Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown is a walking encyclopedia of regional styles and musical idoms. Earning his nightly bread, the 57-year-old Texas musician is likely to plow through a Cajun dance tune, jazz riff, honky-tonk ballad, delta blues and Western swing melody, switching off on guitar, fiddle, mandolin and harmonica. Oh yes, he also sings up a storm with a smoky voice that testifies to more than 40 years of making music. "If you play different styles of music during the night," he has said, "You won't have trouble. The blues can do a lot of strange things to the human mind . . . people get in a turmoil feel too much excitement. [This way] people don't have time to work up no emotions. You work up the emotions, and it's all a happy medium. That's why I mix up my music."
Brown, who will appear Saturday at the University of Maryland's Colony Ballroom, earned his nickname during a grade-school choir rehearsal when other children said he had a mouth as big as a gate. He played guitar at 5, fiddle at 10 and helped pioneer the use of electric guitar as a jazz and blues instrument. Ironically, Brown is better known oversease than in America, a factor that led to a 10-year semi-retirement during which he worked as a deputy sheriff in New Mexico and frequently toured Europe and Africa; he started touring the states again six years ago. And to cover all the musical bases, Brown recently married classical pianist Yvonne Ramsey. "A long time ago my determination was that every year, I'll do something new, get a new sound. I decided I would never sit down and let grass grow under my feet," he said. "Music is imagination and good music doesn't die. It defies time and classification."