By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Shut the gate: For years, Dallas resident and former 89.3 KNON DJ Kelly Cutler acted as tour manager for Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown without knowing the story behind the nickname. In his decades as a premier guitarist in a genre he refused to call "blues" and a favorite of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, the Orange, Texas, native made up many tales that the press would eat up--in fact, Cutler says even the Associated Press got the story wrong ("because of his deep voice") when Brown's obituary printed on Monday after he passed away a day earlier at the age of 81. Brown never did tell the true story about the name "Gatemouth." But about six years ago, Cutler witnessed it.
"One night, in B.B. King's home, this guy comes in, dressed up, and tells Gate, 'You know, I gave you that name. I want you to go and do good with it.'" That man was the late New Orleans gospel singer Arnold "Gatemouth" Moore, 10 years his senior, speaking to Brown as if he were a teen. As the story goes, Moore canceled a Memphis concert decades ago. Brown was in the audience, and when he heard Gatemouth Moore couldn't make it, he jumped on the stage--"Well, Gatemouth Brown is here!" As Cutler tells it, when Moore recounted this story, Brown didn't object to a word. "He just sat there and smoked his pipe."
In April, Brown brought that pipe to Dallas to smoke while watching a benefit concert at Poor David's Pub, where Cutler and his wife performed alongside Bugs Henderson and other local blu--er, sorry, Gatemouth--American music figures to raise money for Brown's rising medical bills. Though wheelchair-bound with an oxygen tube, Brown was still his old self. "Gate was hollering at Bugs when he played," Cutler says. "'I'm gonna kick your ass if you don't turn it down!'"
As a longtime friend and an unofficial father to Brown's daughter, Rene, Cutler shared many stories about the eccentric guitar legend and gave thanks to Brown's longtime bandmates in Gates Express, but he held his composure while talking about the late musician as adept with a guitar as he was with a harp, piano and fiddle. The way he sees it, Brown, with countless album releases and worldwide tours, accomplished what he'd set out to. "He always claimed he was from a vortex beyond Mars, and he came here to teach us humanoids something. I guess he's gone back to that vortex," Cutler says. "I sure miss him."
It turns out Team Clermont is. Undeniable Records, the label behind the Bullets and local super-poppers The Tah-Dahs, has teamed up with the indie-pop-minded publicity firm from Athens, Georgia, that's behind national sensations such as Apples in Stereo and Death Cab for Cutie and Dallas bands like Captain Audio and The Polyphonic Spree. The promotional team-up has resulted in spins on "over a hundred college radio stations" for both bands, according to Clermont publicist Lucas Jensen, and the attention is helping--on a recent mini-tour through Colorado, the band was passing out fliers at a festival and were stopped by a group of teens. "We don't need those," they said. "We heard you on the radio--you're the reason we drove here."
In November, the bands' latest albums will see a national re-release tied into a bigger push in magazines and newspapers, and Jensen hopes for a huge result. "What we're presenting to people is this idea of an emerging Dallas pop scene," he says. "There's no reason for Dallas not to have the same level of attention as other cities." Amen, brother. See what he's talking about when the Bullets play Barley House on Thursday with Chicago's Palaxy Tracks.