Eddy Clearwater

Blues Blast Magazine 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award

Eddy Clearwater

Like many of his generation, Edward Harrington was a self-taught musician with a musical foundation that developed in the church. Born in Mississippi on January 10, 1935, Harrington heard a wide range of musical styles growing up. But once he got a guitar and flipped it upside down so he could play it left-handed, he focused on playing gospel music, which continued after his family moved in 1948 to Birmingham, Alabama. Harrington’s guitar graced the work of a number of gospel groups, including the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, one of the finest gospel groups of any era.

The year 1950 brought a move to Chicago, where the guitarist continued working in churches, honing his skills. Through his uncle, Harrington began to explore the city’s burgeoning blues scene. He quickly was captivated by what he heard, especially the intense sounds of a fellow left-handed player, Otis Rush, and the soulful blues of Magic Sam, who became a close friend. By the age of eighteen, billing himself as Guitar Eddy, Harrington was working regularly on the south and west sides. In 1958, he released his first record on uncle Rev. Houston Harrington’s Atomic-H label under the name Clear Waters, an attempt to get some mojo from the association to Muddy Waters. One side, “Hillbilly Blues,” showed the strong impact that Chuck Berry had on Harrington’s style, an influence that has remained an essential facet of the guitarist’s sound in the ensuing decades.

Eventually the name changed to Eddy Clearwater as he became a favorite on the local club scene due to his outstanding vocals, high wattage shows and a hard-driving sound that typified the sounds of the big city. He was instantly recognizable when he donned a full Indian chief’s headdress, creating a striking image on stage while honoring his Cherokee heritage.  Records continued to be released on a variety of labels including Federal, Atomic-H, Versa, LaSalle and his own Cleartone label. The 1970s brought several European tours and a new audience in Chicago, as Clearwater’s rocking take on the blues struck a chord with the youthful audiences in the emerging club circuit on Chicago’s north side.

The year 1980 brought two firsts – The Chief was Clearwater’s first full album and the initial release for the Chicago-based Rooster Blues label featuring a memorable cover shot with Clearwater astride a horse wearing his trademark headdress and remains one of the highlights of his storied career.

Since then, Clearwater has more than fifteen releases to his credit on some of the most recognized labels including Bling Pig, Delmark, Bullseye, Wolf, and Alligator Records. High points include Cool Blues Walk and Reservation Blues on Bullseye with Duke Robillard producing, the latter title featuring a guest appearance on harmonica by Carey Bell, Clearwater’s cousin. These titles proved that Clearwater remained at the top of his game after undergoing triple bypass heart surgery in January, 1997.

What seemed like an odd pairing ended up generating a whole new segment of fans with Clearwater’s final Bullseye release, Rock ’N’ Roll City, with backing by the modern surf band Los Straitjackets. Their live shows together were a visual delight with the Indian headdress competing for attention with the Mexican wrestling masks the band is famous for wearing. The disc received a Grammy nomination.  Five years later he teamed up with Alligator on the powerful West Side Strut that featured guest appearances from a number of his contemporaries including Lonnie Brooks, Otis Clay, and Jimmy Johnson plus Ronnie Baker Brooks and Billy Branch.

Other career milestones include receiving the 2001 W.C. Handy Blues Award for Contemporary Blues – Male Artist of the Year, one of twelve Blues Music Award nominations he has received. Clearwater and his wife, Renee Greenman- Clearwater, opened Reservation Blues in early 2001. The club was in the Wicker Park area and served as the guitar player’s home when he wasn’t out touring. The club enjoyed a three year run before closing its doors.

Last year brought another stirring live set, Soul Funky, recorded at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston. With Ronnie Baker Brooks again lending a hand, Clearwater celebrates his birthday in fine style while reaffirming that age has not diminished his ability to captivate an audience.

In recognition of his individual style and vibrant career spanning seven decades, Publisher Bob Kieser and the staff of Blues Blast Magazine are proud to recognize the achievements of Mr. Eddy Clearwater with a 2015 Blues Blast Magazine Lifetime Achievement award.