"Baby Take It Easy" (C. Brown)
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Peacock, 1952
Easy come, easy go
I’m an admitted sucker for this jump stuff, pounding, upbeat, pumped up horns, shouted vocals (you needed lots of vocal projection to be heard over the band on live gigs with minimal amplification), which was really rock 'n roll before the term was coined. Of course, I don’t feature much of it here at HOTG, as we pursue the more syncopated, funky side of the music equation for the most part. But I have to make exceptions sometimes; and, today, it’s to feature the recently departed Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown back in his early days, recording for the Peacock label out of Houston in the early 1950’s.
On this number, Gate and the band get a little wild, especially the horns. The baritone sax soloist to whom Gate says, “Blow, Fred”, is Memphian Fred Ford, an exceptional player who did quite of bit of session work down in Texas back then. I was fortunate to get to see and hear Ford at various venues around Memphis later in his life. I don’t know who’s on trumpet, put he really lets it rip towards the end. And, of course, Brown rocks out his solo. He took the T-Bone Walker style of Texas big band blues, goosed it up a notch or two with his own guitar virtuosity and high energy, and branched out from there for over fifty years. No, he wasn’t much of a singer; but he got the job done, while his hip, jazzy riffing (on guitar or fiddle) and choppy, syncopated chording combined with an always top notch band to make most of his records memorable and his live shows dynamite.
As I mentioned when I briefly reported his death last week, Gate had been living in Slidell, LA for many years. I think he lived in New Orleans for a time in the 1970’s or early 1980’s; and, although he was raised in East Texas (and passed away there, having been evacuated from Katrina’s path), he was born on the Louisiana side of the border and always had a bit of the swamp in his multi-faceted style. I got to catch Gate live numerous times over the years; and the thin, wiry man with the big cowboy hat always was fun to watch. He had a very unaffected, loose, playful approach to his instrument that made his fretwork appear less complex and technically proficient than it actually was. He always had great band arrangements, too. Besides his early records, my favorite albums of his are his return to the big band sound on Gate Swings and American Music, Texas Style in the late 1990’s. He came back to his Louisiana roots for Back To Bogalusa, in 2001. I got to interview him several times on my radio show in Memphis; and he was the ideal guest, always willing to talk, full of opinions, witty and intelligent. My biggest problem with him was getting him not to smoke his pipe (which we was always either puffing or filling) in the air room.
The last time I saw him was at OffBeat’s Best of the Beat Awards show earlier this year. Although he was barely able to walk onto the stage, he played a few tunes with the house band, led by his longtime pianist, Joe Krown, and showed us in just a few minutes what a class act he really was.