Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's tough-minded approach to the blues, country, Cajun, and jazz insures a minimum of nonsense and a maximum of variety, while his virtuosity on the guitar and fiddle insures the highest standards. Nonetheless, Brown's 1997 album is a landmark for the 73-year-old picker who won a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award. All 13 tunes on Gate Swings find Brown working with his regular road quartet plus a 13-piece horn section, enabling him to prove that Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton have been as important to his music as any bluesman or Creole fiddler. Gate Swings includes tunes by all three of those big-band leaders as well as compositions by Buddy Johnson, Percy Mayfield, Louis Jordan, and Brown himself, and they all swing with the massive force that only a big horn section can muster. Brown has leaned in this direction before, but Gate Swings is special, because it features the horn arrangements of Wardell Quezergue, an alumnus of the Dave Bartholomew band who arranged many of the best New Orleans R&B hits in the '60s and '70s.
Like everything on Memphis Slim's album Goin' Back to Tennessee or Alvin Youngblood Hart's "Tallacatcha" (a Western swing performance worthy of Bob Wills), Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown's 1975 Barclay album Down South in the Bayou Country completely transcends any and all attempts to confine this diverse artist within the artificial parameters of blues or any other preordained category. Consisting mostly of songs written by Hoyt Garrick, Jr., Charles Gressett, and David Craig with additional tunes by J. Loyd and Joe Stampley, this pretty parfait of country & western, Southern rock, cowboy hoedown, and electric Cajun soul music was recorded during February and March 1974 in Bogalusa, LA. Gatemouth, fresh from his tenure as Deputy Sheriff of San Juan County, NM, sounds particularly pleased to be active at the center of a project so completely infused with authentic Southern sensibilities. Perhaps the most satisfying track off of the original album is "Loup Garou." This hoodoo funk ritual with background vocals by Geraldine "Sister Gerry" Richard sounds as if it might have been influenced by Dr. John's "Loop Garoo," which had appeared on that artist's Atco album Remedies in 1970.
In early 1967 Rick Hall’s Fame set-up was missing a vital ingredient. Despite all the success he had achieved as a producer, studio-owner, publisher and record label boss, he had yet to sign an enduring artist. That was about to change. The previous year a duo who recorded as Clarence & Calvin hired the studio to cut a self-financed single. They had been working together for five years and had just left a deal with Houston-based Duke Records. As he watched them, Hall thought he had found his stars and urged them to come back and sign with him. When the day came, only Clarence Carter appeared. At first, Hall was dismissive of the singer’s pleas to be signed as a solo act but eventually relented and gave him a go.
A delightfully eclectic program spotlighting nearly all of Gate's musical leanings – blues, jazz, country, even a hearty taste of "Louisiana Zydeco" – and a revealing glimpse of his multi-instrumental abilities: he plays guitar, violin, drums, and piano! There's a tender remake of the Chuck Willis R&B ballad and a funk-tinged update of "Got My Mojo Working," but everything else is from Brown's own pen.
This special collector's edition contains 29 remastered recordings by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, consisting of a selection of the magnicent early sides released between 1947 and 1960 on the Peacock and Aladdin record labels. Several of his most famous songs and enduring singles are featured on this quintessential CD, including “Dirty Work at the Crossroads,” “Midnight Hour,” “Just Before Dawn,” and “Okie Dokie Stomp,” among others. It is truly an indispensable set for any blues and R&B devotee.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was one of the most jazz-oriented of bluesmen, a colorful guitarist and a primitive but swinging fiddler. On this release he includes many instrumental sections in his performances including four all-out boppish jazz jams ("Digging New Ground," "C-Jam Blues," "The Peeper" and the stomping "We're Outta Here"). Brown's vocals, which feature consistently intelligent lyrics ("Better Off With The Blues" is particularly memorable), are part of the music rather than the entire show; he even gives his obscure backup horns chances to solo. The set is a particularly strong example of Gatemouth Brown's music with each of the 11 selections (except perhaps for "I Will Be Your Friend," a poppish vocal duet with Michelle Shocked) being well worth hearing.
To call the multitalented Gatemouth Brown, a mainstay of the Texas music scene for over half a century, a bluesman would be inaccurate. Not completely wrong, for Brown's influence on Texas blues has been enormous, but certainly not the whole picture. On Blackjack, Brown (who sings and plays harmonica and a plethora of stringed instruments, from guitar to viola) goes from blues ("Chickenshift") to jazz ("Honey Boy," with a nice drum solo from David Peters) to country ("Dark End of the Hallway") and back again. Not every musician can handle this kind of variety, but Brown makes it work, whether it's the straight-ahead blues of "Here Am I" or "Street Corner" (which has a great harmonica intro), the Cajun-inflected "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," or the jazz-blues feel of "Tippin' In." It's easy to see, or rather to hear, why Brown has been so influential: every track on Blackjack is performed with the deft assurance of a master.