Musician "Gatemouth" Brown Dies in Texas at 81
Published: September 11, 2005
Filed at 9:10 p.m. ET
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Weakened by lung cancer and devastated by the
destruction of his beloved New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, Grammy
Award-winning singer and guitarist Clarence ''Gatemouth'' Brown died in
Texas this weekend, his longtime keyboard player said on Sunday.
Brown, 81, won a blues Grammy in 1982 for his album ''Alright Again!'' and
was a pioneering electric guitar player who helped make the instrument a
centerpiece of popular American music.
Early in his 60-year career, he was a drummer for blues legend T-Bone
Walker and a friend of Lightnin' Hopkins, but he eschewed the label of
``bluesman'' and played a range of styles including blues, jazz, country,
big band, rhythm-and-blues and Cajun.
New Orleans musician Joe Krown, who played with Brown for 15 years, said he
died on Saturday after evacuating to his brother's home in Orange, Texas
just before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29.
Brown was diagnosed with cancer last year and was in bad condition, but
news that Katrina had ruined New Orleans and destroyed his home in the
community of Slidell was the final blow, Krown said.
``It was just devastating. There was nothing to go back to,''
said Krown. ``He lost the will to live.''
Brown, born in 1924 in Vinton, Louisiana, but raised in nearby Orange, came
from a musical family and played guitar, fiddle, mandolin, viola, harmonica
A teacher said his deep voice sounded like a swinging gate, which resulted
in the nickname ``Gatemouth.''
One day in 1947, Walker fell ill during a Houston show, so Brown picked up
his guitar and took over the show.
Appreciative fans showered him with $600 in tips, which led club owner Don
Robey to sign him to a recording contract and launched his career as a
His most popular album was ``Standing My Ground,'' which came out in 1989.
But Brown was best known as a touring musician who played endlessly in
clubs and juke joints around the world.
His eclectic musical tastes pleased live audiences, but his refusal to
stick to the blues kept him from becoming a superstar, said Krown.
``If he had embraced the blues community a little more, he might have
reached a greater audience, like B.B. King,'' he said.
In the post-World War II era, the electric guitar went from a background
instrument to the front of the bandstand, a transition in which Brown's
fast-paced, high-volume style played a key role, Krown said.
``He was on the cusp. Gate is a piece of American musical history because
he was one of the architects of electric guitar playing,'' he said. ``There
was T-Bone, and then there was Gatemouth Brown.''
The destruction Brown's home was so complete that virtually all of his
career memorabilia was lost.
``The only they saved was his legendary Firebird guitar,'' said Krown.