During the 1950s, Chicago's West Side was a breeding ground for some of the world's greatest bluesmen. Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Freddie King and others ruled the clubs. With his fierce guitar playing, soulful and emotive vocals and wild stage shows, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater easily belongs on this list. A Chicago legend, Clearwater is an intense, flamboyant blues-rocking showman. He's equally comfortable playing the deepest, most heartfelt blues or rocking, good-time party music.
Between his slashing left-handed guitar work, his room-filling vocals, his self-defined "rock-a-blues" style (a forceful mix of blues, rock, rockabilly, country and gospel), his boundless energy and even his signature Indian headdress, Clearwater is among the very finest practitioners of the West Side blues working today.
Born Edward Harrington on January 10, 1935 in Macon, Mississippi, Eddy and his family moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1948. With music from blues to gospel to country & western surrounding him from an early age, Eddy taught himself to play guitar (left-handed and upside down), and began performing with various gospel groups, including the legendary Five Blind Boys of Alabama. After moving to Chicago in 1950, Eddy stayed with an uncle and took a job as a dishwasher, saving as much as he could from his $37 a week salary. His first music jobs were with gospel groups playing in local churches. Quickly though, through his uncle's contacts, he met many of Chicago's blues stars. Eddy fell deeper under the spell of the blues, and under the wing of blues star Magic Sam, who would become one of Eddy's closest friends and teachers.
By 1953, as Guitar Eddy, he was making a strong name for himself, working the South and West Side bars regularly. He met and befriended everyone from Sunnyland Slim to Earl Hooker, picking up licks and lessons along the way. After hearing Chuck Berry in 1957, Eddy added that rock and roll element to his already searing blues style, creating a unique sound that defines him to this day. He recorded his first single, “Hill Billy Blues,” in 1958 for his uncle's Atomic H label under the name Clear Waters. His manager at the time, drummer Jump Jackson, came up with the name as a play on Muddy Waters.
After a successful appearance on a Chicago television show called Bandstand Matinee in 1959, Clearwater recorded another 45 for Atomic H, “I Don't Know Why,” and he started receiving more and more local radio airplay with singles for LaSalle, Federal, Versa and his own Cleartone label. The name Clear Waters morphed into Eddy Clearwater, and Eddy rarely was in need of a place to play. He worked the local circuit steadily throughout the 1950s, 1960s and into the 1970s, finding success among the North Side college crowd who responded to his individual brand of blues, his rock and roll spirit and his high energy stage show.