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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, September 16, 2005

I was lucky enough to see Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown before he left this earthly coil, and he was somethin' else. We were at the Clemens Center for the Performing Arts, a venue that is special for followers of New York Labor Law Sec. 240, and Robert Lockwood Jr. and his big band opened. That's right: a big band opened for a guy who came out on stage with a guitar on his shoulder and a fiddle and a banjo on the stand beside him-- and that's how it should have been. Robert, Jr. turned in a fine set, and then Gatemouth came out and was Just That Good.

He's an interesting cat in the theology of the American trinity, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. As I listened to the stuff of his that I have on my iPod, traveling this week, I thought that Blues is the easiest place to put him, but in truth he was probably closet to jazz, and it was his Country side that kept people from seeing that. Rock'n'Roll? Yeah, if that was what he'd wanted to claim, he'd be in that room, with Ike Turner, and Chuck Berry-- but he resisted that sort of easy categorization. "Interviewed in a recent issue of Guitar Player magazine about his early blues-based records, Mr. Brown gave a practical answer. "I had to sound like that because I was just starting out," he explained. "Seeing as how I was a newcomer, I obliged. But after a while, I thought, 'Why do I have to be one of these old cryin' and moanin' guitar players always talking bad about women?' So I just stopped. That's when I started having horns and piano in my band, and started playing arrangements more like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, rather than some old hardcore Mississippi Delta stuff."'

It's funny-- I woke up yesterday to a station that was playing a bunch of old Basie, and the fact is that what Brown was doing, all by himself, sounded so much like what what Basie did that I don't think my kids-- who are pretty sophisticated on these things-- could pass a blindfold test. Glad I saw him. I hope it was a good life.

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