Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, 81, a Grammy-winning singer and guitarist of gritty versatility who was, to his frustration, often identified as a blues master, died Sept. 10 at his brother's home in Orange, Tex. He had lung cancer and heart disease, and in recent days had been evacuated from his home outside New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
"I'm a musician, not some dirty, lowdown bluesman," Mr. Brown once said, noting that he could play drums, harmonica, fiddle, mandolin and viola. He easily adapted to rhythm-and-blues, swing and Cajun styles, and for years he enjoyed dressing in full cowboy gear to perform country music -- or to surprise diners in restaurants near his home. Once, he entered just such an establishment and announced, "What's the matter? Ain't you never seen a cowboy before?"
Mr. Brown was far from a star in his early years, performing in honky-tonks and strip clubs the first half of his career. After a period of professional decline, he was rediscovered by European jazz and blues aficionados. In his late-career revival, he had dates at London's Royal Albert Hall and in Moscow, where one awe-struck attendee said she was impressed with his uninhibited "kantry vestern" sound.
After Mr. Brown's 1982 Grammy win for best traditional blues recording ("Alright Again!"), he played hundreds of concert dates every year and recorded with artists of all persuasions. Among them were Eric Clapton and Ry Cooder ("Long Way Home," 1996) and jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton ("American Music Texas Style," 1999).
When doing press junkets for his album "Gate Swings" (1997), he used the occasion to drub his blues contemporaries. He called B.B. King and T-Bone Walker one-dimensional and Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland derivative. He held in particular disregard Walker, whose blues music he found "all begging and hardship. I wanted to get away from all that."
Mr. Brown was born April 18, 1924, in Vinton, La., near the Louisiana-Texas border. He was raised in nearby Orange, Tex., where his father was a railroad worker and weekend banjoist and fiddler in Cajun, country and bluegrass bands.
Two other children in his family were talented musicians: drummer Bobby and guitarist James "Widemouth" Brown. They played impromptu street concerts, taking their father's advice: "Tune your instrument, don't overplay and play some of everything so you don't get stuck in one bag." Clarence Brown later called his father's death in 1954 "the only time I broke down and just lost it."
He left home at 16 to tour on the "Chitlin Circuit" of black concert halls, working mostly as a drummer. He recalled one early job with a group called W.M. Bimbo & His Brownskin Models, whose leader took all the band's money and left everyone "stranded" in Norfolk.
After brief Army service, he found himself in Houston. According to a story that was much-embellished over the years, he sat in for legendary guitarist T-Bone Walker at the Bronze Peacock, one of the most prestigious black clubs in the region.
Walker got ill on the bandstand and ran offstage, prompting the unknown Mr. Brown to pick up Walker's guitar and lead the band in an improvised blues boogie in E natural -- the only key he knew, he said.
Impresario Don Robey, who owned the Bronze Peacock, started Peacock Records to showcase the new find. And while Robey went on to become one of the premier producers of black R&B musicians, many of the artists were said to have been stiffed by his less-than-ethical approach to business affairs.
Mr. Brown seemed to harbor no grudge and later told an Austin reporter: "Maybe he ripped me off, but if it wasn't for Robey no one would've found out about me."
Starting in 1947, he recorded such staples as "Okie Dokie Stomp," "Ain't That Dandy" and "Just Before Dawn," the last featuring his violin talents.
Many were swing-tinged arrangements but were given an aggressive spirit through Mr. Brown's bare-fingered picking style. Known as an aggressive instrumentalist, he also had a distinctive growl of a voice that, in his school chorus, had earned him his nickname.
For all his latter-day applause, Mr. Brown was not considered a hit maker and by the early 1960s had left the label. He played in the band of a television program syndicated from Nashville and later worked in Colorado. In New Mexico, he briefly was a sheriff's deputy.
A boost came from his appearance at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, leading to several recordings in Europe and a State Department-sponsored musical tour of Africa, Asia and Europe.
With country guitarist Roy Clark, he recorded "Makin' Music" (1979), featuring a memorable version of "Take the 'A' Train." With "Alright Again!," Mr. Brown cemented his return to the musical mainstream. In 1997, he received the Pioneer Award from the Washington-based Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
At his home in Slidell, La., Mr. Brown was a spry figure who liked sporting his sheriff's badge and holstered .38-caliber Smith & Wesson. One story had him arresting a drunk who disturbed the salad bar at a nearby supermarket.
His marriages to Geraldine Paris Brown, Mary Durbin Brown and Yvonne Ramsey Brown ended in divorce. Survivors include three daughters, one from each marriage; a son from another relationship; and a brother, Bobby, of Orange.
"A lot of people play music for the wrong reasons," Mr. Brown told the Austin American-Statesman last year. "I never played to get women, though I had my share. I didn't do it for the money, though it pays the bills. I realized early on that I could create something beautiful that would build love within the people who came out to hear it. Music is the best medicine in the world, man."