country, bluegrass, jazz — no one
thing, put it that way."

Add calypso, soul, funk, honky-tonk and Western swing to get an idea of
Brown's stylistic range over the past half-century. Like his patchwork past,
his current album, Timeless, hopscotches across genres, from a cover of
Satin Doll and a jazzed-up Mercy, Mercy, Mercy to a sweaty Jumpin' the Blues
and a countrified Dark End of the Hallway. The New York Times dubbed him "an
American master." Brown doesn't disagree.

"I just didn't want to sound like everyone else," he says.

"I wanted to sound like myself. You got to have brains to do that, and most
artists can't think beyond the two notes they're playing. Look at some of my
very old music in 1947. I started developing myself with big-band charts
rather than straight-ahead blues. It wasn't an easy road."

Born in Vinton, La., and raised in Orange, Texas, Brown was 5 when he
started taking music lessons from his father.

"My dad played fiddle, and I loved him so much I'd follow anything he did,"
Brown says.

"The first music I learned was Cajun and bluegrass. Jazz I learned after I
grew up and listened to Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, Lionel
Hampton and all the big bands. That's how I learned to phrase my guitar like

A different drummer

He began his colorful career as a drummer during World War II. A gig filling
in for a sick T-Bone Walker landed Brown a tour with a 23-piece orchestra
playing swing and jump blues. Quickly established as a pioneering guitarist,
he soon had a national audience through Peacock Records, hosted a TV show in
Nashville and began touring the world playing a staggering variety of
musical styles

"I was the first black person who broke out with an all-white band, and
people said I couldn't do it in Louisiana and Alabama," he says. "But I did
it anyway. Then I went to France, and they got mad because they wanted all
black musicians, and I said, 'You can't tell me who to hire.' You've got to
let people know we're all human beings."

Brown has mastered the guitar, fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica and
drums — but he says he never practices.

"I only play on the bandstand," he says. "I rehearse in my head or lying in
my bed watching TV. I know folks who play three or four hours and still
don't get anyplace."

His skills and confidence made for easy collaborations with luminaries from
Roy Clark to Eric Clapton, whom he viewed as colleagues, not mentors.

"I was too busy trying to make my own way to listen to somebody else's
advice," he says. "I learned one thing: Don't do what they do. Copying note
for note, I can't see the purpose of that."

His advice for budding players? "Tune the instrument, learn how to play,
don't overplay and don't clown and act the fool," he says. "Stay off drugs,
get plenty of rest and do a good job. Relax your voice. That's something you
can't find today. These kids scream instead of sing. They rely on dancing
and stupid things that have nothing to do with music. That old rap stuff is
pitiful. I'm not too fond of the modern music."

And yet Brown is discovering growing numbers of young fans at his concerts,
a phenomenon he attributes to the power of honest and heartfelt music.

"My music is not in the top 10 super-crap on the radio, the garbage you
don't want your kids, or even your parents, to hear," Brown says. "I don't
want to be on the radio if it means being associated with that. I have
millions of fans because my music is real and because I'm not

Music 'kept me going'

Married and divorced three times, Brown says music has been his only
steadfast companion. He has never lost his enthusiasm for touring and
recording, and a good tune never fails to lift his spirits.

"Music was always the most powerful thing in my life," he says. "I lost
families because of it. The wives are gone, and the music is still here. One
wife wanted me to put the music down and drive a truck. I kept the music.
What kept me going all this time was music and positive thinking."

Brown is relying on positive thinking as he faces the first serious illness
of his life.

Recently diagnosed with lung cancer, he chose to skip radiation and

"I don't want no doctor making a guinea pig out of me," he says. "A man's
got a chance of curing himself with the right thoughts. I looked on the
Internet and found a young man of 15 who cures cancer by talking to people
on the telephone.

"Doctors looking for big money don't care if they kill you. I feel once they
cut into you, you'll never be right anymore. I've got enough friends around
the Earth thinking positive for me."

Following his own road

Brown is content to live out his days performing and spending time at home
near the alligator-filled swamps outside Slidell, La. When he isn't watching
the History Channel, Animal Planet or cartoon oldies such as Tom & Jerry,
he's cruising in one of six beloved mint-condition vintage cars, including a
1976 Buick Riviera and a 1964 Lincoln Continental.

"I drive 'em every night," he says. "Everything I've wanted to do, I'm doing


More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list