Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater

The CheifFlashy western-wear, a full Indian headdress, wild blues and rockabilly riffs blasting out of a guitar played upside-down: there's only one Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater. Born Edward Harrington in Macon, Mississippi, Eddy grew up listening to a steady diet of Delta blues and hillbilly music. His style, like those of rockin' colleagues Lazy Lester, Ray Sharpe, Guitar Junior, Al Downing and Gatemouth Brown—all of whom were similarly inspired by both country and western and the blues at early ages—can't be classified, which is just the way it ought to be. Dark, brooding West Side-style Chicago blues, Mexican rumbas, rockabilly with a tip of the duck-walk to Chuck Berry himself…they all have their place in what Clearwater refers to as "rock-a-blues."

Relocating to Birmingham, Alabama at age 13, Eddy was given his first acoustic guitar by his uncle, Reverend Houston Harrington, a Chicago High School science teacher who dabbled in gospel recording on the side. Honing his chops behind the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, he followed in his uncle's footsteps, arriving in Chi-town in 1950, where he strapped on his first electric guitar and continued his career in gospel music at Roberts Temple on the South Side. Finding the harsh, wild sounds of Magic Sam, Elmore James and Howlin' Wolf irresistible, he christened himself Guitar Eddy and began starring with his own band at the legendary Cadillac Baby's club, replacing harmonica man Little Mack Simmons.

After nearly losing his mind upon hearing Chuck Berry's "Oh Baby Doll" on his car radio, Eddy heeded the suggestion of drummer Jump Jackson and changed his moniker from to Clear Waters (as opposed to Muddy) just in time to have it imprinted onto the label of his debut recording, which also marked the establishment of another great name, Atomic-H Records—the result of his Uncle's continuous recording experiments. "Boogie Woogie Baby" b/w "Hill Billy Blues" hit the world in 1958 and to this day has to rank as one of the greatest recordings in all of rock 'n' roll. "I Don't Know Why (I Don't Know Baby)" b/w "A Minor Cha-Cha" followed in '59 and became his first regional hit.

Throughout the late '50s and early '60s, Clearwater was also laying down guitar for polka drummer Eddie Blazonczyk (nee Eddie Bell) who moonlighted as a rock 'n' roller fronting Eddie Bell and the Bel-Aires, the Rockafellas and the Belvederes. Besides waxing two discs for Mercury, these Polack rockers also issued sides under Blazonczyk's Bel-Aire and Lucky Four imprints, all of which featured Clearwater's ringing six-string. Titles included "The Masked Man," "The Great, Great Pumpkin" and the immortal "He's A Square."

While immersed in recording and stage work with Bell, Eddy hooked up with legendary Tex-Mex rock 'n' roll nomads Mando and the Chili Peppers who were playing a stint at the Cannonball Club and caught Eddy's act at Lee's Lounge. Since the Chili Peppers' monumental On The Road With Rock 'n' Roll LP defies description in the same rarified manner as does Eddie's "Hill Billy Blues," one can only marvel at the results of this musical meeting of the minds. Those results were more than evident on Eddy's next disc, La Salle Records' "Cool Water" b/w "Baby Please."

Singles for Federal and USA followed, as did two titles—"Doin' The Model" and "I Don't Know Why"—recorded the same year (1969) for both Atomic-H and Versa, another label owned by Blazonczyk/ Bell (and named after his polka band, the Versatones, no less!).

After an avalanche of albums in the '70s and '80s, Clearwater signed with the Bullseye Blues label for whom he's cut four albums, the last of which, Rock 'n' Roll City paired him with Los Straitjackets and was nominated for a Grammy award.

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