Edward Harrington, known as Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, is a living musical legend; a musician, guitarist, singer, songwriter, who, along with the peers of his day, has had a direct influence on many of the popular artists of the generations that have followed. Clearwater continues to be a masterful purveyor of the Blues; that West Side Chicago-style Blues for which he is so well known.
I recently had the honor and privilege of chatting briefly with Eddy Clearwater, via telephone, leading up to his 3rd Annual Blues Birthday Bash at SPACE Evanston on Friday, January 10th, 2014.
William Kelly Milionis: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. It's such an honor and a privilege.
Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater: No problem at all...it's a pleasure. You are more than welcome.
Kelly: Hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday?
Eddy: Yes, very, very good. I had a very nice holiday. We were on tour for two months in South America and Scandinavia so we got home [to Chicago] just in time to do a couple days of Christmas shopping and enjoy Christmas here. We got home like three or four days before Christmas so it worked out all well.
Kelly: And, you returned home just in time to be snowed-in...
Eddy: snowed-in; absolutely! [laughing]
Kelly: This Friday, January 10th, will be a very special day for you. Please allow me to wish you an early Happy Birthday!
Eddy: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you!
Kelly: Not only is Friday your birthday, but you will be celebrating it with your family, friends and fans with a performance at your 3rd Annual Blues Birthday Bash at SPACE Evanston, which also kicks off opening night for the 5th Annual Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Fest 2014, and you are recording a live album.
Eddy: Live album, yes. I just kind of dreamed up an idea because it was my birthday. My wife said,
"Your fans have been asking for a live album. When are you going to record a live album?" And, I said, wait a minute, I'm going to be at SPACE and SPACE has a recording studio. I happen to know Stuart Rosenberg, manager of the recording studio. I called up Stuart and he said he'd be happy to record a record. He had mentioned me doing a live album in his studio, so I said, what a good time; it's as good a time as any. Freddie Breitberg, a recording engineer from the old Chess recording days, will be there. I have recorded with him before, a couple of times in the past; he recorded a session I was on. He's a really good engineer. We will be performing a combination of old and new, there's a few new tracks. Hopefully it will turn out Ok. We'll give it our best shot. We'll see what happens with it.
Kelly: Will you be offering any surprises at the show?
Eddy: One of my biggest surprises is I've already exposed it, Ronnie Baker Brooks is my special guest on the show...and there will be lots of cake. [laughing] Johnny Iguana is going to be another one of my special guests on the show. And, as a matter of fact, we will have to rehearse with him again on Thursday.
Kelly: Will Lonnie Brooks and Wayne Baker Brooks be in attendance?
Eddy: Yes, Lonnie and Wayne will attend the show, so we are just going to have a good old time! Bruce Iglauer is going to be there as well. We're looking forward to having a good time.
Kelly: Your Native American Indian heritage figures prominently in your performance. Your grandmother was Cherokee?
Eddy: Yes, Cherokee. My Grandma Ida, yes.
Kelly: Do you always wear the Native American Indian headdress?
Eddy: Almost on every occasion. On every occasion now I do, because going to Europe, they have me put it in my contract that I definitely wear the headdress for the beginning of my show. I'm obligated to have it.
Kelly: Given your Native American Indian heritage, have you performed or recorded with popular, distinguished Native American Indian musicians like pre-eminent flutist R. Carlos Nakai or up-and-coming 15-year old multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer Gareth Laffely?
Eddy: No, I have not. As a matter of fact, I have not. I would love to perform with them some day if the opportunity arises...I would love to.
Kelly: You are a treasure, a living musical legend, a living Blues legend, a living Chicago Blues legend; you are one who is a witness to history for having lived it and for having participated in it first-hand. Congratulations on your Best Traditional Blues Album GRAMMY Award nomination for your Rock 'N' Roll City release.
Eddy: I really appreciate that.
Kelly: You are involved in a Recording Academy program entitled "GRAMMY Living Histories". (for readers of this interview who may not be familiar with "GRAMMY Living Histories" - The Recording Academy, through its GRAMMY Foundation's Living Histories program, preserves on videotape the life stories of key recording industry professionals and visionaries who helped create the history of recorded sound. Comprehensive biographies and personal anecdotes of creative, business and technical music professionals weave a picture of the recording industry from the perspective of those who played integral roles in its development) [more information can be found here]
Eddy: Yes, we did the interview for that already. They came to the house and interviewed me. As a matter of fact, they interviewed me and Buddy Guy on the same day; both of us. I don't think it has been published yet, but I believe very soon. I've been looking forward to it.
Kelly: Over the course of your illustrious career, you have performed in many venues, including those in Chicago. Has there been one venue, in Chicago, that you think of quite often?
Eddy: Yes, Buddy Guy's Legends is a good club and I used to play Blue Chicago a lot, which was also one of my favorite places. Buddy Guy's Legends is the place I really like to play a lot.
Kelly: Is there a recording studio in Chicago, that brings back fond memories?
Eddy: Well, you know, Rax Trax is a good studio. Rick Barnes; it's his studio and that's where my last album was recorded.
Kelly: West Side Strut?
Eddy: Yes, West Side Strut and Ronnie Baker Brooks produced it.
Kelly: There have been quite a few notable left-handed guitar players throughout musical history that have become successful in shaping music as we know it. As you are a notable left-handed guitar player and one who continues to leave your musical mark upon history, have you had opportunities to get-together with other left-handed players?
Eddy: You know, I never met Jimi Hendrix, never got to meet him. I regret that I did not get to meet him. However, I am very fond of him, absolutely. But the only left-handers I've worked with and have been associated with would be Albert King and Otis Rush. Otis and I are still very good friends. Albert King, I really used to love his playing and I've been in sessions with him. They are the only two left-handers that I really have been acquainted with.
Kelly: As you mentioned, you just returned from touring South America and Scandinavia near the end of 2013. Do you have plans on getting back on the road later this year...2014?
Eddy: I will be playing Buddy Guy's Legends in March, then we have four or five dates in the Netherlands and one date in Germany in April. They are still working on the tour. There will be more dates added.
Kelly: Have you performed in China?
Eddy: Yes, I've been to Hong Kong. I went to Hong Kong twice and had a great time. I've not been into China, but have been to Hong Kong.
Kelly: Any plans to return and tour the Chinese mainland?
Eddy: I would love to. I would like to go to Shanghai. I've always wanted to go to Shanghai. I'm fond of the name Shanghai. [chuckling] Cool name. [more chuckling]
Kelly: Maybe there is a song in that...right? [laughing]
Eddy: Yes, I've been thinking about it...Shanghai. [even more chuckling] Hopefully, I end up going there.
Kelly: Thank you so very much for this interview opportunity. Have a very happy birthday and much success with your Blues Birthday Bash and live album recording on Friday evening at SPACE Evanston.
Eddy: Well, it was a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so very much for calling and I appreciate it.
Friday, January 10th, 2014
SPACE Evanston and 5th Annual Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Fest present
Doors: 7:00pm Show: 8:00pm
Tickets: SPACE Evanston