Gatemouth rides into the sunset

The passing of Clarenece "Gatemouth" Brown, 81, closes another chapter of American music. Gate was an original. Born in Vinton LA, raised in Orange TX, he straddled the Texas-Louisiana line musically as well as physically.

His break came in 1947 at Don Robey's Bronze Peacock Club in Houston, the Cotton Club of the South, where he seized the moment during a long break between sets by T-Bone Walker, and proceeded to burn his own reputation as a jump blues guitarist who played it low down and nasty in front of a slick and sophisticated big band orchestra, horns and all.

Blues served him well for awhile, but always with the silky sheen of a big band. His and his brother Widemouth Brown were moving in the same musical circles as Oscar and Johnny Moore, also from that particular pocket of southeast Texas who went on to renown in Southern California as part of the Three Blazers which led to Nat King Cole's stellar career.

When the blues well dried up he embraced country and Cajun sounds that he grew up around and in the early 70s was one of the few Louisiana acts to embrace progressive country music. This got him into hot water when he made it to Austin in 1976, where Clifford Antone was hatching his blues experiment.
The show was defined by Gate in his western shirt, pointy boots, and cowboy hat, doing what he liked to do, when Clifford Antone whod' just opened his club on Sixth Street. kept moving back and forth by the side of the stage, stomping his foot and muttering, "Play some blues! Play some blues!"

Gate, who was carrying a steel player and fiddlingas much as played guitar, ignored the brash young club owner and kept playing what he damn well wanted to play. They eventually made their peace.

'Course, I dug his big band phase with the Pluma Davis Orch most. "Okie Dokie Stomp" used to be one of the signature themes of Kats Karavan on WRR in Dallas, hosted by Jim "Hoss" Lowe and briefly, by young John Peel, who would later become the most popular voice in British broadcasting.

One of his last sessions was for the most recent recording session for Los Super Seven on which he closed out the album doing Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean". He wasn't a big Lemon fan by any stretch. But he knew what the song meant, knew that he was dying, and did a stand up somber version that was on the money.

Him and his bro Widemouth, they ruled the world once upon a time. I profiled him in Rolling Stone back in the 70s at Aquarena Springs. He liked staying at the hotel there when he played Austin. A contrary cuss all the way.

He escaped Katrina by making it back to Orange. His home in Slidell was severely damaged. If the hurricane broke his heart, it only affirms that as much as he rejected the blues, he lived them as much as anyone, and played them with plenty of soul.

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