Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown: The Last Word
Clarence "Gatemouth Brown (1924-2005) was a true musical Renaissance man, at ease playing in a variety of styles and contexts. Born in Vinton, Louisiana and reared in Orange, Texas, he acquired firsthand experience of the vernacular music of both regions. His overall style was greatly influenced by T-Bone Walker, including his use of quasi-big bands. But make no mistake: he was no imitator. For 50 years, if ever there was an "American Original", it was Brown.
Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer in September, 2004 at the age of 80. Because of pre-existing emphysema, cardiovascular disease and advanced age, he elected to forego treatment for his cancer. He continued to record and perform, releasing Timeless at the time of his cancer diagnosis, and appearing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April, 2005, only months before he died.
In September, 2005, Hurricane Katrina largely destroyed New Orleans and its surrounding areas. Brown's home in Slidell, Louisiana, wasn't spared, being destroyed only shortly after he was evacuated to his brother's home in Orange, Texas (where he passed away September 10th). With Brown's passing, an integral link in the complex chain of American music passed away too. Considered here are two of Brown's final recordings.
Clarence "Gatemouth Brown
Timeless is a well conceived album which reflects many aspects of Brown's stylistically diverse career. It ends a decade of fine recordings including The Man (1995), A Long Way Home (1996), Gate Swings (1997), American Music, Texas Style (1999) and Back To Bogalusa (2001). On Timeless, Brown touches many styles of American music. He exercises his fascination with jump blues, for instance, with Fletcher Henderson's "Soft Wind and Jay McShann's "Jumpin' The Blues, and his interest in Ellingtonia with "Satin Doll.
Unalloyed blues are never far away, however; witness the inclusion of Brown's original, "For Now So Long, with big band, and Bobby Charles's "Tennessee Blues, a country waltz. These two pieces showcase Brown's violin playing in dramatically different settings. His blues violin is demonic, almost Monkian, while his country violin is smooth and sweet. "The Drifter , performed live, has an unnecessarily lengthy spoken introduction, but when the guitarist gets to the point, the song is transformed into 21st Century T-Bone, replete with a sinister fiddle and plucky mandolin as Brown pulls out all the stops.
The disc possesses two special treats: a concert version of "Unchained Melody and a greasy Texas thumpin' of Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. In his twilight, Brown still sounds fighting fit.
Clarence "Gatemouth Brown
Recorded Live At The 2004 & 2005 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Brown was a regular fixture at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and this double-disc set is a recording of his final performances, in 2004 and 2005. The 2004 appearance happened shortly before Brown's diagnosis with lung cancer, and his 2005 appearance was mere months before Hurricane Katrina, and his death at 81. Brown was fitter in the 2004 show, but he continues to sound strong a year later.
Brown is supported by Gate's Express, a little big band, at both performances. In each, the band opens sans Brown with Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie." Brown enters with his slinky signature piece "Bits And Pieces, after the opener in 2004 and following three songs in 2005. The Express is clean, clear and taut, with saxophonist Eric Demmers and organist Joe Krown plowing a row a mile wide. Brown's guitar playing shows no sign of age or ill health. His vintage Gibson Firebird is crisp and clear, with that unmistakable Gate tone.
The 2005 show is of interest as, following a standard introduction, Brown and the band wing itfrom "What A Shame, What A Shame (for which the only instruction Brown gives the band is, "a slow blues in B-Flat ), to the autopilot "Jumpin' The Blues. Brown introduces "Grape Jelly as his favorite food and launches into a complex, serpentine blues well seasoned with signature guitar licks.
In his last Jazz & Heritage Festival appearance, Brown's voice was noticeably hoarse but his mood was upbeat and his interaction with the audience was warm. He sang a song to his daughter, soon to provide him a grandchild. He enjoyed a beautiful, well-lived life, and his elemental power will be deeply missed.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Soft Wind; For Now So Long; Jumpin' The Blues; Tennessee Blues; Unchained Melody; Satin Doll; The Drifter (Spoken Intro); The Drifter; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Dark End Of The Hallway; Six Levels Below Plant.