Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater is a versatile, flamboyant Chicago blues rocker who can perform good-natured party music and original, deep, melancholy blues with equal finesse. “It’s country and blues and rock ‘n’ roll combined . . . high energy music,” Clearwater says of his trademark sound.
Born January 10, 1935 in Macon, Mississippi, Eddy Clearwater (birth name: Eddie Harrington) grew up listening to Delta blues and country and western records. His family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, when he was thirteen. There Eddy began playing guitar backing various gospel groups - including the now-legendary Five Blind Boys of Alabama. He was still playing gospel music when he arrived on Chicago’s West Side in September 1950, at age fifteen. “The West Side had a lot of blues at that time,” he recalls. “There were all these blues clubs . . . and the West Side was just starting to develop a sound, with people like Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and Luther Allison.” Magic Sam became not only a major influence on Clearwater, but a friend and soulmate as well. By 1953, Clearwater made his move into blues. Performing as Guitar Eddy, he and his band began working the South and West Side taverns. In 1957, Eddy happened upon another of his major stylistic influences after hearing Chuck Berry’s “Oh, Baby Doll” blasting from his car radio.
With his distinctive blend of Chuck Berry-style rock (and the occasional duck walk) and Magic Sam-influenced West Side blues, combined with his left-handed/upside-down guitar playing and dramatic stage performances, Eddy Clearwater (so nicknamed as a wordplay on Muddy Waters by blues drummer/agent Jump Jackson) quickly developed a reputation as a great showman with a diverse repertoire. He recorded several singles (for Atomic-H, LaSalle and Federal) and worked steadily in Chicago-area nightclubs for the next 20 years, remaining one of Chicago’s hidden treasures until recognition of his talents began to come from abroad in the late ‘70s.
Clearwater toured Europe twice during the 1970s, appeared on England’s BBC television, and recorded for France’s MCM Company. His 1980 U.S. debut album, The Chief (named after Clearwater’s affinity for wearing the full Indian headdress given to him as a good luck charm), was the first release on Chicago’s fledgling Rooster Blues label. His next album (recorded for England’s Red Lightnin’ label) won a W.C. Handy Award for “Best Import Blues Album.”
Mean Case of the Blues, Clearwater’s first album for Bullseye Blues, was issued in 1997. The album included Clearwater’s song, “Don’t Take My Blues,” which received a 1998 W. C. Handy Award nomination for “Blues Song of the Year”. The critically acclaimed Cool Blues Walk (1998) teamed Clearwater up with guitarist/producer Duke Robillard. “Best of the ‘90s,” declared the Illinois Entertainer’s Kevin Toelle. “. . . one of the most jumping . . . well-conceived and downright fun blues albums to be released in recent memory.” Clearwater received two 1999 W. C. Handy Award nominations - “Blues Artist Most Deserving Wider Recognition” and “Blues Song of the Year” - for the album and for the album’s title cut. “With a blast of finger-busting guitarlicks . . . Clearwater demands right from the opening ‘Blues Walk’ that we notice he’s in a career renaissance . . . . there’s the smell of smoke on most of the CD as he reignites the fires of the knife-edged blues from Chicago’s West Side and the git-down rock of Chuck Berry . . .,” raved Ted Drodowski in Pulse!.
Clearwater’s Reservation Blues, released in September 2000, is his third release for the Bullseye Blues & Jazz label and again pairs him with producer/guitarist Robillard. Clearwater continues to tour across the U.S. and Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America, performing 200+ concerts a year. With his powerful left-handed guitar playing, unique hybrid of West Side blues and relentless rockabilly, stage costumes, and high energy performances, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater lives up to his reputation as one of the most versatile and colorful entertainers to have emerged from Chicago’s blues scene. The Chicago Tribune proudly declares him “Chicago’s premier blues showman.”