Folks call me a bluesman because I’m black and play guitar, but my music is American music, Texas style”.

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s prescient words held true in the late Nineteen-Forties when he got his start and well into the 21st Century when most music bodies, from radio programmers, streaming services and retail outlets to music writers, historians and even the Grammy Awards, use race and the simplest of signifiers rather than musical definitions to slot artists in stylistic genres.

Brown was born in 1924 in Louisiana but raised in Texas and both the birth-date and the region he came of age in factored heavily into his music, starting with the fact he grew up in a musical household and learned to play a wide variety of instruments – drums, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and guitar – while listening to his father a professional musician who dabbled in everything BUT the blues, telling his son to play something of everything so he’d never get stuck in one bag, advice that Clarence took to heart.

For Brown’s blues education he, like almost every kid of that era in Texas, fell under the sway of T-Bone Walker, the leading blues guitarist and it was an impromptu performance at a show at Houston’s Bronze Peacock Club when Walker failed to appear on stage, reputedly due to illness, when Brown leaped up and started to to play, impressing the club’s ambitious owner Don Robey who subsequently took over management of Brown’s career.

Brown cut his first session in the fall of 1947 for Aladdin Records in Los Angeles but even though – or perhaps because – he was paired with Maxwell Davis’s band the hybrid records they issued didn’t click with audiences and Brown went two years without cutting another record.

His next opportunity came when Robey decided to get into the record business himself, initially to promote Brown’s career but also because he saw the recent commercial boom in black musical styles on independent labels with not only rock ‘n’ roll but also blues and gospel which were also enjoying their heyday on record as the 1950’s dawned.

Brown proved unwilling to devote himself to any of those styles exclusively however, even though with his unique nickname – given to him by a teacher who said his voice reminded him of the sound a gate made – and the fact he was from Texas and played electric guitar led him to be lumped in with the blues more often than not. Yet Brown was far more aligned musically with the diverse sounds of rock ‘n’ roll in the early 1950’s and would later branch off into Cajun, country and jazz.

He remained with Peacock Records until the end of the 1950’s without much national success although he was a strong regional seller for much of that time. In the 1960’s he attained an added level of prominence by leading the house band on the syndicated show The!!! Beat, hosted by legendary WLAC dee-jay Hoss Allen which featured live performances by many of the top rock acts of the day.

By the 1970’s Brown’s eclectic musical output became even more pronounced and gave him a unique niche that he milked by wearing western outfits and appearing on the famed country music show Hee Haw and he would often forsake his guitar for the fiddle on stage. In spite of his far-ranging stylistic pursuits he was forced back into the blues box that is generally the only outlet available for aging black musicians and he spent the last few decades of his life recording for such blues-centric labels as Rounder and Alligator, garnering Grammy nominations in six different years late in his career.

Diagnosed with lung cancer from a lifetime of pipe smoking Brown continued to record and perform making a celebrated appearance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 2005 but Hurricane Katrina that summer destroyed his home and sent him back across state lines to Texas, mirroring the journey he made when starting out in life. A few weeks later, in September 2005, Brown died at the age of 81.
GATEMOUTH BROWN DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Aladdin 198; September, 1947)
An interesting hybrid record with Brown’s bluesy guitar mixed with Maxwell Davis’s jazzier horns, though they don’t clash it’d be a while before these sounds would reconcile in rock and as a result this record, and this artist, have largely been overlooked in the years since. (5)

(Aladdin 199; October, 1947)
Another record combining two disparate sounds, though on this one Brown’s guitar takes a back seat to the horns which are slightly outdated despite a good solo by Maxwell Davis; but while the song is well-written it’s not something that really stands out. (4)

(Peacock 1500; December, 1949)
A good concept featuring some fine aggressive guitar playing but another song which has no firm ground on which to settle stylistically, forcing listeners to choose between the rock attitude and technique or the blues viewpoint. (5)

(Peacock 1500; December, 1949)
Ragged instrumental that’s full of energy without having much structure or any real standout moments and while it shows that Brown can play alright it falls well short of making a definitive statement as to the true measures of his ability. (4)

(Peacock 1500; December, 1949)
A quickly re-issued debut with this new B-side was probably more of a typical Brown song – with vocal – but not anything significantly better than what it replaced, as the blues and rock elements never do wind up settling whose record this is. (4)

(Peacock 1504; December, 1949)
Brown’s first hit and a prototype of the blues-rock sound that confounded those who insisted artists be put in one box or another, but while the attitude and the stellar guitar intro belong to one, the horns and the underlying viewpoints fit better in the other. (6)

(Peacock 1504; December, 1949)
A re-worked, if not hijacked, version of Dave Bartholomew’s two year old “She’s Got Great Big Eyes”, Brown tightens and toughens the arrangement, giving it more drive while retaining the loose jam-session feel. (5)

(Peacock 1508; March, 1950)
What was shaping up to be Brown’s best effort to date featuring a good story, witty lyrics and a strong vocal delivery is undercut by his aimless guitar accents during the two instrumental breaks, needlessly distracting you while adding nothing positive to the arrangement. (5)

(Peacock 1505; July, 1950)
Brown’s hitting on all cylinders here with each component of the song being carried out to their fullest potential, from the bravado of the scenario to the relentless boogie carried out by the band, showing what a potent rocker he always was at his core. (9)

(Peacock 1505; July, 1950)
A decent but non-essential offering by Brown who is understandably distraught over the early morning departure of his sweetheart but can’t seem to understand this is the end, all of which is more bluesy than usual, but the horns bring it back into the rock fold. (4)

(Peacock 1561; November, 1950)
Despite it being a very common theme – one of four similarly titled songs of the year – Brown puts his own spin on things with a strong confident vocal that shows off each tone in his arsenal and caps it off with some blistering guitar solos to make this come alive. (7)

(Peacock 1561; November, 1950)
A weird merger of pop styled horns and rock vocals and guitar meshes slightly better than you’d expect, but that’s largely to how much Brown’s guitar distracts you, but when that bows out you’re left with a vague story and too many classy touches to really connect. (4)

(Peacock 1568; February, 1951)
A track that’s not as stylistically compromised as some of his efforts shows why his presence in rock ‘n’ roll was so vital for the still largely untapped elements he brings to the table with his guitar, but it doesn’t go quite far enough to stir excitement despite his aggressive attitude. (5)

(Peacock 1575; June, 1951)
A surprisingly well-constructed two part commercial for a local beer finds Brown singing its praises in a way that sounds wholly legitimate while the very full arrangement will get even those who aren’t drinking on the dance floor. (7)

(Peacock 1576; July, 1951)
Equal parts racy and humorous, the latter taking some of the stigma off the more troubling sexual details of the tale along with twist ending that shows Brown essentially wrote a short-story in musical form making this one of his better and more fully realized ideas. (8)

(Peacock 1586; November, 1951)
A stylistically different cover record of Chuck Willis’s latest release finds Brown augmenting his semi-detached vocal with an anguished guitar which drives home the song’s underlying hurt in strong fashion. (7)

(Peacock 1586; November, 1951)
A bleak and dire song about missed opportunities that makes for a really tough listen emotionally yet whose message is important to hear even if hearing it presented this way is hardly the most enjoyable experience. (4)

(Peacock 1600; July, 1952)
Though well performed for the most part, the song’s too stylistically diverse for its own good, incorporating blues guitar, rocking horns and a pre-rock piano until it loses its identity altogether, a Brown trademark unfortunately. (5)

(Peacock 1600; July, 1952)
Here’s where the blues elements of Brown’s persona start to become more overt, especially the extended guitar intro which shows no sign of rocking, but when the vocals and horns come in your impressions change, even though the two stylistic attributes never do reconcile. (4)

(Peacock 1607; December, 1952)
Though initially just a B-side this became one of his more enduring songs, a cornerstone of blues-rock which thanks to the famous imagery of the location in the song and Brown’s guitar-centric arrangement probably gets pulled into more blues conversations than rock. (6)

(Peacock 1607; December, 1952)
One of his best pure rockers features an aggressive arrangement with vocal attitude to match on a song which defiantly asserts Brown’s confidence, topped by a sizzling guitar solo amidst the relentless piano, horns and drum assault. (8)