When we last visited CLARENCE "GATEMOUTH" BROWN a couple of years ago, he'd just released his second superb, big band CD, American Music Texas Style, comprehensively humiliating the rash of neo-swing, Daddy-O bands then pockmarking the landscape. His upcoming release, Back to Bogalusa, finds the 77-year-old Texas- and Louisiana-reared, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumental mensch returning to his childhood roots in Cajun music. Brown is also the proud owner of a well-earned rep as the meanest, surliest sumbitch in the music biz, God bless his crabby soul. In our last interview, Brown opined freely on just about any subject with the summation that it "pissed him off." These days, he's graduated to a new adjective: he now finds most topics of discussion "sickening."
BROWN on his muse: "I'm a musician, man. I play country, Cajun, bluegrass, jazz, blues, calypso, bossa nova, Celtic music, polkas—I play anything. And I haven't found nobody yet to do what I do. A lot of people think they know what they doing musically, but they don't. They copy off of everybody, but they don't do it right. I did 'Take the A Train.' Now, you won't find no guitar players doing 'A Train' by Duke Ellington, 'Flying Home' by Lionel Hampton, 'One O'Clock Jump' by Count Basie. I did all those tunes. All guitar players ever do is get in them old blues changes and hang the rest of their lives on it. I refuse to do that. I don't like that old delta blues, man. You put a bunch of them steel guitar players in one room and what are you gonna get? Them old low-down, crank-down blues, and that's it. It's sickening, man!"
BROWN on his place among Texas blues-guitar legends: "I heard people compare me to Freddie King and them. Them guys didn't like me, and it didn't matter. I think it's through jealousy. Freddie King stole his lines from me; when he play guitar, they say he sound like a horn. Well, I never did hear that in his playing but I can prove I play horn lines with mine. Honest to goodness, I didn't even listen to any guitar players when I was coming up. I mean, I listened to them but there was nothing I wanted to use as a role model. T-Bone Walker was as close as I ever heard, but then I figured out that everything he played was the same thing, so I changed my mind about that. It's sickening, man!"
BROWN on jamming with other guitarists: 'They try to one-up you; they be playing loud, everybody gonna be walking all over one another, and I just don't like it. I flew up to New York a couple months ago and played for some rain forest benefit, and it was the most disastrous thing I ever saw in my life. Ohhhhh, man! That was sickening, man! It was a bunch of guitar players, and I don't even wanna say who all was there, but Keith Richards was one of them."
BROWN on his new album: "It's different than anything I've ever done. There's a lot of bayou-type stuff on it and Louisiana stuff—a bunch of stuff I never did before. I wrote a song called 'Dangerous Critter' about an alligator I had in my back yard. I live right on top of the water here in Slidell."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
BROWN on the secret to his longevity: "I don't drink and I don't use drugs and I don't go on the road in the winter and I don't stay up late partying. Still love my pipe, though. Doctors wanted to take it away, and I said, 'Look, man, this is the only thing in the world I do and now you want to take it away?' There's this gal out of Canada—I forget her name, but she's some guitar player—and she said, 'I hope I can live to be Gatemouth Brown's age and be just as ornery.' That was funny!"
Brown appears at the Long Beach Beach Fest on Saturday, along with such great blues acts as JOE LOUIS WALKER, TOMMY CASTRO and JAMES HARMAN. Check him out, but don't fuck with Gate or he'll shove your face so far up your ass that you'll be flossing with your intestines till your next turtle head pushes you back out.
A friend in Italy has sent me some bootleg CDs of DAVE ALVIN & THE GUILTY MEN live in Milan last month, and the band is playing so well it's become positively unreasonable. In fact, Alvin and company these days recall prime Grateful Dead (prime Dead, I say!) circa 1970, when Jerry Garcia was at the peak of his powers and the band was playing so tight and sweet it was like the music emanated from a single brain. Alvin himself acknowledges as much and says other fans have made the Dead connection, but some are pissing and moaning about it, claiming they won't go see him again until Alvin gets over his hippie period. Grrrrrrr. . . . Okay, anyone who listens to the transcendently gorgeous music this band is making these days and disapproves is a tin-eared bunghole, and I consign them to an eternity in Rockabilly Hell, where they may listen to all the Kim Lenz CDs they want until their pompadours turn to mullets—which, let's face it, they all do eventually. Alvin appears Saturday night at the Coach House with equally stud-like Costa Mesan Chris Gaffney. Boycott if you must, Hot Rod Boy. Me, I'll be truckin' till the motherfuckin' cows come home.
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown plays at the Long Beach Beach Fest at the Long Beach Marina Green, Along Shoreline Dr., Long Beach, (949) 376-6942; www.beachfest.com. Call for Brown's show times. Fair runs Sat.-Sun., noon-9 p.m. $15 advance/$18 at door; Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; Sat., 8 p.m. $15.