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Clarence : American Music, Texas Style

C. Michael Bailey By

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At the Gate. 1997 experienced the release of Gate Swings (Verve 314 537 617-2). This disc was a powerful disc by the then 72 year old Brown, brimming with genre-crushing jazz, blues, zydeco, pop...Oh Gosh, the whole apple pie. This has been Clarence Brown’s mantra: “the whole ball of wax”. Brown is joined by a BIG band that includes Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson and Nicholas Payton. The charts and conduct fall under the able hands of Wardell Quezergue. The results are simply some of the best music one can throw his or her entertainment dollar at.

Gate Swings. On Gate Swings, Brown anoints Ellington (“Take The ‘A’ Train) and Benny Goodman (“Flying Home”) with the unmistakable homage of the Deep South. On American Music, Texas Style he continues this sacrament with a dandy “Don’t Get Around Much Any More” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be”. Charlie Parker’s “Hootie Blues” is pulled through a filter of Western Swing with a wink to Basie. “Swamp Ghost” is a stop-time blues punctuated with Brown’s soul-filled guitar playing as well as a superb reed solo from altoist Eric Demmer. His cover of Percy Mayfield’s “Strange Things Happen” is down right spooky. Twelve bars rarely have sounded so good.

The Real Deal. Brian Setzer, in an interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air asserted that his fronting a big band with an electric guitar was something quite novel. Clarence Brown (and B.B. King, for that matter), predated Setzer by decades making real Swing, not this homogenized, for-bourgeoisie-consumption, bland-so-it-won’t-scare-a-popcorn-fart-out-of-your-mom excuse for jazz (though, having said that, it is very fun and even has some whiff of honesty). It is fortunate that Clarence Brown’s music exists so we will at least have some idea where this craze-of-the-moment comes from.

Topic. I see Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown as being a member of a rarified group of artists that included Ray Charles, Ry Cooder, etc. “Keepers of the flame”, these musicians continually frame established musical styles with the structure of other established styles. They accomplish the difficult task of not merely producing an acceptable or novel homogenization of genres, but of showing what is common to all genres in a Q-Beam manner. American Music Texas Style is Ellington seen from humid south Texas juke joints and Charlie Parker from the Louisiana Delta. Honor Mr. Brown.


Track Listing: Rock My Blues Away; Half Steppin

Personnel: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: Vocals, Guitar, Fiddle, Viola; Wardell Quezergue: Conductor, Arranger; Harold Floyd, Bass; Joe Krown: Keyboards; David Peters: Drums; Eric Demmer, Ray More, Wessell Anderson: Alto Saxophones; Tony Dagradi, Eric Traub: Tenor Saxophones; Tony Frigro: Baritone Saxophone, Peter McEachern, John Touchy, Steve Suter, Jerry Verges: Trombones; Nicholas Payton, Barney Floyd, Bobby Campo: Trumpets; Kaye Dorian: Vocals.

| Record Label: Blue Thumb Records | Style: Blues


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