Born Edward C. Harrington, Jr., 10 January 1935, Macon, Mississippi
Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater is described by Wikipedia as “an American Chicago blues musician”. But in the 1950s he started out as rock and roller, in the style of Chuck Berry. His rock & roll roots can be heard on almost every blues album he made.
Edward Harrington (his real name) was raised by his grandparents on a farm in Macon, Mississippi. In his youth he was exposed to the whole range of Southern music via the family wireless and an old record player. The Harrington family moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1948. There Eddy started playing guitar (left handed), on an instrument given to him by an uncle, the Rev. Houston Harrington, who lived in Chicago. In 1950 Eddy followed his uncle to the Windy City, where the reverend introduced him to the local blues scene.
Around 1953 he formed his own five-piece band, Guitar Eddy and the Cutaways, who started working South and West Side blues taverns. Unsure of his vocal abilities, Eddy left the singing to Johnny Rogers, who had an affinity for Johnny Ace style blues ballads. All this changed when Eddy heard Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The group began to play a blend of Berry-style rock and Magic Sam-influenced West Side blues, with Eddy taking over the vocals on the rock 'n’ roll numbers. With his left-handed / upside-down guitar playing and energetic stage performances, Eddy soon gained a reputation as a great showman with a diverse repertoire. Circa 1957 the group recorded at least two songs for the Atomic-H label (owned by Eddy’s uncle Houston), “I Got Everything Wondering” and “Jet Black Woman”, but they have never been released.
In 1958 Eddy had his first release, “Hillbilly Blues”/“Boogie Woogie Baby” (Atomic-H 203), on which he was billed as Clear Waters, a pun on Muddy Waters. “Hillbilly Blues” is a great Chuck Berry type rocker with excellent guitar work by Eddy and strong piano playing by Lazy Bill Lucas. A second Atomic-H single coupled “I Don’t Know Why” with the instrumental “A Minor Cha-Cha”. After a 1960 single on the LaSalle label (as “Clear Water”), Eddy teamed up with Eddy Bell and his group, which operated under several names (The Bel-Aires, The Rockafellas, The Belvederes). Bell’s real name was Eddie Blazonczyk (1941-2012), who would later become an award-winning polka musician, but in the early 1960s he had a fondness for rock & roll. Bell recorded several nice up-tempo rockers for Mercury and Lucky Four (1960-61), with Eddy Clearwater on lead guitar (“The Masked Man”, “Knock Knock Knock”, “Johnny B. Goode Is in Hollywood” and others).
A four-track session for the King label in Cincinnati (late 1961) resulted in two singles on the Federal label : “I Was Gone”/“Twist Like This" and “A Real Good Time”/“Hey Bernadine”. On these he was credited as Eddie (sic) Clearwater. Eddy decided to stick with the moniker, though the 1963 single “The Duck Walk”/“Honey Bee” (USA 827, very rare) was simply credited to “Clearwater”.
Six years passed before Eddy recorded again, “Doin’ the Model”/“I Don’t Know Why” (1969) for the Versa label. The B-side is a re-recording of the Atomic-H track from ten years earlier. His stage act kept him going financially. In 1974 Clearwater started his own label, Cleartone Records”, with “True Love”/“Lonely Nights”. By this time he began to have success as a blues artist and he has recorded a dozen or so blues albums since 1977, including three live albums. More often than not, these contain one or more rockers, usually in the style of Chuck Berry. A fine example is “2 x 9” (also released as a single in 1979), which is very reminiscent of Berry’s “Sweet Little Rock and Roller”. A 2003 CD with Los Straitjackets, “Rock n Roll City”, was entirely filled with R&R material and received a Grammy nomination. His most recent album is “West Side Strut” (2008), on the Alligator label, also nominated for a Grammy award (for Best Blues record).
More info on his official website (with a good biography) : http://www.eddyclearwater.com
Discography : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/clearwater.htm
CD : Hillbilly Blues (Redita RRCD 145, Holland). 29 tracks from 1958-1979, no blues, mainly rock and roll. Released 2000. Compiled by Robert Loers with liner notes by the late Adri Sturm.
Acknowledgements : Adri Sturm, Pete Hoppula, the official website.
Dik, November 2015
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