ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 23, 1997
BY STEVE NEWTON
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown—there’s a ring to that name that just suits an elderly, pipe-puffin’ blues master. At least, that’s what I thought before conducting a phone interview with the 73-year-old musician, at home in Louisiana. I sure learned fast that the “Gatemouth” title wasn’t earned through any propensity for chatter.
Getting a word out of the veteran singer-songwriter-guitarist-fiddler is difficult, and commandeering a quotable sentence nearly impossible. I expected that, when I asked Brown about Eric Clapton’s contribution to his latest CD, Long Way Home, I’d at least elicit an enthusiastic reply regarding Slowhand’s prowess on the fretboard.
“Yeah, he’s alright,” was the extent of Brown’s commentary on the guitar god’s performance.
I suppose when you’re an influential bluesman who’s been playing professionally for half a century, you’ve earned the right to talk when you feel like it. Born in Orange, Texas, in 1924, Brown was introduced to music by his father, a country-and-western, Cajun, and bluegrass specialist. He joined his first professional band in 1940, playing drums with Howard Spencer and His Gay Swingsters, and by ’47 had recorded his first sides in L.A. for the Aladdin label.
Though he’s best-known as a blues guitarist-vocalist, Brown also grew proficient on fiddle, banjo, and harmonica, and he used those skills making music that crossed the boundaries of blues, jazz, and country. He received a Grammy award in ’82 for his Alright Again release, and he says he wasn’t surprised to win the trophy, which he keeps a picture of at his house. (The actual statuette is kept in a Texas museum).
“It’s just one of those things, man,” he said, sloughing off the sought-after prize. “I’m not excited over none of that. Right now I’m nominated again for another Grammy.”
When he’s not in the studio or on the road—as he will be when he comes to Richard’s on Richards on Thursday (January 30)—Brown prefers to do one thing mainly, and that’s relax at home in front of the tube. “I hardly listen to music when I’m off,” he said. “I watch programs. I like cartoons on television and stuff like that.”
Alright now! It looked like I’d stumbled on a potentially intriguing human-interest tidbit worthy of exploration. How many monosyllabic, septuagenarian bluesmen can there be out there in TV land, giggling at the hilarious antics of Homer and Bart?
“I don’t like no Simpsons,” countered Brown gruffly. “I like the older cartoons. Yosemite Sam and the Roadrunner.”
Rather than encourage a long-distance row with Brown over the chuckle-inducing qualities of The Simpsons, I decided it was best to wind our one-sided conversation down. But I couldn’t help picturing crotchety Grandpa Simpson when Brown left me these inspirational parting words:
“Save me a copy of this write-up.”