'Gatemouth' Brown's Blues Voice Goes Quiet

Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown Credit: Michael Wilson hide caption

itoggle caption Credit: Michael Wilson

We remember Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the singer and guitarist who died Saturday in his hometown of Orange, Texas. He had gone there to escape Hurricane Katrina. He was 81. Brown, who had been battling lung cancer and heart disease, was in ill health for the past year, said Rick Cady, his booking agent. Cady said the musician was with his family at his brother's house when he died. Brown's home in Slidell, La., a bedroom community of New Orleans, was destroyed by Katrina, Cady said.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Among the evacuees who left the New Orleans area before Hurricane Katrina struck was Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. The 81-year-old eclectic singer and guitarist escaped the storm, but he died this weekend. He had heart disease and emphysema and had been fighting lung cancer for the past year. Here's his signature instrumental, "Okie Dokie Stomp."

(Soundbite of "Okie Dokie Stomp")

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

That's Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's "Okie Dokie Stomp" recorded in 1954. Brown made more than 30 albums and won a Grammy in 1982. He not only played all kinds of music, from jazz to country to blues to Cajun; he also played many instruments, guitar, fiddle and drums among them.

SIEGEL: Gatemouth Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana, and grew up in Orange, Texas. His musical dexterity and wide taste in style came in part from his surroundings as a child. His father worked for the railroad but sang and played fiddle in a Cajun band. Brown often said his father was his greatest musical influence.

Mr. CLARENCE "GATEMOUTH" BROWN (Singer/Guitarist): See, I started out on guitar at first, strumming behind my dad whilst he was playing fiddle on the weekends. It would release tension, I suppose. They would have what they called a house party. There wasn't no clubs. And my dad and them used to play. Him and my uncles and all of them started playing, and I'd grab a guitar 'cause I always want to play, and I did that for five years. And the next thing you know I was picking up his fiddle, trying to saw on that. And I kept on it. It didn't sound too good, but I kept on till I learned how to play the fiddle.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: I got my first break back in 1947 when T-Bone Walker was playing at the Bronze Peacock in Houston.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWN: He got sick, a stomach problem or something. When he went to the bathroom, I picked up the guitar and invented a tune--I can't say I wrote it, but I invented it and wrote around it--called "Gatemouth Boogie." And the words were just coming out of nowhere. I said, `My name is Gatemouth Brown. I just got in your town.'

(Soundbite of "Gatemouth Boogie")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) My name is Gatemouth Brown. I just got in your town. You don't like my style, I will not hang around.

BLOCK: On stage the man known as Gate often wore black, pointy boots, a studded Western shirt with a flowered yoke and a dark, feathered cowboy hat. And if he wasn't singing, he'd smoke a pipe.

SIEGEL: In his 50-year career, Brown recorded with Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt and others. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown died Saturday in the town where he grew up, Orange, Texas, at the age of 81.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) ...I return to be with you. Till then, darlin', be true. I'm praying to the God above that he'll please take care, take care of her, my love. Oh, baby, I hate, hate to leave you now, but, darlin', don't forget your vows. So long, so long for now ...(unintelligible).

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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