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Remembering Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown


The music world will miss Grammy-winning bluesman Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the versatile singer and multi-instrumentalist who died on September 10. The ailing Brown lost his battle to lung cancer and heart disease at his brother's home in Orange, Texas, where Brown had gone to escape Hurricane Katrina.

Brown's deep, growling voice earned him the nickname "Gatemouth", and he put it to good use on more than 30 albums. Blues Power is a typical offering weaving R&B, Western swing, zydeco, jazz and Texas blues. Throughout his career, Brown maintained that his music went far beyond the blues.

"I'm still proving to the world that I'm not just what they want me to be, a blues or jazz player, and this tells a lot about some of the type of music I play," he said.

"Gatemouth" Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana. His mastery of harmonica, violin, drums and guitar landed him work in Houston, Texas. Some of his best recordings were with a local Houston label called Peacock. His remakes of classic country, jazz and blues songs led to his own television show in Nashville, Tennessee, where he appeared wearing his trademark outfit; cowboy boots, cowboy hat and Western-style shirts.

As a musical ambassador for the U.S. State Department, Brown picked up new audiences in Europe, East Africa and the former Soviet Union. He won a Grammy Award in 1982 for his album Alright Again, and was soon working alongside such stars as Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt. Brown said he thrived on the friendships he made in the studio.

"That's very exciting because you get to know people more," he said. "You get to hang out with them and play together. And if a mistake comes up, you stop and start all over again. But when you're dubbing [mixing music] you better not make any mistakes. And it's hard just working to a machine rather than to 'live' people."

After winning the Grammy, Brown was on the road almost non-stop. He claimed he enjoyed being in the spotlight, but admitted that, after being away on tour for long stretches at a time, he preferred the tranquility of being at home.

"I live right on top of the water," he said. "I like to sit and watch the fish and the alligators go by during the summer. And the only time I play any of my music in my house is if you were to come there and say you want to hear something."

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was distraught over losing his home in Slidell, Louisiana, to Hurricane Katrina. He was safely evacuated to Texas, but the heartbreak of seeing the destruction around him took its toll. He succumbed to heart disease and lung cancer on September 10 at age 81.

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