Back in 1947, a then-23-year-old Clarence Brown left a San Antonio boarding house and moved to Houston. Pretty much ever since then, he has been a multidimensional force of American roots music. Though Brown, a master of the violin, mandolin, viola and other various instruments, actually started his professional career playing drums, he reigns as one of the all-time great virtuosos of Texas blues guitar. That reputation originated one night 52 years ago when, as a daring, unknown kid, he emerged from the audience in Fifth Ward's old Bronze Peacock nightclub and stole the show from an ailing, offstage T-Bone Walker.
The club's owner, enigmatic entrepreneur Don Robey, immediately signed the brash electric guitar slinger to a management contract and a couple of years later created the seminal R&B label Peacock Records specifically to market Brown's many talents. Following a lengthy run of original hits with Peacock, including intense vocal numbers such as "My Time Is Expensive" and big-band swing instrumentals such as "Okie Dokie Stomp," Brown left Houston in the early 1960s, recording extensively and internationally for numerous labels over the subsequent decades.
But the Bayou City has remained a frequent stop for the almost endlessly touring Gatemouth Express. As he explains in a song lyric, he was "born in Louisiana, raised on the Texas side," and one result is a gumbo of stylistic influences reflecting an intercultural heritage. Brown's technique and repertoire intuitively blend elements of Cajun, zydeco, country & western, bluegrass, jazz and blues. What to call it? When pressed for an accurate classification of his sound, Brown takes a long drag on his ever-present pipe, blows out a roomful of pungent smoke and says, "American music, Texas drive."
For much of the 1990s, Brown has recorded on the Verve label, releasing a series of discs containing both original blues and cover tracks ranging from folksy fiddle tunes ("Up Jumped the Devil") to reinterpretations of Louis Jordan songs ("Caldonia") to straight-ahead jazz ("Take the 'A' Train") to pop classics ("Unchained Melody") to, no kidding, even a ballad by Bob Dylan ("Don't Think Twice"). It's all fair game when the venerable "Gatemouth" plugs in the guitar, fires up the pipe and cuts loose.
-- Roger Wood
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown performs Saturday, June 19, at Billy Blues, 6025 Richmond, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call (713)266-9294.
Bailter Space -- Stargazing may be dead and buried, but Bailter Space still remains. After conquering the blissed-out rock world in 1993 with Robot World, the New Zealand trio, now based in New York, has gotten progressively noisier with each subsequent album. That's not noise like crash! boom! bang! but noise of the sort known as "beautiful noise." Bailter Space inhabits this trancelike state, full of fuzzy guitars and samples, like aliens inhabiting spaceship space. Think mechanization.
Still, Bailter Space has a poppy side. True, there aren't any sing-along songs. Instead, there are ruminations that dither on the edges of ambient, pop and punk. Very spaced-out stuff, but very accessible, too.
It's a unique sound that's the result of 20 years of togetherness. The Gordons first formed in 1980, and although the band broke up twice, the original Gordons lineup found itself together again in 1988 as Bailter Space (Brent McLachlan, drums; John Halvorsen, bass; and Alister Parker, guitar). Under any name, rhythmical propulsion has always been the theme.
Live, the Bailter Space experience translates well. What may be the sweetest song can suddenly become an intensely loud, drawn-out fanfare of experimentation. In fact, the band's known to stretch a vibe for more than 20 minutes. And in beautiful noise terms that's an unbearably delightful drone. Bailter Space performs Thursday, June 24, at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh Drive. Call (713)521-0521. (Sande Chen
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