Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

TrackSingle / Album  
Sad HourPeacock 1576
Dirty Work At The CrossroadsPeacock 5-1607
Gate Walks To BoardPeacock 5-1619
Midnight HourPeacock 5-1633
Depression BluesPeacock 5-1637
Okie Dokie StompPeacock 5-1637
CaldoniaSings Louis Jordan
Strange Things HappeningAmerican Music Texas Style
Jumpin' The BluesAmerican Music Texas Style
Tennessee BluesTimeless
Bonus Track
SomedayBogalusa Boogie Man

Clarence Brown photo 1

 

 

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Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown playlist

 

Contributors: Dave Stephens … with assistance from Cal Taylor

Can anyone dispute the claim that the state of Texas gave birth to, and/or housed, the largest number of blues singer/guitarists than anywhere else? (And I’m talking quality here rather than sheer numbers.) From Blind Lemon Jefferson, sometimes called “The father of the Texas Blues”, and T-Bone Walker, the man who pioneered electrification in the genre and influenced everyone from Chuck Berry to B.B. King; to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Pee Wee Crayton, Albert Collins, Freddie King, Johnny Copeland, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Lowell Fulson. And that’s just scratching the surface; I’ve not included any of those musicians who often existed alongside the bigger names but who we didn’t get to hear until the Rounders and Alligators – and yes, I’m talking labels here – gave them proper record careers, names like Roy Gaines, Phillip Walker, Lonnie Brooks (with the last two born in Louisiana but adopted by the Lone Star State) and Long John Hunter. Nor have I mentioned white blues singer/guitarists with the list headed by Stevie Ray Vaughan but not forgetting his less flamboyant older brother Jimmie and plenty more. Indeed there would be a strong argument for having a series devoted to Texan Blues singer/guitarists in the hallowed portals of Toppermost. If such a thing were to happen then I could almost guarantee that the first ‘nominee’ who would be on the tip of most people’s tongues would be a name I didn’t mention above and that, of course, is Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.

In addition to being one of the more accomplished of all electric blues artists, Clarence was also, probably, the most unusual of the lot. Watch the clip of Okie Dokie Stomp above and you’ll see close-ups of his right hand busy finger-picking away in a highly individual manner; that was his style which was hard to reconcile against the gritty, hard-edged sound on most of his records from 1949 to 1959, but that’s the way he did it.

But that wasn’t why Clarence stood out as unusual. Nor was it the fact that he was a multi-instrumentalist having mastered guitar, fiddle, drums, viola, harmonica, piano, mandolin and bass. No, it was his second career which started roughly in the seventies but could be traced back at least a decade and was notable for the way in which he neglected blues. Now that’s an exaggeration but there were some albums on which the blues content was zilch. Instead he ranged over the fields of Jazz, Country and Cajun (and by the latter I don’t mean traditional French language accordion-based Cajun but the wider Louisiana/Texas approach typified by Doug Kershaw’s Louisiana Man). Clarence’s own fiddle-playing was the key component in his ‘cajun’ tracks. Typically, his live shows from the seventies through to his death in 2005 mingled these genres together as did quite a few of his albums. Clarence seemed capable of mastering musical styles as easily (and thoroughly) as he mastered instruments. And I use the word ‘seemed’ because surprisingly, exposure to multiple strains of music including some we associate much more with white performers, dated right back to his early childhood.

Which brings me neatly to his birth on 18th April 1924. In his own words:

“I was born in Western Louisiana, right on the border of Texas and raised over in Texas on the border of Louisiana so I belong to both places. I was born in Vinton, Louisiana and raised in Orange, Texas.”

(That quote comes from an interview with Clarence conducted by Elwood’s Bluesmobile “the nation’s longest-running syndicated Blues music radio show, hosted by Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues, and American Blues Scene Magazine, the recognized leader in blues music news” which I found to be one of the better interviews in what is something of a crowded field, indicative of his fame in later years. I should also go on record and state that not all interviewers found Clarence as helpful as this and words like ‘crochety’ and ‘cantankerous’ do appear in some interviews.)

There’s a fascinating response from Clarence in answer to the question, “What did your dad play?”

“He played fiddle, mandolin, accordion, banjo and he sung Cajun, French – I mean, Cajun, country and bluegrass. That’s why I can play. That was my first music. It wasn’t itself called blues because that stuff I picked up later.”

Clarence himself started out professionally as a drummer in 1945 in such bands as Howard Spencer and his Gay Swingsters and W.M. Benbo and his Brown Skin Models (information courtesy of an interview in the Washington Post). His stage debut on guitar in 1947 came in unusual fashion: he was attending a show from T-Bone Walker at Don Robey’s Bronze Peacock Dinner Club in Houston when T-Bone’s ulcer played up and he departed from the room with some haste leaving his guitar. Clarence leaped up onto the stage, grabbed the guitar and improvised a number which subsequent legend has informed us was the first airing of Gatemouth Boogie, a number that got recorded a little further down the line. Such legend, or Clarence interviews in which the story often appears, also tells us that the crowd was so pleased that they showered him with money in excess of $600.

My name is Gatemouth Brown
Just got in your town
My name is Gatemouth Brown
Just got in your town
If you don’t like my style
I will not hang around

Robey was so impressed that he became Clarence’s first manager and got him his first recording session for Aladdin Records in Los Angeles, a label that in its relatively short existence had already cut several jazz artists, blues from the likes of Wynonie Harris and Western Swing from Tex Russell and his Hollywood Cowboys. No prizes for guessing the A-side: it was of course the one you’ve just heard, coupled with, in the oft-used manner in those days, a slow blues entitled After Sunset with both sides benefitting from the full sonic mix of the Maxwell Davis Orchestra. Davis was also the man who masterminded the arrangements for Percy Mayfield, of whom more later.

There was to be one more single for Aladdin – Guitar In My Hand / Without Me, Baby – before Robey, encouraged by initial sales, set up his own label, Peacock Records, specifically to promote Brown. Approximately 20 singles followed (and the reason for the “approximately” is because of the slight duplication of an A-side and the crossover between the 78 and 45 RPM formats).

The Peacock singles were typified by aggressive sounding guitar, a preponderance of medium to up tempo numbers plus frequent usage of full band in support – his first single was credited to “Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, His Guitar and Orchestra”. Other traits also become apparent after further listening to the Peacock tracks: his liking for the swing/jazz styles then popular and, initially less obviously, an apparent dislike for typical blues miserabilia, e.g. the “Woke up this morning / My baby done gone” type of lyrics. It wasn’t that they didn’t exist in the Gatemouth world, just that they were used much less frequently.

Gate’s first single coupled My Time Is Expensive with Mary Is Fine and this time the slowie was on the A-side. Only it was a far from typical slow blues. Opening with some guitar hammering (at the door?) to get a certain married lady’s attention, Gate spends the duration of the record propositioning her but with the warning that his time was expensive, he had other things to do. Alongside his spiel his guitar pursues an elegantly flowing path, totally unlike the intro (though there’s nothing soft about its tone). Once again on the flip, the lyrics are atypical for a blues – “She got great big eyes / She’s fine otherwise” – but maybe backhanded compliments were his style. On axe this time we get some fast-flowing stuff but with variation including bombshells in the sax break. The band plays its part too on what is essentially a fast shuffle.

I’ve jumped about a bit in my selections in order to indicate Gate’s stylistic variations and of course my personal preferences. Depression Blues can be found on the other side of Okie Dokie Stomp released in Summer ’54. Lyrically it’s not at all what you might expect from the title: “I’m gonna tell all you women / You’d better find yourself a man / Yes, tell all you women / You better find yourself a man / Because depression is coming / And you’ll need a helping hand” i.e. another financial depression is heading towards you along the lines of the Great Depression of 1929 to 1939 so you’d better get yourself hitched to a man (with the implied himself) who can support you. But it’s the musical interpretation of this message that really makes the record. Stirring is the adjective I’d use and how often would you apply that to a blues? The “yes” which starts the repeat of the first line is a quite magnificent stretched climbing syllable which reflects the mood of the big band which is determined to have its say in the creation of this record.

Midnight Hour, from later in ’54 (and no relation to the Pickett number), is another apparently triumphal charger with guitar and band (particularly piano) competing for attention. Yet this time the lyrical thrust is much more predictable to the extent that you probably could have guessed the first line: “Midnight is a lonely hour / Yes, to be alone, people”. It’s interesting to compare this version with the one on 1997’s Gate Swings which is taken at more of a fast, loping pace. While being a fine blues in its own right it’s lacking the fire of the original.

Gate was also perfectly capable of generating and performing a conventional intimate slow blues with backing consisting of little more than sax and piano with his guitar tone softened a little, all in line with the title of Sad Hour (from ’51). But listen carefully to those lyrics:

All you mothers are crying
Crying night and day
Mothers are crying
Crying night and day
Because the draft board got your youngster
And they will send him far away

Yup, conscription, that’s what this one’s about.

Lyrics and performance are much more in sync on the strident Dirty Work At The Crossroads from 1953, where the road forking is a vivid metaphor for Gate’s loved one going off with another man – his best friend as we learn in the song. It’s relatively rarely that we get to hear him upping the agony quotient in both voice and guitar and was probably the sort of track that strongly influenced Guitar Slim.

He liked instrumentals, an attribute that would become even more apparent in later years often linked to his fondness for swing. Another track from 1953, Gate Walks To Board is a fine example with the band once again playing its part in full and Gate indulging in a common feature in live jazz, that of one player repeating (or answering) another’s phrases, in this case his guitar follows the sax.

If I’ve given the impression that Gate’s Peacock output was all twelve bar blues making no use of his multi-instrumental capabilities then that’s not very far from the truth. There were a few exceptions though. For Now So Long was a slowie which moved the chord progression around a bit and as such, could be labelled a blues ballad. 1956’s September Song was a straight pop ballad which had already been recorded by Crosby and Sinatra. Whether this was Gate getting his wish to branch out a little or Robey showing signs of concern that Gate’s sales figures weren’t quite as impressive as he’d hoped, I know not but the second seems more likely. Multiple accounts however tell us that the violin blues Just Before Dawn which saw release in 1960 was cut after he and Don had agreed to part and Don let him have his way on this track.

Those same “multiple accounts” have it that Gate and Don parted due to the former being frustrated that he wasn’t being allowed to display his full range of musical talents. But deeper digging suggests that there was more to it than that. Writing in Earlyblues.org, Keith Woods stated:

“Throughout the latter half of the fifties, Brown proved to be one of the most bankable artists in the blues field. The turn of the following decade would see a massive falling out between Robey and himself. Clarence would later claim in numerous interviews that his former manager’s connections effectively blacklisted him for the remainder of the 1960s.”

The biography posted by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr in Musicianguide.com was even more revealing:

“Despite the artistic success of these recordings, and despite the influence Brown’s work had on other guitarists, by the late 1950s he and Robey had severed relations. In Brown’s version of the story, Robey answered his request for a royalty statement by pulling out a gun. London Guardian writer Tony Russell, however, suggested a less extreme scenario: “Brown did not have the drawing power of two of Robey’s other acts, Junior Parker and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland”.”

and

“Brown believed that he had been blacklisted following his fallout with Robey, and subsequently worked and recorded infrequently during the 1960s.”

Recordings from both Parker and Bland show them moving away from blues into the more overtly expressive and melodically varied soul arena well before the end of the fifties, no doubt following the lead of Messrs Brown and Charles who had convincingly shown that this is what their (black) customers wanted. Unlike Tony Russell I’d also not ignore Gate’s story of Robey pulling a gun on him; it fits with other stories about the man (see also footnotes).

How much truth there is in the story that Robey blacklisted Gate, I don’t know but it’s certainly true that he released very few singles in the sixties; 45cat lists five only for the entire decade, of which the most famous is Little Jimmy Dickens country novelty May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose. Unfortunately, it’s not on YouTube but for those who don’t know it, this is the Dickens original. I’m very grateful to Cal for alerting me to the fact that, in addition to those singles, an album’s worth of material was recorded in Nashville in 1965 (which is logged in “Leadbitter/Slaven Blues Records 1943-1970”). Chess had the rights to these tracks but evidence suggests that no album saw the light of day until 1983 and, even then, only in Japan. A rebadged version of the same material was then released (in Europe and Australia) in 1992 by Charly Records – the new title was San Antonio BallBuster but, confusingly, that title had already been used for a packaging of Gate’s Peacock material. Was this all to do with the ‘blacklisting’?

Regardless of all that, the album is interesting in that for the first time, it illustrated Gate recording numbers associated with other artists: it has not one but three tracks which had been cut by Sonny Boy Williamson II. Two of them are on YouTube; this is Gate’s take on one of Sonny Boy’s more famous tracks, Don’t Start Me (To) Talking, and it’s an excellent version. There’s also a version of Goin’ Down Slow in the set but unsurprisingly it pales a little in comparison to the rendition from the mighty Wolf.

Something Gate did manage to do musically in the sixties was lead the house band for the Nashville based TV show The !!!! Beat which ran for 26 episodes in 1966. The show was hosted by Bill “Hoss” Allen and featured black R&B artists; this clip shows Clarence accompanying Barbara Lynn on What’d I Say. A rather surprising non-musical role that Gate fulfilled in the same decade was that of deputy sheriff in San Juan County, New Mexico.

But it was the continent of Europe which really got Gate seriously back in the saddle musically (and that metaphor was a deliberate pun on his liking for Western, as in Cowboy, clothing). The first visible sign of interest in Gate in Europe came with his inclusion in the Chicago Blues Festival (for Europe) artists list for 1971. The Festival was a kind of follow-on to the American Folk Blues Festival but was arranged by European promoters. Tours and festival appearances particularly at the Montreux Jazz Festival plus an LP, (his first) recorded in Paris in 1972, entitled The Blues Ain’t Nothing on the French label, Black And Blue, all contributed to his growing recognition across the continent. Further recordings on Black And Blue followed, including a tribute to Louis Jordan, plus albums on another French label, Blue Star/Barclay. American labels, Sunnyside, Sugar Hill and, yes, Rounder and Alligator subsequently picked up the Gatemouth Brown cause although French interest continued via Verve/Gitanes.

Down South In Bayou Country released in 1974 on Barclay was the big reveal of Gate’s obsession with country oriented music though very little of it was straight ahead Nashville tearjerking ballads; instead there was a mix of what AllMusic termed “country & western, Southern rock, cowboy hoedown, and electric Cajun soul music”. Sweet Texas Rose from the pen of Hoyt Garrick, a writer who was used profusely in the album, is one of the few country ballads present with much of the rest, typified by Bad Week For Old Fiddlers, being more along the lines of Doug Kershaw’s Louisiana Man if I can continue that comparison. Gate evidently had a lot of such music in his head which, in his view, needed to come out. Hence a follow-up album Bogalusa Boogie Man which mined the same territory a year or so down the track. The content was even more country boogie than the first, including a version of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken which Lowell George is said to have stated is his favourite version of the number (AllMusic). There was even a much later part 3, Back To Bogalusa in 2001. (And I should mention that the studio where these were cut was located in Bogalusa, “70 miles northeast of New Orleans, on 26 acres of pine forests, fields and ponds” to quote their website.)

There were plenty more albums from Gatemouth including a blues one entitled Alright Again for which he won best blues album Grammy in 1981; Makin’ Music, a duet set with country picker & singer, Roy Clark; jazz/swing albums like Gate Swings and American Music, Texas Style but more typically his albums mingled all those influences up into Louisiana gumbo style mixes with a bit of this and a bit of that. All of which made selecting tracks from this lengthy period of music a daunting prospect.

However, those good folk at the Washington Post (again) came to my assistance. In amongst several pieces on Gate they published one with the title “Unlike His Idols, “Gatemouth” Is Conspicuous by His Abstinence” which drew attention to the fact that many of his musical heroes drank so much that several of them – Hank Williams is the most obvious example – died early. (The Post writer, David Segal, managed to completely ignore or pass over the fact that Gate was prone to taking on board other substances stronger than tobacco).

The article though, was not really about that subject; it was about those influences. The Post had asked Gate to bring along records that he loved in order to dig into what made him tick, musically. And he did but he didn’t really open up until the music started. This reticence which sometimes came across to other interviewers as arrogance – see earlier comment – was something the Post writers were familiar with, witness the paragraph below from Segal.

“Anyone who interviews Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown gets a couple of helpful hints from his manager before the talking starts. Do not, under any circumstances, ask Mr. Brown how he got his nickname. (Lore has it that a music instructor said he had “a voice like a gate.”) And whatever you do, don’t call him a “bluesman.” It’s a tag, he believes, that doesn’t capture the full horizon of his music, which takes a bag full of hyphens to explain. There are zydeco, jazz, big band, swing – and yes, the blues – in there. What’s missing is any trace of the dominant force in popular music for the last four decades: rock-and-roll.”

I have no intention of running through all the track selections in order of appearance in the Post interview but would strongly recommend that you, gentle reader, do just that. It’s an excellent article and is arguably the most informative interview conducted with Gate. Instead I’ll zero in on my choices together with others which I feel are just too good to totally ignore.

First up is a number from one of Gate’s biggest influences from the blues world, a member of the west coast cool set, Percy Mayfield. Tracks written and originally performed by him are scattered across a number of Gatemouth albums. The one Gate brings to the Washington Post session is Strange Things Happening which originally appeared on the flip side of the much better known Please Send Me Someone To Love in 1961. Having praised the latter to the heavens in the Toppermost I wrote on Mayfield, I commented: “the flip side was a more conventional blues in most respects, but it almost matched the A-side in expressiveness. Strange Things Happening also hit the R&B Chart (and it spawned a splendid cover version from Junior Parker).” This is the Gate version (from American Music Texas Style in 1999) which boasts an excellent (re)arrangement.

Before leaving Percy Mayfield, I’d make a couple of further observations. Like Gatemouth, Percy was born in Louisiana but started his career in Texas. He then moved to Los Angeles which is where the careers diverge – Gate was only there briefly. Secondly, I’d note that Gate cut several fine live versions of Please Send Me Someone To Love. The one below can be found on Real Life and it was only my desire to illustrate Gate’s influences more fully that kept it from being in the Ten.

Gate’s love for the music of Louis Jordan was announced to the world at large via his second album Sings Louis Jordan in 1973. Caldonia was included in that set and was cut at least a couple more times in the studio; it was also a regular in his live performances. Other artists to have covered the song include Bill Haley, Carl Perkins, James Brown, Van Morrison and Willie Nelson. Coming more to the point, it was the number selected to represent Louis for the Post discussion wherein Gate states …

“I was 12 when I first saw him,” Gate recalls. “I’d just stand outside of clubs and hear him play. I think he’s one of the great gimmick singers of all time.”

… and he makes it clear that he doesn’t see “gimmick singer” as a derogatory term. For him (Gate), humour could often be an important part of a song, all part of his positive approach to music instead of “that old delta blues” (my paraphrasing of his words) which he has expounded upon in numerous interviews.

Here’s Gate with big band and Caldonia at the Montreux Jazz Festival in the year 2000. He doesn’t seem to have lost an iota of performing capability at the ripe old age of 76.

A far less well-known name than Louis Jordan (who’s even had a musical devoted to him) is that of pianist, singer and songwriter, Cecil Gant. He was born in 1913 but died in 1951 at the age of 37. Regarding his death, Wiki states “Although some sources give the cause of death as pneumonia, contemporary sources refer to a heart attack, possibly brought on by Gant’s alcoholism.” His biggest chart success came in 1944 with the blues ballad I Wonder and it’s that disc that Gate brings to the session. Gate himself recorded the song twice, firstly on One More Mile in 1983 and secondly on The Man in 1994. The arrangements vary considerably both from the original and from each other; differing degrees of countrification have taken place, on the first via the addition of an (initially restrained) pedal steel but on the second much more including brass such that it effectively becomes country soul.

 

One of these was a candidate for selection but got squeezed out.

I wanted an outright swing/jazz track and Count Basie’s One O’Clock Jump which is in the Post set was a little too obvious – this was the Gate version, live with Roy Clark – but elsewhere in the article, I found The Jumping Blues from Jay McShann and his Orchestra. After a minor title rearrangement to Jumpin’ The Blues, the number appeared on a couple of Gate’s albums. I’ve gone for the first which can be found on American Music Texas Style which was notable for the inclusion of a brief quote from another song entirely. This was something Gate was fond of doing but mainly in live work: the novelty here was that the whole band did it. (The later version can be found on Timeless, the final studio set from 2004.)

Gate was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004 and his death followed in September 2005. His final studio album, as just stated, was Timeless which was a fitting name for a very fine collection that ranged far and wide across American music including such delights as Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll, a playful reconstruction of Unchained Melody (which had earlier been attempted on The Man), a revisit to that blues ballad For Now So Long from his years with Peacock and another retread but this time of one of his better post-Peacock songs, The Drifter (which had first appeared on On The Heat in 1975).

From the date and the number of revisits on the album, one very much wonders whether Gate knew that it would be his last, whether he’d been given the cancer diagnosis prior to its recording or not though one should note that many bluesmen – and he was one though I wouldn’t have said it to his face – had a liking for going back to earlier numbers, sometimes with new arrangements though not always. However, my favourite from the set isn’t one of those. Gate had already shown a liking for some of the quirkier country artists like John D. Loudermilk and the less easily classifiable, Bobby Charles. It was the last name which appeared in the composer slot on Tennessee Blues, and no, the number wasn’t a blues in the conventional sense; there aren’t many blues in waltz time. The composer’s original has been an oft-played track in the Stephens household for years but the addition of Clarence’s country fiddle plus the fragile nature of his voice throws a whole new light on the song:

That completes my ten selections but I do have a bonus track. When the album Bogalusa Boogie Man was released in CD format in 2006, five tracks were added. They were recorded in a similar timeframe as those on the original LP but were of Gate solo on acoustic guitar. My bonus selection is one them: Someday (which is better known under the alternate title of Worried Life Blues).

Oh lordy lord, oh lordy lord
It hurts me so bad
For us to part
But someday baby
I ain’t gonna worry my life any more

And to close, a slice of wisdom from our hero. Cal Taylor warrants a second vote of thanks for coming up with another of those exceptions to the rule of interviews with Gate which tended towards the repetitive. The one in the book “Texas Blues” from Alan Govenar comes from an interview conducted by Alan in 1987 and it’s quite simply, excellent. These are the closing words from Gate:

“My music is explanatory. I don’t have a college education but I’ve got sense. Texas is where I grew up, where I used to play white country music, French music and blues. The blues depends on what you’re feeling, but it’s also supposed to be an explanation. How can I tell you what I’m doing if I can’t explain it? You heard what I did, but can you ever truly know if I don’t tell you? Anything I do is an explanation; otherwise it’s a mystery. The idea is to make people feel better when they leave than when they came in. I try to record and create the positive ideas for people around me, black and white. I don’t want my audience to feel guilty. Nobody owes me anything. But I’m a threat because I’m trying to tell the truth.”

 

Clarence Brown photo 2

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Whatever else is said about Don Robey, he deserves credit for being the first black person to found and manage record labels of any significance. Born in Houston in 1903, he moved to Los Angeles where he opened his first night club. Returning to Houston, further clubs and amusement parlours followed leading up to the prestigious Bronze Peacock Dinner Club which is mentioned in the main text. It was coming across Gatemouth in 1947 and becoming his manager that triggered Don’s move into the recording business. His first serious success came with Big Mama Thornton and Hound Dog. This prompted a merger-cum-takeover of Duke Records in 1952. Peter Guralnick tells the possibly apocryphal story that relates to that activity in his book “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll”:

“By the end of the summer, Duke, which had been started by WDIA white program director David James Mattis (in Memphis – DS), had been taken over by Don Robey, the owner of Peacock Records in Houston, who was said to have put a gun on his desk and declared, whether by word or gesture, “We have a deal”.”

2. Other than a mention of the record, May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose, I bypassed the few singles that Gate made in the sixties so I’m covering them here. The pairing of Summertime and Leftover Blues appeared courtesy of the Cue label in 1964. While the flip was an okay slow blues (which saw recall in ‘the album phase’), the A-side was an instrumental version of the well-known standard featuring a socking Diddley beat plus blasting horns. Something of a curio perhaps but definitely one for rock instro fans.

In addition to the paradisical bird, 1965 saw the release of three Gate singles on the Cinderella label. They were very much of a mixed bag with titles Here Am I and It’s Alright being slow blues and the second named probably the best of the whole bunch albeit with a touch of borrowing from Jimmy Rogers’ That’s Alright; Chicken Shake, The Cricket and Okie Dokie 65, all instrumentals with the first being harmonica led; and finally The Grass Is Always Greener which was a pop-cum-rock sort of thing of no great distinction.

Although information is scarce on the Cue and Cinderella labels, the appearance is that both operated out of Houston and were run by a man called Jimmy Duncan who is named as producer on all of the tracks in 45cat. Duncan also had some success as a songwriter. Cue has a minor claim to fame in that it was the first label to release records by Kenny Rogers when he was a member of a group called the Scholars.

3. A couple of contributions that Gate made to what were effectively compilations are worth highlighting. Firstly, his version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s See That My Grave Is Kept Clean which was the final track on the Los Super Seven album Heard It On The X released in 2005. Los Super Seven was more of a concept than a band with membership varying between and within albums; Gate recorded his track in 2004. The other can be found on the 1997 CD, Paint It Blue: Songs Of The Rolling Stones which featured blues artists performing songs written by the Stones. Gate’s contribution was Ventilator Blues, the original of which was on the Stones 1972 set, Exile On Main St.

4. Apart from pairings with Roy Clark, YouTube isn’t awash with clips of Gate appearing with other guitarists but I did find a couple – Got My Mojo Working with Carlos Santana from Montreux in 2004, and going back a few decades, a little nugget from The !!!! Beat Show: Funky Mama with Freddie King in 1966:

5. In 1974, an LP was issued, initially in France only, called Rock ‘N’ Roll Gumbo. It starred Professor Longhair with Gatemouth in key support role. The reason the album came about is unusual. In the Toppermost on Fess created by Cal Taylor and self, I quoted major New Orleans music expert Jeff Hannusch on the subject: “Realizing Longhair was in a jam (mishaps had occurred to him including a fire burning down the uninsured house he was living in – DS), transplanted French producer Phillipe Rault offered him $750 to cut a record with Gatemouth Brown on the Barclay label”. I went on to shower the album with praise, identifying it as one of two personal favourites within the Longhair ‘late period’ oeuvre (with the other being Crawfish Fiesta).

I singled out the track Stag-O-Lee for particular praise, stating “it makes Lloyd Price sound like a slouch”. If I wasn’t so focussed on the Toppermost subject I might also have said that the track benefitted from some great guitar work from Gatemouth. One track I didn’t mention was Jambalaya for which Gate, encouraged by Fess, picks up his fiddle and the pair pay homage to their Louisiana roots (and to The Great Hank). Longhair, incidentally, was born in Bogalusa which, as we now know, was later to become home to Gate’s oft used recording studio.

6. In the Toppermost on Guitar Slim, I highlighted the fact that Slim’s guitar work was an influence on Frank Zappa. In the Wiki article on Gate, the author expands that statement: “The rock composer Frank Zappa, in his autobiography, “The Real Frank Zappa Book” (1989), credited Brown, along with Guitar Slim and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, as important influences on his guitar playing.” There’s also a lovely (in a visualise-the-scene sense) quote from Zappa himself in that book (requoted in Zappa Wiki Jawaka):

“Don (Van Vliet, as in Captain Beefheart – DS) was also an R&B fiend, so I’d bring my 45s over and we’d listen for hours on end to obscure hits by the Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Guitar Slim, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, , Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Don & Dewey, the Spaniels, the Nutmegs, the Paragons, the Orchids, the etc., etc., etc.”

Zappa Wiki Jawaka also tells us that Frank played Okie Dokie Stomp on radio station KPPC, Pasadena on 27th November 1968. And finally, I can tell you that that number appears on the album Frank Zappa’s Jukebox released in 2008 along with compositions from Stravinsky, Varèse and Andre Williams’ Bacon Fat.

7. An article purporting to explore the music of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown wouldn’t be complete without one of several, mainly live, versions of Up Jumped The Devil. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s a showcase for our hero on fiddle in country hoedown mode, I feel that it’s unlikely that he was unaware of the Robert Johnson connection in the title, though the jury is still out on whether he was aware of any such connection when he wrote and recorded Dirty Work At The Crossroads back in 1953.

This version of Up Jumped The Devil comes from Live From Austin, TX, a DVD/CD release earlier this year (2022) of a show from Gate and band for the Austin City Limits TV series in 1996. Steve Leggatt, the AllMusic reviewer, commented that it “documents an American treasure doing what he always did, delivering a show like no one else’s, a literal tour of American music by a wonderfully unique musician.”

 

Clarence Brown poster

 

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (1924–2005)

 

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (Wikipedia)

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown discography (45cat)

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Cal Taylor has avidly collected records since the early 1960s, gravitating to deep soul and blues. As time went on he got more and more into studying pre-war blues and accumulated a vast record collection. Cal saw many such artists live in the sixties. He has written several posts for this site including Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson and Otis Redding.

The Stephens/Taylor toppermosts include Johnny Ace, Arthur Alexander, Ray Charles, Cyril Davies, The Falcons, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Alexis Korner, Little Walter, Johnny Otis, Junior Parker.

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Bobby Bland, Bobby Charles, Guitar Slim, B.B. King, Barbara Lynn, Percy Mayfield, Junior Parker, T-Bone Walker

TopperPost #1,030

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Jul 4, 2022

    Dave (and Cal), thanks for this great piece. What a superb musician “Gatemouth” was. You also sent me back to this fine piece of writing by Thom Hickey.

  2. Dave Stephens
    Jul 4, 2022

    Thanks for those words, Andrew. Thanks too for the reminder of Thom’s immaculate writing plus his even more immaculate taste – Gatemouth, Lonnie and Peter Green all within one Immortal Jukebox. Heaven!

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