Friday, October 20, 2000
By Nick Cristiano
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
At 65, a hale 'Chief' still belts the blues
He may be 65 years old, but, to paraphrase one of his best songs, Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater is not about to lay his guitar down.
In fact, "I'm just getting my second wind," the southpaw ax-slinger said last week from his home in suburban Chicago, sounding hale and hearty.
It's hard to argue. Clearwater remains one of the blues' most dynamic showmen, and, as a recording artist, he's at the top of his game - just listen to his two most recent albums, both coproduced with swinging flair by fellow bluesman Duke Robillard, 1998's Cool Blues Walk and the new Reservation Blues (both Bullseye Blues).
"I feed off the energy the fans give me," Clearwater said. "I thank God for allowing me to be strong enough at this age to get up and put on a show, because this is what I love to do."
It was 50 years ago last month that Mississippi native Eddy Harrington made his way up to Chicago, where he got to learn from such blues titans as Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James and, of course, Muddy Waters. (The "Clearwater" moniker is a twist on Muddy's. The "Chief" nickname comes from his penchant for wearing an American Indian headdress onstage. His grandmother was Cherokee, and he
wears the headdress out of respect and solidarity: "We come from the same place - reservation, plantation.")
For all that he learned from his Windy City mentors, Clearwater never sticks strictly to the blues. His music also encompasses rhythm-and-blues, country, gospel, and rock and roll.
"I grew up with all these influences. Say if you make a good pot of gumbo, you put so many different nice ingredients into it. When you taste it, you say, 'This is great gumbo,' because it's got a lot of the right things mixed into it."
On Reservation Blues, Clearwater cooks up one delicious dish, moving with freewheeling command from the deep, serious blues of "Winds of Change" and "Walls of Hate" to the New Orleans-spiced instrumental "Blues Cruise," covers of Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q" and Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock and Roller," and a rollicking reprise of "I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down."
"It's all good American music," said Clearwater, who writes most of his own material and never worries about what blues purists might say. "I'm playing what comes from my soul, what comes from my heart. It's all who I am."