Anything you can do, Gate can do better. So you're a hot-shit guitarist? Clarence Gatemouth Brown smokes you like a slab of salmon, then doubles on fiddle, mandolin and harp for an encore. Think you're a stylin' songster? Gate's got more panache in his pen and pipes at 79 than kids a quarter his age. Gates blows blues, jazz, swing, country, Cajun and calypso—one as well as the other—and he's also way smarter and harder-workin' than your sorry, pea-green Yankee ass, too. Do not fuck with this man. Do not even breathe around him, or he might make good on the threat in his song "Street Corner": "Get out your knife, take off your coat/I'm gonna jack you up and slit your doggone throat."
OC Weekly: 2003 has been officially designated as the Year of the Blues. Care to comment on that?
clarence gatemouth brown: Well, man, the only thing about that is, I'm not blues, I'm music. Blues is only one phase of my repertoire, and in fact I don't play the type of blues you may be thinking of, that chitlin' stuff.
I know what you do—I have all your albums. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on the blues becoming fashionable for a year.
Well, I don't know. People has a lot of definitions for blues and I don't know what's popular. All I know is I play my own style of music and it has blues and Dixie in it, but it's not the Delta. I don't know what kind of blues is going on, because I don't follow it. Most music today, you heard one tune, you heard it all and I just don't care for it.
What's gone wrong with country music and what can be done to save it?
What's gone wrong with country music is that rock & roll is no longer worth a damn, so what they did, they jumped into country, played rock & roll and called it country music. It's upsetting, man. I don't even listen to it anymore; I'm being honest with you. Some of the old ones are all right, but these new ones ain't worth a damn.
You've said in the past you don't like jamming with other musicians . . .
I really don't. It become a train wreck, everybody trying to outplay each other. A jam today is not like the people were yesterday. When professional musicians get together, each one is supposed to back out of each other's way and let each other play. But noooo: today, everybody jump in there and it don't be a jam session, it be a train wreck!
But you did make a great jam record with Roy Clark many years ago. What made him different?
Well, just like I said, that was a different type of thing. People in the past knew what a jam session meant. Nowadays, it's all about the idea of getting up there and cracking somebody's head, and that's not necessary.
They're more interested in cutting you than making music . . .
So they think! They're just trying to show how many notes they can do. There were people like that in the olden days too, but they didn't last. One old boy, I forget his name, he get up there playing a million notes in a chorus and I said, 'Damn, I'm in the wrong business. Do you get paid by the note?'
Another person you've worked with is Michelle Shocked. You two seem like strange bedfellows. What's the attraction there?
Oh, well, she was just hanging around New Orleans, so I put her on my album, that's all. And do you know people didn't like her on my album? [He snickers.] I was mentioning that to someone just last night. I had a friend over and I played the album and he said, 'Who is that?' and I said, 'Michelle Shocked.' He says, 'Oooh, shit.' I don't know why, he just didn't like her.
So youdo like her yourself?
I . . . I . . . I . . . ahhhhhhhh. She's all right.
So how did she end up on your album?
Well, my manager asked me to put her on there.
[Snickering] It was his idea!
Next subject: What is it about Texas? Why has this state produced so much great music?
I can't answer that either, man. All I know is what I play and I have a certain drive—and you know from listening, that's my Texas drive. With a lot of other Texas musicians, they kind of sound like Delta musicians and all of that. It's going back to the same thing I don't like.
You don't like any of the Delta blues musicians? Not even Robert Johnson?
Oh, hell no! No, no, no, no, no! No, sir.
What is it about them you don't like?
I don't like the honky-tonk style, I don't like what it represents, what it means. I don't like none of it, no parts of it. It's too primitive and it's too negative.
Did you like the Piedmont blues guys, the rag pickers like Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller? No! They did the best they could and that's all right for them, but I don't want no parts of it. I'm gonna give you some choices here, and you tell me which you prefer: T Bone or B.B.?
[Long uncomfortable silence follows. More snickering.] God damn it, you're putting me in the middle!
Ahhh, you love it.
Well, B.B. is my friend. His playing is the Delta. T Bone Walker, we wasn't friends, but he was a straight-ahead blues player. So, uhhhhh, let's just say T Bone had a little more knowledge about what he was playing at the time than B.B. did.
Basie or Ellington?
Count Basie. Count Basie was more driving; Duke Ellington was more syrupy. There's a couple tunes that Duke Ellington had that struck me pretty well, but the rest were too syrupy.
Willie or Waylon?
I think I like Willie a little better. He's more of a country boy in what he's doing. They've both got their own ideas. It's just what I prefer listening to.
Bush or Clinton?
You know goddamn well it got to be Bill Clinton, it ain't gonna be no goddamn George Bush! No! Getting all our boys killed. Hell, no!
You think he's a disgrace to the state of Texas?
He's not no goddamn Texan in the first place!
If you could change one thing about America, what would it be?
I'd stop all the killing and give everybody a job so they can work. Those that didn't want to work, I would dig a hole and drive 'em in it. You don't wanna work, you have to bury yourself, that's all.
That'd be quite a campaign platform! Why don't you run for president in the next election?
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'Cause I wouldn't have the goddamn job. No, sir, I don't want no parts of politics or religion. I don't like either one of 'em.
Clarence Gatemouth Brown AND Dan Hicks at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Tues., 8 p.m. $25.