It's right out of the movies: Texas nightclub, 1947, Blues star Aaron "T-Bone" Walker onstage. T-Bone falls ill and drops his guitar in the middle of a number. From out of the crowd a young cat takes to the stage, picks up T-Bone's ax, and jumps into a boogie number that brings the house down. The star is none too pleased, but the kid picks up $600 in tips from the stage floor (remember, those are 1947 dollars). That brazen move launched the career of guitarist, vocalist, fiddler, and one-man American-music tutorial Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
There's not much roots music that Gate, now 80, hasn't rubbed up against. Raised on both sides of the Texas-Louisiana border, he absorbed Cajun and zydeco sounds as well as Texas blues and fiddle styles; later on came country tracks in Nashville. Cast aside during the early rock-and-roll boom, Gate reemerged during the '70s blues revival, cutting sides in Europe and later for American roots labels. The Grammys, the W.C. Handy Awards, and the adulation of superstar fans such as Eric Clapton have all caught up with him since.