Ornery 'til the end
Final thoughts from Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown
Published December 2005
Towering multi-instrumentalist/genre-defying American roots musician Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown passed away September 10, age 81. Brown had been battling a litany of health problems during the past year, including lung cancer, which he opted to forego treatment of to continue working unconstrained all the way to his grave. Brown's beloved homestead in Slidell, La., had been leveled by Hurricane Katrina; many believe the heartbreak from that loss contributed to his death.
I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Brown several times over the years; he proved to be more fearlessly insightful, hilarious and, above all, more pit-viper-ornery each time out. What follows are some of my favorite quotes from those conversations let his own words stand as testimonial to the wit and wisdom on Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown:
On being labeled a "bluesman":
That's America they think all a black man can do is three things: play blues and jazz or be an athlete. They don't acknowledge that a man is a man and he can do anything he want to do. Blues, jazz, country, Cajun, bluegrass, everything that's what I do. It pisses me off to see America so goddamned stupid!
On country blues:
I don't like that old delta blues, man hell, no! No sir! No, no, no, no, no, NO! I don't like what it represents, what it means, I don't like none of it, no parts of it. It's too primitive and it's too negative. You put a bunch of them steel guitar players in one room and what are you gonna get? Them old low-down, crank-down blues, and that's it. It's sickening, man!
On blues harp:
Every son of a bitch I know goes out and buys one, not only making music stores rich but they come irritating me and everybody in the audience with their harp blowing in people's ears. Assholes! That's why I stopped playing it. I got so pissed off I called my office and told them I want a stipulation in my contract that all harmonicas be checked at the door and if they get caught playing one they be 86'ed.
On Texas blues guitar legends:
I heard people compare me to Freddie King and T-Bone and them. Them guys didn't like me and it didn't matter. I think it's through jealousy. Freddie King stole his lines from me. Honest to goodness, I didn't even listen to any guitar players when I was coming up. T-Bone was as close as I ever heard, but then I figured out that everything he played was the same thing, so I changed my mind about that. It's sickening!
On country music:
What's gone wrong with country music is that rock & roll is no longer worth a damn, so they jumped into country, played rock & roll and called it country music. I don't even listen to it anymore, 'cause it ain't worth a damn.
On jam sessions:
When professional musicians get together, they supposed to back out of each other's way and let each other play, but noooo everybody jump in there and it don't be a jam session, it be a train wreck! They're just trying to show how many notes they can do. Damn, I'm in the wrong business do you get paid by the note? I did some Rain Forest benefit and it was the most disastrous thing I ever saw in my life. That was sickening, man! It was a bunch of guitar players and I don't even wanna say who all was there, but Keith Richards was one of them.
On Michelle Shocked:
Do you know people didn't like her singing on my album (snickers)? My manager asked me to put her on there. It was his idea! (more snickers) ...
On George W. Bush:
Don't talk to me about no goddamn George Bush! No! Getting all our boys killed. Hell, no! He's not no goddamned Texan in the first place! If I was president I'd stop all the killing and give everybody a job so they can work. Those that didn't want to work, I would dig a hole and drive 'em in it. You don't wanna work, you have to bury yourself, that's all.
I don't drink and I don't use drugs and I don't stay up late partying. Still love my pipe though. This gal I know said, 'I hope I can live to be your age and be just as ornery.' That was funny!