Born: January 10, 1935 in Macon MS
Blues musician Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater is one of the most unique performers in the history of the Chicago blues. The guitarist's fiery licks and raw, soulful vocals mix the 1950s-era West Side blues sound of Magic Sam and Otis Rush with the early rock vibe of Chuck Berry, and scraps of rockabilly, gospel, and country twang in a style that he likes to call "rock-a-blues."
West Side Story
Born Edward Harrington in Mississippi, he moved with his family to Birmingham, Alabama as a teen. The future blues musician taught himself guitar, the southpaw playing the instrument left-handed and upside down. He played and sang in the church as a youth, even performing with the legendary gospel group Five Blind Boys of Alabama. It was the blues and country and western music, however, that would inform and influence his developing musical style.
Harrington moved to Chicago in 1950 at the age of 15, staying with his uncle, Rev. Houston Harrington, and working as a dishwasher. Calling himself "Guitar Eddy," his first Chicago gigs would be in local churches, performing with gospel groups. Through his uncle's contacts, he would meet many of the city's blues stars. Mentored by the great guitarist Magic Sam, he performed as Guitar Eddy in the notorious Southside and West Side blues clubs on a regular basis during the early-1950s.
Harrington's first recordings would be for his uncle's Atomic H label, the young guitarist waxing the instrumental "A-Minor Cha Cha" along with the Chuck Berry-influenced "Hillbilly Blues." It was around this time that his manager, drummer Jump Jackson, named Harrington "Clear Waters" a play on words on aimed at blues legend Muddy Waters, a nickname that would later be changed to Eddy Clearwater.
The guitarist would record several more singles for labels like LaSalle, Federal, and even his own Cleartone Records throughout the 1950s and into the '60s. Clearwater toured regionally throughout the 1960s, playing rock & roll-oriented college gigs when blues jobs were scarce. He travelled to Europe for the first time during the '70s, opening for Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and later appeared on BBC television while touring in England.
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater
It would his 1980 Rooster Blues Records album The Chief that would vault Clearwater into the upper-tier of blues music royalty. Released at the beginning of the '80s blues revival, the album's inspired mix of West Side Chicago blues and roots-rock guitar would rapidly increase Clearwater's audience and popularity. Clearwater would record another pair of albums for Rooster Blues during the '80s, followed by discs for labels like Blind Pig, Delmark Records, and Bullseye Blues. He became known as "The Chief" after his penchant for donning an Indian headdress while performing onstage.
Through the years, Clearwater has been nominated for seven Blues Music Awards, winning in 2001 as the Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year, and he earned a Grammy™ Award nomination for Rock 'n' Roll City, his 2003 album collaboration with surf-rock instrumentalists Los Straitjackets. Working with fellow Chicago blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of legendary bluesman Lonnie Brooks, Clearwater released West Side Strut in 2008. Considered by many blues critics as the best work of Clearwater's considerable career, the album also featured guest appearances from the elder Brooks, harp player Billy Branch, and blues singers Jimmy Johnson and Otis Clay.
Recommended Albums: Although West Side Strut would certainly appeal to modern blues fans, the old-school charm of The Chief is required listening for any blues music aficionado.