Gatemouth Brown is the Gulf Coast's Duke Ellington.
Gatemouth Brown is the Gulf Coast's Duke Ellington.


"Where I see my music going," Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown told Texas cultural historian Alan Govenar in 1987, "is where the modern blues player has never been able to go, to a vortex on the other side of Mars, beyond that. In order to get there, you have to suspend the G-force. Then if you do that, you might get a chance to stop in the twilight zone, a rest period, but the ultimate part of this trip is the nine giant steps. You got to go at supersonic speed and not many can get there."

"What I'm talking about," he said, "is my idea of music."

As is plain, no one can accuse Brown of not setting his goals high, but such Sun Ra-like statements of intent are enough to make one ponder just what it is smoldering in that ever-present pipe of his. It sure ain't Flying Dutchman, as Brown freely admits. "Marijuana is the only substance on earth that's grown by what we know of as God, nature or whatever, that don't really harm no one," he told author Jas Obrecht. "But all this manmade chemicals -- that's what's killing them. Alcohol is killing us."


Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

African-American Arts Festival across from Project Row Houses, 2500 Holman

Saturday, October 13. For more information, call 713-526-7662. The Pete Mayes Benefit at the Rhythm Room follows at 1815 Washington Avenue. For more information, call 713-863-0943.

Add to the 77-year-old Brown's list of banned vices all drugs (save marijuana), womanizing and ego-tripping, and you have Gatemouth's secrets for success in the music business. It must work, for Brown's career spans not merely parts of seven decades but also every medium by which music has ever been captured, from 78s to MP3s. What he has brought us on those discs of many shapes and sizes is the Gulf Coast's answer to Count Basie or Duke Ellington. As Louis Armstrong was to New Orleans, so Gatemouth is to the swamps, the refineries, the oyster-shell parking lots and the moss-draped live oaks of the rural Gulf Coast and blue-collar cities like Beaumont, Lake Charles and Houston.

Double Bayou was another of Brown's favorite towns, and Pete Mayes's country dance hall epitomizes Gatemouth country. Brown has played his close friend Mayes's dance hall many times over the years, and the two have traveled together in Gate's Express band as far as South America.

Now Brown (who has a new album in stores called Back to Bogalusa) is bringing it all back to Houston, where he found national fame, and to Mayes, whom he regards as almost a brother. He will headline the African-American Arts Festival not far from the old El Dorado Ballroom, where he often drove those famous happy feet crazy with "Okie-Dokie Stomp" and "Ain't That Dandy" back during Eisenhower's first term. Then he's going across town to Washington Avenue's Rhythm Room to play a benefit for Mayes, whose diabetic complications are quite expensive. Houston will have not one but two chances to see the King of Gulf Coast Music, both of them helping good causes. No excuses, people, get on Gate's Express and go to them both.


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