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INTERVIEW: EDDY CLEARWATER – December 2017

According to a recent press release: “Celebrate with “The Chief” Eddy Clearwater as he celebrates his 83rd birthday with some special shows Friday, January 5th at Buddy Guy’s Legends opening for Buddy Guy and Saturday, January 6th at Evanston SPACE for the 5th Annual Birthday concert celebration with special presentations by the Village of Skokie and the Village of Westmont.” We got Eddy on the phone to discuss the new dates, upcoming material, and much more…

Photo credit: Lynn Orman

Toddstar: Eddy, thank you so much for taking time out for us.

Eddy: Oh, yeah. Very good. Nice to talk to you. How was your holiday?

Toddstar: Good, good. Yours?

Eddy: Very good. Knock on wood, I’m still very good. Very positive.

Toddstar: There’s so much to talk about but let’ start with, you got a couple of shows coming up, Eddy. You’re getting ready to celebrate 83 years young with some shows.

Eddy: My birthday, yes, that’s coming Saturday, I’ll be at Space in Evanston, but I’ll be up there with Buddy Guy on Friday. I’m opening for him on the 5th. So it’ll be a pretty nice weekend just to have some good fun.

Toddstar: What’s it like for you still to be gracing the stage, playing the music you love? Did you ever think you’d still be doing this at your age?

Eddy: I imagined I would. I kind of thought I would because I’m doing what I really love to do. That makes a big difference. I really enjoy doing what I’m doing. As long as people enjoy and want to hear me, I’m gonna go out there and put it out and let them hear it as long as I’m healthy. Thank God for that, that I feel like singing the blues. That’s why I’m working on an album right now for next year. Now it’s right at the beginning of next year. So we’re just working on all new songs for a new LP.

Toddstar: That’s great. Your last release was 2014, Soul Funky, which you did with a couple of other artists and before that you had West Side Strut in 2008. I was wondering if you were going to be able to put some new music out in 2018.

Eddy: Oh yes. I’ve had it on my agenda, but I’ve just been working slowly on my songs and trying to get them to where I want them to be so I wanna go full force with it next year and get it recorded.

Toddstar: Awesome. Looking back over your discography and all your records in your career, what album do you look back on with the best memories, whether it be recording it or touring it? What album makes you the happiest when you think about it?

Eddy: The Chief. When I did The Chief for Rooster Records – that’s my most memorable. That was in 1979.

Toddstar: What was it about that album?

Eddy: Well, it was, to tell you the truth, it was so spontaneous. We went into the artists’ studio at 12 o’clock in the day and we began recording and we finished that whole album by 12 o’clock that night. We worked from 12 to 12.

Toddstar: No kidding. The whole album was done in one day?

Eddy: In one day. So I went home, on my way home there was a little tavern a few blocks from my house. I stopped in the tavern and I said to the bartender, I said, gimme a double shot of whatever you have. I was burnt out, but I really had a good time with the musicians that I was working with. It was just a, it was a grind, but we got it done.  So Jim O’Neal walked into the control room, he was like, “Guess what? I think you just finished.” I said, “You have to be kidding me” Yeah, so the only thing was just the mixing after that.

Toddstar: Well, you’ve been doing this a long time. And what’s it like for you, Eddy, when you hear people talk to you about your career and they throw names like Freddie King and Otis Rush out there. What’s that like for you?

Eddy: It’s like a big dream. It’s like I’m dreaming that this whole thing happened. Like jamming with Freddie King and Magic Sam and Otis Rush and just on and on. Muddy Waters. It’s just like I’m having a big happy dream, that’s what it feels like, you know? I have to pinch myself to say, is this reality? Did I really do these things? So, yes I did, I guess.

Toddstar: I can only imagine. You mentioned Muddy Waters – I read somewhere that your name was kind of a take on Muddy Waters, with clear waters. Is there truth to that story?

Eddy: That’s true. My agent at that time, he wanted to sign me up as my agent. So he said I want to sign you up and be your booking agent. His name was Jump Jackson with the Musicians Union. So he said I wanna sign you up but I want to change your name from Edward Harrington to we’ll call you Eddy Clearwater. So I said that’s okay by me as long as it gets me some bookings, you know. So that’s what happened. I had to register with the Musicians Union as Eddy Clearwater. So that’s how that came around. It was like a take on Muddy Waters. Clearwater, you know?

Toddstar: Eddy, you took a long time between your first single, which I think was “Hillbilly Blues”…

Eddy: That was my first real single, exactly, yeah. And “Boogie Woogie Baby” on the flip side.

Toddstar: What took 20 years with that, Eddy? It was 20 years before you recorded your next album.

Eddy: Well, that was just not really, it was hard to get placed with a company, with a record company. And trying to get with the right company because there’s so many odds and ends with the ideas of the publishing and the songwriting and the publishing. So I was just trying to figure out which way, the right way, to go. So that’s what took a lot of time. Forget what it’s all about.

Toddstar: You’re very known in the Chicago Blues scene. Are you still located in Chicago?

Eddy: Yes, a suburb of Chicago called Skokie, that’s where I live now.

Toddstar: What’s it about Chicago and the Chicago blues scene that drew you in? You’ve played in blues clubs and blues areas around the world. What was it about Chicago that you wanted to call home?

Eddy: Well, I had heard before I moved to Chicago, I lived in Birmingham, Alabama after I left Mississippi and moved to Birmingham at the age of 13. But I had heard so much talk about Chicago and the music scene. And I had heard that there was people here that sang blues constantly like every night from club to club.  So my uncle moved to Chicago before I did, my uncle Houston. So he said, he wrote me a letter saying, you always wanted to pursue music as a career. If you come to Chicago, you’ll have that opportunity because there’s people here that does blues for a living. They play blues every night of the week for a living. If you come to here, you’ll have the opportunity to broaden your horizon in music. So he wrote me a letter stating this and I wrote him back, I said well, send me a ticket. I’m on my way. So he sent me a ticket on the Greyhound bus September of 1950. It was 15 bucks for a ticket from Birmingham to Chicago. He sent me a ticket so I’ve been here ever since. Since September the 5th, 1950.   I got to meet all these people that he had told me about and I was in all of my glory just being here. That’s why I made Chicago my home. This is where I want to be.

Photo credit: Roman Sobus

Toddstar: I noticed Chuck Berry was a big influence on you early. Who beyond that, who really drove you to, I don’t want to use the word attack in a negative way, but who made you want to take on blues music the way you have? Because your music has shifted a little bit and changed and grown and morphed a little bit through the years. Who influenced you besides Chuck Berry?

Eddy: Okay, I’d have to say Muddy Waters and Magic Sam and Otis Rush. Beyond Chuck Berry, those are my main influences.

Toddstar: You’ve played with so many great players and back in 2004, you got nominated for a Grammy for some work you did with Los Straitjackets. What was that like for you to get that Grammy nomination, because that doesn’t come easy to blues guys.

Eddy: Right. I’m glad you asked that because when I did the Rock ‘n’ Roll City album, I had said to John King from Rounder Records, that’s who I was recording for at that time. I said to John, I want to do something a little different other than just straight blues on my next album for Rounder. So John asked me,  he said, what did you have in mind. And I whispered in the phone to him, I said, I want to do some rockabilly type music.  He said, did you say rockabilly? I said yes. He said, oh that’s a great idea. He said, let me call your publicist in Nashville and see if she can get the Los Straitjackets to record with you. So she called a friend that was actually with the Los Straitjackets – the guitar player Eddie Angel. So she called Eddie Angel and asked him if he would like to record with Eddy Clearwater and Eddie said, oh yeah, we’d love to record with Eddy cuz we do a couple of his songs. We do “Hillbilly Blues” and “When I Lay My Guitar Down” in our repertoire. So she hooked it up. She gave me the information so we made a date. I went down to Nashville, I flew down and stayed a week recording with Los Straitjackets. And we went in the studio and did the album Rock ‘n’ Roll City. And I had no idea that this would be the album that I would receive a nomination for a Grammy for. Of all the blues albums I had done, I said, well maybe not this one they wouldn’t. But that’s the one they took interest in.

Toddstar: Eddy, you’ve been promoting lately that you do some work with PCA for prostate cancer. What is it about that cause that really means a lot to you?

Eddy: Well, it means a lot to me because when Phil Guy, Buddy  Guy’s brother, he and I was very good friends. He’d always come to my gigs if he wasn’t working himself. He’d come and just hang with me and he’d get up and sit in with me. Because I’ve known Buddy a long, long time. We go way back. So Phil and I we got fairly close, you know, he’d always come around and I liked that a lot. So when he got sick, and that’s what he passed away of, with prostate cancer. I said from now on, I want to be helpful and try and do something to help prevent that, prostate cancer. Because it’s more prevalent in black men than it is in Caucasians. So I said I wanted to be a part of this. So some of what I earn, I want to give it back to the cause of cancer.

Toddstar: That’s awesome. Eddy, you’ve performed with so many artists. Who was the one artist you always wanted to perform with on stage and never got the chance to?

Eddy: Jimi Hendrix. That was an easy one. Never got to perform with him. I always thought about it a lot but I never got the opportunity. And he was in New York and he was from I think Seattle area, but I never got to meet him. I knew a lot of people that worked with him and knew him. As a matter of fact, Buddy Miles, the drummer that used to play with him, he played with me on a few gigs in Chicago and stuff.

Toddstar: That would have been interesting to see two guys playing upside-down left-handed guitars.

Eddy: Oh yeah, kind of crazy, yeah. That was my, really wished I got to play at least one gig with Jimi, just to learn something from him, you know.   I worked with Chuck Berry one time and we had a good time together.

Toddstar: That’s cool, that’s cool. Maybe you would’ve taught Jimi a thing or two.

Eddy: Oh, no. He got some wild licks there on “Red House.” The intro, the way he started off is cool.

Toddstar: Eddy, I know you’re busy so I got one more for you before we cut you loose.   We’re coming into 2018. What are you most excited for in the coming year for you professionally?

Eddy: Well, I want to be excited about my new album, even though I haven’t recorded it. I have some ideas that I really want to put across in it. I want to try some new things, so I’m excited about that. And I’m kind of excited about a couple of publish-, a couple of magazine people, they want to write a book on me, so we’re kind of in negotiation on that. We’ll see what happens with it. And they asked me some interesting questions.   I’m getting very excited about that. I know it’s a lot of work, but it’s something I really want to do.

Toddstar: I’m hoping  we can get you out on the road a little bit, especially up here in Detroit.

Eddy: Detroit?   I was in there last year. Last year I was in a suburb of Detroit? Farmington, Michigan.   I can’t think of the name of the theater. Oh, it was a festival.

Toddstar: Hopefully we can get you back up here. I’d love to see you kicking it on stage at 83 years old.

Eddy: As  matter of fact, my agent is working on it. Something out east, we go to Canada and he’s looking at Detroit.

Toddstar: Well, listen, man, I’m glad you had a good Christmas. I hope you have a happy and safe New Year. Wish you well with those birthday gigs in January.

Eddy: Well, thank you very much and I hope to see you when I come through the Detroit area, for sure.

Toddstar: You most certainly will, Eddy. We’ll talk to you then.

Eddy: Thank you so much.

EDDY CLEARWATER LINKS:

OFFICIAL SITE

FACEBOOK

INTERVIEW: EDDY CLEARWATER - December 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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