OC Historical Commission Honors “Gatemouth” Brown
At 9 a.m., July 21, local music legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown will have a historical marker at his gravesite in Hollywood Cemetery dedicated by the Orange County Historical Commission.
Following is a short history of Gatemouth researched and written by Dr. Robert H. Finch.
April 18, 1924 – Sept. 10, 2005
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown Jr. was born on April 18, 1924 in Vinton, La. and moved with his family just across the Sabine River to Orange when he was an infant. The musical gumbo that was his trademark, what he called “American Music, Texas Style, was shaped by his youth in border town Orange where the culture of Louisiana Cajuns mixed with that of the shipyards, and where he learned music at the knee of his musician father playing on street corners in the Orange area. While he is best known as a guitarist and fiddler, he played several other instruments including drums, viola, mandolin and harmonica. His recording career spanned 57 years, from 1947-2004.
Gatemouth played the drums professionally prior to being drafted into the Army during World War II. After the war, he became a featured performer on the guitar at Don Robey’s Bronze Peacock in Houston after he spontaneously filled in when a sick T-Bone Walker left the stage. Robey started the Peacock Records label in 1949 and signed Gatemouth. Dozens of tunes were recorded including the nationwide rhythm and blues hit, “Mary is Fine” in 1949. The Peacock recordings continued through the fifties, but Gatemouth’s career slumped in the sixties. He did hit the country charts with a cover of Little Jimmy Dickens’ “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” and also led the house band for the Nashville, Tenn. blues/rhythm and blues/rock teen dance TV program, The!!!!!Beat. At the end of the decade, he quit the music business and worked as a deputy sheriff in New Mexico. In the 1970s, he toured Europe playing the blues and in the same decade appeared on the country music variety TV program “Hee Haw” as well as on the Public Broadcasting System program, “Austin City Limits.” In the mid-seventies, he began what became a long series of recordings working with Jim Bateman in Bogalusa, La. These recording exhibited Gatemouth’s versatility in a variety of music genres including country, Cajun, rhythm and blues, western swing, and the blues.
One of the Bogalusa records, “Alright Again,” earned the 1982 Grammy award for traditional blues. He was nominated for the Grammy five additional times and was also recognized by the Blues Foundation with several instrumentalist awards for his work on the violin as well as the guitar. His guitar style is credited as an influence on a variety of guitarists including Frank Zappa, Albert Collins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and John Copeland. He recorded an album with country guitarist, Roy Clark, and another with blues/rock and roll guitar artist, Eric Clapton.
In August 2005, Gatemouth evacuated to his hometown of Orange when his Slidell, La. home was threatened and ultimately destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Already diagnosed with cancer and heartsick with the loss of the memorabilia of his career by Hurricane Katrina, Gatemouth died in his neice’s apartment in Orange. He was laid to rest at the Hollywood Cemetery in Orange. His casket was one of the 33 that floated out of the graves in Hollywood Cemetery as a result of the storm surge of Hurricane Ike on Sept. 13, 2008 and was reinterred at its original resting place.