ORANGE, Texas. -- Friends, fans and peers expressed sadness this weekend with the passing of American Roots Music legend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
After evacuating his beloved home in Slidell, Louisiana, to Orange, TX to escape the path of Hurricane Katrina on August 28, 2005, Mr. Brown died in Orange, Texas on Saturday, Sept. 10. He was 81 years old. The hurricane leveled his home, which was filled with artifacts and memoribilia from his 50-plus years of recording. He had been battling lung cancer, emphasyzma and heart disease and had been in ill health much of the past year. The destruction of his home weighed heavily on him.
"Anybody who wasn't a fan of Gate, well, there's something wrong with them," said guitar legend Scotty Moore. "He covered all genres and did them all great. It never matter whether it was on guitar or fiddle. He had a style all his own, and he had the longest fingers under the sun...."
When his cancer was first diagnosed last year, Mr. Brown refused treatment, choosing instead to spend the last year of his life doing what he loved most - playing his music for his fans.
Those fans came from all genres and his unique style influenced countless musicians - including such rock luminaries as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Keith Richards, Ry Cooder, Dr. John, Willie Nelson and Gregg Allmann - reflecting Mr. Brown's own passion for music of all kinds.
"Gate's music was his own, whether he wrote it or not. He just made it that way. His approach to a variety of styles always had his signature sound; watching him I felt like I was witnessing a look in to the musical past of the blues, country, and a troubled legend," said The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's John McEuen. "Even in the early '70's Gate had the aura of always being 'an old guy' in the sense of a blues sage, one who might have seen a few too many things he didn't want to see, and wanted to sing about it, telling it like he saw it."
"Folks call me a bluesman because I'm black and because I play guitar," Brown once said. "But my music is 'American' music - Texas style."
Indeed Mr. Brown's stubborn determination to expand his musical boundaries was legendary. His last album, Timeless, illustrated his mastery of a variety of musical styles and drew the highest praise of his career.
"Gatemouth was an American original, an innovator," said Country Artist Steve Wariner. "He was always as much fun to watch as to hear. He was real treasure!"
"I didn't know Gate well, but I always appreciated him ‹ most of all, his feisty, independent spirit and warm heart," echoed noted author Peter Guralnick. "Gate was the original contrarian, but there was always a well thought-out argument behind it. It wasn't just that Gate was unwilling to play the fool. He simply refused to live up to anyone else's defination or expectations of him. But I think this was part of his genius. From the start, Gate defined himself, both as a musician and as a man."
"There is no one like him alive today," said Michelle Shocked, who worked often with Brown. "He was a vast treasure trove and storehouse of musical and cultural knowledge and the richness that he has brought into all of our lives is immeasurable. He was a generous spirit, overlooking faults in order to see the common humanity that we all share and this is the quality that I will miss the most. For a man who has seen some of the most repulsive and ugly aspects of human nature to transform that knowledge into the beauty and grace that he does is an uplift and hope for citizens of the world."
"We lost one of the greatest musicians and one of the best friends I've ever had," said musician Bobby Charles. "I loved him. We're all going to miss him."
Survivors include three daughters, Ursula, Celeste, Renee, and a son, Dwayne.
Funeral arrangements are still inco