Blues Guitarist Eddy ‘The Chief’ Clearwater Dies at 83
Grammy-nominated Chicago blues guitarist Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater has died of heart failure at age 83, his label, Alligator Records, announced. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016 and had received two Blues Music Awards. His Grammy nod came when his 2003 album Rock ’N’ Roll City appeared in the Best Traditional Blues Album category.
Alligator noted that Clearwater, real name Edward Harrington, had been “internationally lauded for his blues-rocking guitar playing, his original songs and his flamboyant showmanship.” They added he “was equally comfortable playing the deepest, most intense blues or his own brand of rocking, good-time party music – a style he called ‘rock-a-blues,’ mixing blues, rock, rockabilly, country and gospel. Between his slashing guitar work and his room-filling vocals, Clearwater was among the very finest practitioners of the West Side style of Chicago blues.”
Born in Mississippi, his family moved to Birmingham, AL when he was 13, and he began playing guitar with a left-handed, upside-down approach. He played with the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, among others, before moving to Chicago and meeting Magic Sam. He changed his musical approach after hearing Chuck Berry in 1957 and released his debut single, "Hill Billy Blues," the following year. His first studio album, The Chief, arrived in 1980, and 12 more studio albums followed, the most recent being 2014’s Soul Funky.
“Eddy was one of the premier West Side Chicago blues musicians of his generation, along with people like Magic Sam, Otis Rush and Freddie King,” Bruce Iglauer, Alligator president, told the Chicago Tribune. “He was really the last of the generation of West Side guitar players who modernized the blues in the ‘50s and very much carried on their legacy … He never got quite as much acclaim as the others, but he was definitely in the same league.”